The audience reacted immediately, a huge collective gasp of horror. What could have provoked such a visceral response? This is what the presenter said:
So I asked the academic what the problem was with mapping the assessment to the learning outcomes. And the academic replied, “Oh, I really only see learning outcomes as advisory…”
The delegates at the ASCILITE 2022 conference were a heterogeneous bunch. There were academic developers, educational technologists, professors, learning designers, social media stars, pro vice chancellors, and discipline educators with an interest in technology in teaching and learning. But we all had strong and mostly aligned views about what good tertiary education looked like. That collective gasp showed how deeply embedded those views were. In the end we didn’t discuss fundamentals like learning outcomes very much, because there was something more pressing on our minds. The overwhelming theme of the conference was student engagement – what it looked like, what happened to it, a multitude of ways to develop it, and what technologies supported it.
The three keynotes all addressed the fundamental educator challenge of forging connections with students. The inimitable Ella Kahu pointed out that you can’t really form a meaningful relationship with every one of your 350 students. However, you can help them to feel connected with you, and therefore be more likely to engage with what you are offering. Both Kahu and Peter Felten delivered compelling keynotes on what worked for them, along with theories and frameworks that would support audience members in building on their own methods. Dominique Parrish gave an institution level view of what was needed structurally to support student engagement.
Presentations dealt with a rich mix of strategy development, frameworks, hybrid learning spaces, inclusion, academic integrity, technology reviews, case studies on connecting with students, and case studies on connecting with educators. There were clear parallels between the strategies that worked in engaging students with their learning and strategies for supporting academics in developing their practice. Presenters also shared a variety of experiences using Discord and Teams for student engagement.
Students and educators reported a full range of responses to those tools, from loathing to enraptured. A panel on new developments in artificial intelligence had us swinging wildly between excitement and horror. We were excited because of the emerging capabilities of powerful text and code generating tools, and also horrified at the implications for academic integrity. Would we have to rush home and redesign not only our assessments but possibly also our learning outcomes and course materials? Members of the Business Co-Design unit, as part of an inter- and intra- institutional team, presented an award-winning paper on current practice in online assessment in Business Schools, introducing a framework to support future developments.
Delegates connected. We connected in panels, in special interest group meetings, in mentoring relationships, at welcome drinks, at Luna Park, at lunch on the steps, in the audience, over Zoom, and on social media. LinkedIn details were exchanged and there were tentative suggestions made about future research projects. Over one thousand tweets were sent using the #ascilite22 hashtag. Search the hashtag to get a bit more of a feeling for the wide variety of connections we experienced.
We also connected with colleagues who couldn’t join us on campus. Presenters who couldn’t be with us in person were seamlessly introduced into the presentation screens. The incredibly helpful blue-shirted conference team gently encouraged in-person presenters to stand in the camera range and to use microphones. That meant that online attendees could experience every presentation live. In person and online attendees all submitted questions through the Attendee Hub, so presenters could also answer questions outside of the session.
Educational Innovation at the University of Sydney were instrumental in the success of the conference, held in and around the New Law building. Danny Liu and Eszter Kalman seemed to be everywhere. They calmly made sure everyone knew where they were going, kept sessions on time, handed out extra blue shirts. They made sure we remembered our colleagues on Zoom, and apologised for the autocaptioning. They’ve set a standard that the combined universities of New Zealand are excited to aim for in Christchurch in 2023.