HESS conference: a summary of my thoughts

OK, so I’ve been back for a few weeks now and have had a little bit of time to gather my thoughts regarding the HESS conference, and thought I’d make a note of some of the highlights from my limited perspective.  If anyone from the conference feels that I’m way off the mark, feel free to drop me a line.

One of the key themes that emerged was the idea that research should be taken down off of it’s pedestal and integrated into the curriculum as a functional, useful and exciting aspect of teaching and learning.  Dr Angela Brew established this idea in the first keynote of the first day.  That research should not be seen purely as a series of steps to be undertaken in the lofty towers of higher education, but should rather be seen as an integral part of teaching and learning.  The phrases “research-based learning” and “inquiry-based learning” cropped up regularly over the three days.

This idea that research should become part of the curriculum, rather than something tacked on, moved the conversation into another strong theme, that of the “scholarship of teaching and learning”.  In order to teach in your field, it’s no longer enough to merely know your subject.  The move towards evidence-based practice doesn’t only apply to our own niche fields, but should be applied equally strongly in how we approach the way we teach.  The concept of “communities of practice” came through strongly in this realm.

Martin Oliver’s keynote negotiated the fine line between technology in education as an all-powerful saviour, and a potentially misleading mindset that puts the technology, rather than pedagogy, first.  While e-learning was generally lauded as a powerful tool, enthusiasm should be tempered with optimistic caution.  With technology changing so quickly, it seems that a predominant focus on the tools themselves, rather than pedagogy, will be met with failure.

There were a few presentations I attended that urged educators to become more aware of students social lives, which came with evidence of the fact that they are not always as we imagine them to be.  Realising that students often have significant difficulties in almost every aspect of their personal lives can (and should) change how we relate to them.  As educators, we should understand that not only do we bring our own personalities and quirks into the higher education space, but so do our students.

Here are the notes I took while at HESS 2008:

Summary of HESS 2008 (OpenDocument format)
Summary of HESS 2008 (MS Word format)