Photograph of the author and some panellists during the Innovation and Impact panel at the ANTF Symposium 2023
Annual NTF Symposia

Community, connectedness, collaboration: Reflections on being authentically ‘WISER’ at the ANTF2023 symposium

Julie Hulme (NTF 2016) is the Deputy Chair of the Committee for the Association of National Teaching Fellows, and Professor of Psychology Education at Nottingham Trent University

On 20th and 21st April 2023, the Association of National Teaching Fellows (ANTF) met in person for our first annual symposium since the pandemic at De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester. We were joined by Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE) winners, and members of the higher education learning and teaching community who aspire to NTF and CATE awards.

From the very beginning, we wanted to ensure that the event was inclusive, and would reflect the issues currently experienced by our members and colleagues. With this in mind, we organised a padlet, asking what people wanted the focus of the symposium to be. From the numerous responses we received, we developed a theme around being ‘WISER’:

W – Wellbeing

I – Innovation and Impact

S – Students, Staff and Stakeholder collaborations

E – Ethics and Equity

R – Reward and Recognition.

In the ensuing weeks, we received many abstracts around these different strands, and we knew it was going to be an inspirational event! And so it turned out to be!

I can’t report on everything in one blog post, but thankfully many of our presenters have agreed to share their ideas here on our blog site, so I will leave them to speak for themselves about the specifics. Keep your eyes peeled! If you’re on Twitter, you can also check out the #ANTF2023 hashtag for more information. Here, I will reflect on some highlights, and the key messages that were particularly strong throughout the symposium.

Our first session on day one was a Wellbeing keynote panel, chaired by Michelle Morgan, and featuring Juliette Gaunt, Julia Reeve, and Wendy Garnham. This panel, for me, epitomised the rest of the event, and stimulated fantastic discussion among delegates. We were encouraged to think about both student and staff wellbeing, and the discussion covered curricula, assessment, error-friendly learning, and social connectedness, all of which is recommended in the various wellbeing and mental health frameworks currently in use across the sector. For me, the central message was on our identities as learners and as teachers, and a need for authenticity. We all learn best when we can bring our ‘real selves’ to the classroom, and connect with others. Panel members shared their experiences of challenging the norm, being creative and playful, and empowering students to express themselves, in all their diversity, through learning and assessment activities.

Authenticity was a recurring theme throughout the symposium, recognising that truly rich learning experiences arise from sharing diverse experiences and expertise. Di Turgoose from DMU shared her experiences of a ‘pracademic classroom’, in which she brought her expertise from working in practice to enable students to learn in a way that was relevant and meaningful to them, as well as beneficial for their employability. An interdisciplinary approach meant that each student could bring their own perspective to different applied situations, and share their understandings and expertise with those from other subjects. In understanding how others see the world, we understand more about our own world views.

Day two started with another keynote panel, this time on Innovation. I chaired this, and was joined by Andy Clegg, Debbie Holley, and Haleh Moravej. We explored why innovation matters, how it contributes to inclusion and ‘future-proof’ graduates, and the joy of creativity in learning. Once more, the idea that we thrive in a community, when we are socially connected and collaborative, and when we can be our authentic selves was powerfully expressed by panel members and the attending delegates.

This was further emphasised by Earle Abrahamson in his session on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning ‘Pipeline’ (SOTL). Earle talked about ways in which he and his colleagues have established communities of practice for people engaged in SOTL, from early career through to senior staff. The importance of being supported, of having role models, of being able to shape ideas and receive feedback in collaboration was discussed, alongside the need for universities to provide opportunities for these networks, and to reward and recognise SOTL work. Institutionally, we need to value the diversity of career pathways, learn from each other, and appreciate our different contributions to enhancing learning and teaching in higher education.

So what was my take-home message from #ANTF2023? Ultimately, it came down to the idea of being “stronger together”. Each individual student and staff member brings something that is uniquely ‘them’ to the higher education community. When we collaborate as a supportive and inclusive community, and when we are able to connect authentically with each other, across boundaries and different identities, we will truly be WISER.

Finally, two new schemes were launched at #ANTF2023, which I hope will empower us in our attempts to be WISER, to collaborate across the community, and to connect with each other.

Firstly, we have launched a new Collaborative Innovation Project scheme, with up to £5000 funding from ANTF. Who will you work with?

And secondly, in collaboration with AdvanceHE, we have launched the Allyship scheme (as part of our In It Together workstream around equity, diversity, and inclusion), to enable aspiring NTFs from under-represented and minoritised groups to be supported by existing NTFs. If you are willing to be an ally, or want more information, you can find out more and sign up, and you will receive a digital badge to display on your profile.

That’s it from #ANTF2023, but I’m already looking forward to #ANTF2024 – I hope you are too!

Image credit: Dr Michelle Morgan