Reflections on the April SoTL Walk

The theme for the April SoTL walk was ‘temporary fixes that become permanent’. In this post, Natasha Taylor reflects on how contributors across and outside of RMIT interpreted and responded to the provocation.

This month, walkers were challenged to think about changing contexts, to reflect on new practices and envisage their new ‘normal’ in a mid/post Covid-19 world.  This gave rise to a plethora of perspectives as people grappled with some quite difficult questions: How will this period form part of world history? What have we lost? Who is in control? Who will survive? Is this just the start of a period of flux and flow? There were many layers to April’s conversations and I can’t cover them all here, but for me there were two dominant themes which will certainly drive my own practices in the coming months.  Inspired by the positivity generated by this growing community, I am framing these practices as ‘powers’…

 The power of story

The first posting of the week put the importance of story-building at centre-stage; narratives and stories are such an important part of scholarly teaching and Lisa Curran’s ‘Crime Scene Investigation board’ invited us to go on a journey of deconstruction and reconstruction to fully understand our current situation.  Who are the characters, what connects them, how has the chain of events unfolded, what are the impacts? Lisa challenged us to ask how well we (don’t) understand our students, a sentiment which was echoed in other postings calling for compassion, kindness and much deeper understanding of other people’s stories. As we all struggle with extraordinary change to our lives and routines, we are reminded how important it is to connect with each other and notice what is happening in other peoples lives. This means reaching out, acting, reacting and properly listening; it means developing inclusive and caring communities of practice (not just paying lip service to it).

The perils of telling an incomplete story were exposed as several contributors appealed for strength to face the inevitable tsunami of institutional measures of ‘success’ in the coming months. We all know the fundamental weaknesses of course audits and student experience surveys, so what can we do to ensure that we properly understand the learning environments and experiences we are creating and curating in these extraordinary times?  The reference to stories of failure was a really important one – a few contributors eluded to the fact that the ‘pivot’ (a term met with a chorus of rejection!) gave rise to a series of emergency survival responses, characterised by ‘quick fixes’ and re-routes around ‘blockages’. It is perhaps obvious that some of our responses will have failed and yet there is a strong temptation to keep these experiences hidden or denied. But, if we commit to reflect on both the successes and failures in our stories, we may find meaning, bring ‘order to the mess’ and make plans for the’ what-next’.

Of course, at the heart of your own story will be you. As we settle into our new practices and think ahead to a very uncertain future, many of our identities are being challenged. Some people are liberated, inspired and ready to celebrate a growing identity in this exciting new world; others are brutally bludgeoned by the need to completely re-think their identity as their role, purpose and objectives are re-shaped, perhaps forever. Questions about identity, personal values and ambition underpin good SoTL and this has made me think hard about how I support staff to explore and articulate their practice in the future.

The power of observation

We had a few new walkers this month, and it was striking to see just how much they valued the experience of participant observation. Stepping away from the screen (and the confines of the ‘iso house’) was a release for many and it was interesting how many people said it ‘forced’ them to notice their surroundings. Sometimes this unlocked some deep emotional responses. So, we saw references to mourning loss, needing a hug, regret for lost or neglected friendships – all of these feelings were sparked by the sounds, smells and sights which we allowed ourselves to notice as we were out walking. This brings into focus the idea that, as our engagements online increase, our senses are becoming numbed by pages of text and the artificiality of video calls. It is important to keep this in mind as we try to develop good quality learning activities and assessments for our students – what can we do to ensure they are immersed, engaged and inspired to think creatively? How do we ensure they get away from their screens and use their brains and bodies to achieve deeper learning?

Finally…

As the walking-week unfolded, I got great joy from seeing the growing collection of images and pictures appear on the Padlet wall. For me, the SoTL walk pictures add a really special richness and depth to the conversations and I am now entirely convinced that this is a better way to facilitate our monthly walks. It is, without doubt, a temporary fix which will become permanent!  A huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who took part in the April walk – your contributions were (and will continue to be) an inspiration. Keep an eye out for our next walk in May…where will your thoughts take you?

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