Reflections of a Novice: Educational Developers Caucus Institute, October 28-30, 2013

Last month, I had the privilege of attending the Educational Developers Caucus (EDC) Institute at the University of British Columbia in sunny Vancouver.  Yes, it was sunny in Vancouver.  The institute was facilitated by Ruth Rodgers and Alice Cassidy, two of Canada’s leading educational developers.  Ruth and Alice brought not only their experience and expertise to the institute, but a clear passion for all things educational development.  Participants and facilitators alike packed it in, day and night, for two and half days, and covered a variety of topics related to teaching and learning in higher education.  It was a great networking opportunity.  The bannock was extremely tasty.  And I left Vancouver feeling both affirmed and inspired, and not just because I actually got to experience Vancouver in the sunshine.

Having less than five years educational development experience, I registered in the novice stream.  There was another stream, the 5 plusers, or “experts,” as they were called.  Fortunately, the streams were allowed to mix during breaks, during our speed dating activity and during the ball.  Okay, it wasn’t really a ball—there was no dancing. But there were some engaging guest speakers in the form of rockstar educational developers from across B.C., and some tasty west coast cuisine.  For me, the best part of the institute was having a chance to connect with this community, regardless of their novice or expert designation, and share stories about what we were doing in the world of educational development.  This sharing led a number of key learnings.  So here they are, in no particular order:

So close but so far

Early in the institute we were asked to write a definition of educational development.  We were working collectively, but quickly fell into a puzzled silence.  Coming up with a core definition of educational development turned out to stump us novices, and not just because we were novices. The issue?  For starters, it was clear that we were all coming from different institutions whose teaching and learning centres were organized in markedly different ways, playing a variety of roles given their placement at different institutions, and influenced differently based on the values and visions of varying academic and strategic plans.  In addition, defining ourselves as “educational developers” was also problematic.  Some of us were involved mostly in pedagogy and curriculum development.   Others were involved in more educational technology application and training.  Still others straddled both worlds—technology and pedagogy.  Even within these differing spheres, there were divisions related to other areas connected to teaching and learning centres like the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), community-engagement, cross-campus partnerships, and the student voice in educational development.  We noted these differences among ourselves, and for me it complicated the process of defining what we do and who we are.  Narrowing down, or perhaps opening up, a shared definition of educational development was not easy for us.  Can it be done?  Is there a broad enough definition that encapsulates this ever-evolving profession, especially given the noted differences in scope, vision, values, and roles of various teaching and learning centres nationwide?  I’m not sure of the answer.  I’m still working on it.  And I can do that because I’m a novice.

Valuing our values and the places from which we come

At another point in the institute, we were asked to reflect on our fundamental values and beliefs about educational development and why we hold these beliefs.  This proved slightly easier than the first question, even for the U5s.   In answering these questions, however, I saw some strong parallels between my own values and those of my institution.  I come to this educational development role valuing community-engagement in higher education; an inclusive environment for all learners, especially those traditionally occupying a space on the margins; the power and responsibility of applied and undergraduate research; and the role of SoTL at an institution committed to teaching excellence.   These values appear consistent with my institution’s vision.  Coincidence?  Not really.  We’re both here, in it together, me and my institution.  But are they consistent with the values of a traditional educational developer, and does it matter?  As it was noted, many of us come into this profession from a variety of places, all valid, especially given our obvious commitment and passion to this work.   Where we come from, in addition to where we are, will inevitably influence how we take up our roles and engage in educational development.  But these places from which we come, and the richness of experience, talent and values that we novices bring, will perhaps complicate creating a shared definition of educational development that is relevant to us all.

Points of inspiration

I was inspired by just about everything and everybody.  I’m like that.  But here’s my summary top points of inspiration or my solid take-aways from the institute:

Flying Away

I flew away from the conference in my first-ever float plane.  I sat in the jumpseat for the first time—the pilot had to help me with my headphones.  Such a novice I was.  I am.  But I was flying back to my teaching and learning centre.  Inspired and affirmed.  Ready to take on more projects and to continue to work across campus, collaborating with a variety of faculty and administrators to continue to support and cultivate a culture of inspired teaching and learning.    I’m flying in the jumpseat, at times struggling with my headphones, hoping I don’t throw up because there isn’t a bag anywhere and wouldn’t that be embarassing, in an ever-evolving profession, and inspired by it all.  Thank you Ruth and Alice, for facilitating this opportunity to explore our place within this community. See you next year!