The purpose of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) events is to understand, improve, and share teaching and learning practices across disciplines and schools to prepare a new generation of lifelong learners. Following this philosophy, the first international SoTL conference hosted at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) was entitled “Reflecting-in and Reflecting-on Teaching and Learning through Research”. For two days earlier this year, 27 participants from 13 different schools attended workshops and shared best practices.
The conference’s theme, reflection on teaching and learning, is in alignment with two of EHL’s core strategy axes from the EHL 2025 Vision:
Axis 1: Education Portfolio and Knowhow by maintaining/driving the quality of its faculty and teaching methods;
Axis 4: Innovation and Entrepreneurship through the development of innovative teaching methods and the promotion and dissemination of applied and relevant research.
Here is a summary of our experience and key takeaways.
Dr Denis Berthiaume started by presenting the three stages all teachers encounter as their career evolves. The first stage is the survival stage, when new teachers learn as much about the practicalities of the job as the theory. After a while, teachers develop their own teaching style and personality and enter the next stage of their career. Once they have gained enough expertise to share with others, they become more confident and move to the most advanced stage. Teachers can be sure that they have expertise on a specific field when they can convey their knowledge to others and help them find their own way.
It’s like a recurring cycle, where the novice becomes the master, and the cycle begins again with a new batch of teachers. Seasoned educators who have entered the advanced stage often forget the path they took to get there. With practice and diligence, a new teacher can become a ‘master’, but he should not forget his ‘novice’ days. In fact, it’s important to acknowledge that anyone can be a better master when staying in touch with their ‘novice’ self.
FROM DARKNESS TO COMPETENCE
In a powerful keynote speech, Dr Viktor Dorfler from the University of Strathclyde, UK, emphasized the importance of taking an intellectual journey from darkness to competence. To be competent, learners must incorporate both concepts and contexts in an applied form.
He suggested that teachers can learn and achieve more through the interaction with others, i.e. by having ‘critical friends,’ who can inspire each other, question, improve, and reach higher levels of expertise.
Teachers can’t and shouldn’t try to learn in silos; rather, they should share what they know to create greater knowledge for all. This is the true spirit of the SoTL philosophy. It’s important to note that teaching and learning are not stagnant concepts: from novice to master, from darkness to competence, from traditional to innovative, educators are constantly on a quest for excellence.
INTERACTIVE LEARNING STRATEGIES
Interactive learning strategies were presented by Dr Ingrid Le Duc of EPFL. She introduced the acronym ICAP for interactive, constructive, active and passive learning (high to low-level learning). Learners begin at a passive stage by receiving information with little processing required. They become active when they move and manipulate objects, which requires focus and attention. When they reach constructive learning, students create external output in addition to what is presented to them. But it is in the interactive stage where a dialogue of counter-balanced new ideas takes place between participants and facilitates learning at the highest level.
One strategy that boosts learning is taking handwritten notes which tend to be more synthesized instead of laptop notes. Other strategies include jigsaws, explaining and verbalization.
Educators should reflect on questions such as the following: Do educators encourage authentic dialogue with their students? Do they allow them to make mistakes? Do they position themselves as the absolute authority on the topic or are they able to accept that other possible answers also exist?
By reflecting on the decisions that educators make in pedagogy, Dr Sebastien Fernandez helped participants define their ‘teaching personality’ to evaluate how they teach differently from their colleagues in the same field or institution. Educators spend a long time establishing their teaching philosophy. They reflect on what the students need to know and what is the best way to impart this knowledge. What they don’t often reflect on, however, is the teaching personality that they bring into the classroom and how this may affect the learning that ensues.
TRENDS IN INNOVATIVE PEDAGOGY
During the conference various trends in innovative pedagogy were presented, such as intellectual quietness, driving academic integrity through reflection, and reflecting on the emotional side (motivation, fun, and joy) in higher education.
Intellectual quietness entails stepping back from the practice of overthinking anything that can be characterized as ‘wrong’. According to Dr Marc Stierand, a person should accept that no one answer is correct, and that internal inconsistencies are opportunities for understanding phenomena of higher complexity. It’s crucial to understand that there are times when “our intellect needs to be quiet so that our intuition gets to speak”.
Driving academic integrity focuses on developing student skills through information literacy and emphasizes the importance of academic rigor and responsibility in the classroom. Andrew Keohane and Dr. Martin Senior from Glion Institute of Higher Education emphasized the need to use reliable, trustworthy sources of information and appropriately crediting those sources (referencing). Educators can maintain academic integrity in various ways, such as understanding what plagiarism is, working with students that are highly ethical and improving their own research skills.
Reflecting on the emotional side questions the possibility of having ‘fun’ in the classroom. Astrid Schmidhofer from the University of Innsbruck presented research showing that both students and teachers believe that fun and enjoyment impact positively on adults’ learning. For educators, it’s important to remember that experiencing positive emotions is directly linked with successful learning, intrinsic motivation and goal achievement. Therefore, educators should not be afraid of having fun in their discipline or through their research projects.
Key discussion questions included: Can you motivate your students or can they only motivate themselves? Should teachers try to make classes fun or is fun un-academic? Is fun learning effective or does fun prevent students from learning? Are entertaining teachers the best teachers?
Before the end of the conference, participants shared their key takeaway about SoTL which can be summarized as follows: effective SoTL needs institutional support in terms of budget, time and qualified faculty developers; interactive learning strategies can provide practical tools to engage students at different levels; SoTL is a mindset and a ‘break’ to reflect and ask questions; it is necessary to reflect on one’s practices in order to become a better teacher; SoTL is about much more than simply teaching.
Participants of this SoTL event also shared what they would like to see in a future SoTL event, which could be beneficial to anyone who is thinking to host such an event. Here are the main points: SoTL as applied to postgraduate classes, more innovative practices in teaching, the evolution of SoTL in Switzerland, how cultural background influences teaching and learning, and how SoTL differs from other educational conferences.
Educators in higher education should definitely consider participating in or hosting a SoTL event at their institution if they want to further understand and improve teaching and learning practices. At EHL, we are already looking forward to the next SoTL event.