Dr Beatriz Acevedo reflects on her first attendance at our annual symposium, held online on 27th April 2021, as a new National Teaching Fellow (2020). Beatriz is an artist and educator, an academic developer and senior lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, a Principal Fellow of the HEA, and the treasurer to the Committee of the Association of National Teaching Fellows and CATES (CANTF). You can follow Beatriz on Twitter @BeatrizAcevedox.
Although I am already what you can call “a mature woman”, that feeling of being new in a group never ceases to flip my “mature” tummy. Especially when you are joining a community of extraordinary educators whose impact in their fields and communities are celebrated with the prestigious National Teaching Fellowship and CATE awards. This is my first Annual Symposium as a new NTF (2020), and although I’d helped to organise it with the committee, nothing prepared me for the amazing day ahead. It started with a welcoming virtual space, colourful furniture and wide windows hosted by Wonder.me where we formed little bubbles of ‘hello’, ‘hi’ and ‘nice to meet you’ that were enough to dissipate my initial fears.
The party started with Caroline Coles (CANTF Chair) and Karen Hustler (Advance HE) highlighting the spirit of collaboration, community and care of the symposium. These values were felt and enhanced during the whole day. My first surprise was that my project on Sustainability was one of the winning proposals, alongside legends such as Professor Natascha Radcliffe-Thomas, Haleh Moravej, Georgina Gough, Samia Kamal and Richard Owen … what an honour!
Our awarded project, RawTag is an interdisciplinary collaboration with eco-artist Carmen Lamberti, Dr. Romas Malevicius and Hassiba Fadil, merging art and education for sustainability, pointing at the decolonisation of the fashion industry, encouraging passionate engagement with sustainability and art-based methods for reflective learning. I was delighted to see how these ideas were developed in many of the presentations during the conference, which is definitively an encouragement for the team.
As for the keynote session, Professor Sally Everett led the panel on Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion in Higher education, alongside experts in the field Professor Angela O’Sullivan (fellow CANTF committee member), Dr. Pratãp Rughani, and Farrukh Akhtar (Kingston University). Although there is plenty of research about this topic, the qualitative research supporting these findings provided a personal and rich perspective. Not only is it about the structural barriers that make it difficult to advance a career in learning and teaching, but the lack of champions, role models and specific career pathways for ‘others’. And action is required now. The discussion highlighted the urgency of actions, starting from our roles in our institutions, toward wider actions in the sector and society in general. The academic JISC list “NTF In it Together” is a starting point for galvanising our efforts and actions.
The day was peppered with exciting presentations and moments of fun and joy. It was so difficult to choose between the streams, and I must confess I hopped in and out the Zoom break out rooms, like a rabbit following the threads of creativity, sustainability, inclusivity and action learning. Having la crème de la crème, generously sharing their experiences, such as education for sustainability leaders from Nottingham Trent University, is a real treat. Things turned quite trippy when Natascha Radcliffe-Thomas and Haleh Moravej brought some mushrooms into the discussion on education for sustainability, and Haleh shared her passion for everything foodie and the enthusiasm of students exploring sustainable and seasonal recipes online during the covid crisis.
This symposium also evidenced huge leaps in pedagogical approaches and the ingenuity of educators across the world dealing with challenging circumstances of the pandemic. The ambitious scale of the Ruskin Modules as interdisciplinary modules dealing with wicked problems, a project led by Elaine Brown and presented as a case for education for sustainability, shows the need for breaking with disciplinary isolation and embracing ambiguity. Many other inspiring ideas and projects opened my eyes to what somebody in the chat called “disruptive pedagogies” as well as radical ideals for a new type of university.
As remarked by colleagues in the topic of innovations in times of crisis, there are so many gains: for instance, advances in 3D imagery of the human body, as shared by Dr Hannah Shaw, amongst other interesting technological advances. However, beyond technological innovation what is really important is the value of care and compassion. These virtues manifested also in the delightful self-caring exercises led by Professor Debbie Holley and meditative drawing, the attention to the detail of the organisers, the photo-room, the wonder lounge and the kindness of the participants. At the end of this long day, I felt energised with inspirational ideas, generous colleagues and a feeling of belonging!