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.
On Feb 4 and 5, 2021, EHL hosted its third annual Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) conference with the theme: 'Higher Education and Beyond: Promoting Lifelong Learning through SoTL,’ Having completed the spring semester online and beginning the autumn semester in HyFlex mode, EHL, like many other Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) was faced with new challenges and opportunities brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A post-Covid education
Unique challenges included immediate transfer onto online platforms, remote final exams, and technology glitches. New opportunities offered the possibility for re-thinking about the courses, the materials, and the types of assessment being used. As we are moving forward to a post-Covid-19 education, we wanted to encourage SoTL enthusiasts to share their reflections on the direction HEIs could be taking in the future.
SoTL involves new and critical interpretations of what is already known about teaching and learning, and promotes a professional engagement with teaching and learning to support teachers and students at various moments in their learning journeys. Whereas the learning journey has typically 'ended' with the granting of a degree, our focus this year was on examining how to encourage our teachers and learners to consider education as a lifelong journey. Instead of seeing the degree as a final destination, a degree should be considered as a rest stop before the learning journey continues.
The journey of lifelong learning
Let's use this journey as a premise for this article. Before leaving on a trip, we carefully plan where we want to go, when, and with whom. We consider practical implications such as timing and budget. We inform ourselves about any travel constraints, including Covid-testing and potential quarantines when arriving at our destination. We weigh all of these decisions, take a decision, and anxiously await our departure.
When beginning the journey with feelings of joy and apprehension, we absorb everything that is new. Our learning journey includes:
Seeing the campus for the first time.
Meeting our classmates and teachers.
Getting used to the 'time difference' between when we want to wake up and when we need to be in class.
A community environment is created based on comfort, engagement, and empowerment in a short time upon arrival. The HEI becomes a 'safe' place where students and faculty can share knowledge and experiences without the risk of judgment or disdain. When participants can communicate freely without fear, the process of lifelong learning has begun. This is the 'Kumbaya' moment of the journey.
The travelers on their respective learning paths can question their beliefs, philosophies, and practices in an open and trusting climate. Through partnerships with others, innovative solutions to existing problems can be found, and working together becomes a memorable experience, a precious souvenir to keep with them forever. They will soon realize that they learn as much by sharing their own experiences as the experiences of others and will be surprised that so much learning can and will be done outside of the traditional classroom setting. In fact, more learning may take place within their community.
Yet, the journey is not necessarily a straight line from point A to point B. Some students will take shortcuts or a completely different path. Some will get lost, only to find their way back. Still, others will enjoy the voyage as much as the actual destination. The most important lessons students learn can often derive from the journey itself more than the actual course content. It is more about how they got there than what they did when they arrived.
Question the journey's end
At the end of 3 years, a degree is granted, and the learning journey is seemingly over, or is it? In our SoTL conference, we focused on 'lifelong learning,' that is, continuing to seek out new challenges, knowledge, and competencies. In the Covid-19 lockdown, we saw that learning could be done in a 'different' way; courses could be taught online; exams could be completed remotely.
The learning curve was great and a bit bumpy for some of the students and faculty. We never really knew what to expect around the bend. But that was part of the excitement. Not knowing what awaits us is exciting. As we have seen with our newest graduates, many have chosen to continue their lifelong learning immediately by applying to official Master's programs. Other students have chosen a more practical learning path by entering the workplace. This aligns with the SoTL philosophy of transformative learning or education that helps individuals see themselves relative to larger social structures. The larger social structure could be another HEI or the workplace… and the learning journey continues.
For SoTL enthusiasts, learning becomes emancipatory as imaginative speculation explores new ways of thinking to challenge our current ways of knowing. Some knowledge opens the mind to new learning experiences. There is a wanderlust for further information and opportunities. Embrace that road not taken. You don't want to miss out on the learning adventure of your life… it's always the 'next' learning journey that is the best one yet!
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 conference in 2022.