The week before Thanksgiving, four members of the CETL team—Josh, Liz, Derek, and Emily—attended the POD Network conference in Pittsburgh, PA. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the POD Network, it’s an organization dedicated to advancing the research and practice of educational development at colleges and universities. In other words, it’s where teaching center staff and folks dedicated to improving teaching and learning go to connect with one another and share new approaches to supporting good pedagogy on our campuses.
More than 800 people attended POD’s onsite conference this year. We met lots of educational developers doing great work to enhance teaching and learning at colleges and universities across the country, and even the world. We also attended a wide range of sessions that will inform and inspire the work we do at the University of Mississippi in the coming year.
Here are a few of the big conference themes that we’re thinking about now that we’re back home:
Connecting across roles: It takes a village to educate a student. Yet, instructors often feel isolated in their teaching lives, and institutional offices are frequently siloed, walling us off from our most important collaborators in promoting student and instructor success. One throughline of the POD conference was how to cultivate connections and communities across many different roles on our campuses to accomplish shared goals.
An important part of this work is collaborating with students as partners to enhance teaching and learning. Student partnership programs have grown in popularity in recent years and are now fixtures at many different kinds of institutions. Multiple POD sessions explored how teaching centers are bringing student voices, and students themselves, into the work of educational development.
In one concurrent session, Corbin Cambell made clear that at many institutions, it’s rare for faculty and other instructors to observe each other teach outside the context of personnel evaluations. And yet instructors can learn so much from other instructors about teaching, even and perhaps especially across disciplinary boundaries. Teaching centers can facilitate this kind of professional learning and help a campus see teaching as a community endeavor.
Another essential aspect of this work is creating teaching centers that can serve as hubs for meaningful relationships. As Isis Artze-Vega and Peter Felten argued in their work and in their POD anchor session, relationships are the “foundation of learning, belonging, and achieving in college.” Artze-Vega and Felten prompted us to think not only about how teaching centers can value, model, and encourage relational teaching but also about how they might center relationships in program and curricular design or partner across our institutions to support student connections.
Supporting wellbeing: There’s a general sense in higher ed these days that many of our students are not thriving as they should—and we have lots of data to back that up. Instructors are struggling to adapt their teaching as mental health worsens among college students and as we become more aware of the barriers marginalized students, especially disabled and neurodivergent students, face in our classrooms. At POD, we attended several workshops on how we might create more welcoming and supportive environments for these students and close the equity gaps they encounter in the course of their schooling—gaps that higher education often maintains and even exacerbates.
But students aren’t the only ones struggling: instructors and educational developers also need support. Many sessions at POD focused on wellbeing more broadly, considering, for example, how to create more inclusive spaces for our colleagues with ADHD or how to center equity in our work with, and advocacy for, instructors at all levels.
Teaching amid crisis and disruption: Speaking of instructor support, the conference also advanced conversations about how we can help instructors navigate increasingly difficult teaching circumstances. This includes mitigating the harms done by, for example, unsustainable working conditions (especially for adjuncts) or biased student evaluations.
But we also thought a lot about challenges that affect our teaching circumstances more broadly, like the climate crisis, the ongoing effects of the pandemic, and rapid advances in generative AI. Because this was the first POD conference since the release of ChatGPT in late 2022, many sessions focused on how to help faculty respond proactively to new AI technologies and how such technologies might change the work of teaching centers.
Many sessions also recognized the burnout and overwhelm that higher ed faculty are experiencing. In light of this exhaustion, presenters offered a variety of frameworks that might help instructors navigate complex pedagogical research and make teaching decisions that are well-informed, appropriate to their unique contexts, and aligned with their values as educators. Teaching centers can be excellent partners with faculty in exploring pedagogical innovations that are both meaningful and sustainable.
Becoming disruptors ourselves: Finally, the conference focused much attention on ways that we, as educational developers, might disrupt the unjust systems that have created these ongoing crises and that continue to thwart the connection and wellbeing we so desperately need to cultivate in higher ed.
This was especially evident in Dr. Lorgia García Peña’s keynote address on the topic of “community as rebellion.” Drawing on the fields of Black feminism and critical pedagogy, her talk challenged us to recognize the ways higher education has exploited and tokenized students and faculty of color and to work toward liberation through radical acts of community-building and freedom-making within our classrooms. This session, and others, inspired conference-goers to use their unique positions within teaching centers to disrupt the status quo when necessary and direct the collective power that we have toward obtaining justice for marginalized communities.
These are just a few of the things we’re taking away from the most recent POD conference. But there were many, many sessions we weren’t able to attend. If you participated in POD onsite or online, tell us what we missed! And if not, let us know what you’re thinking about as we look ahead to supporting teaching and learning at the University of Mississippi in 2024.