Overview and impressions
At 8.30 am on November 23rd a man leaps onto the stage of the University of Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre and chants, shouts, sings, threatens and / or greets us – I’m going on his expressed emotions here, alas I don’t understand his spoken language.
ICED President Helen Guerin also welcomes us, with no less passion or enthusiasm. Welcome to this, the eleventh, the 2016 conference of the International Consortium for Educational Development (ICED), which was also the annual conference of the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa (HELTASA). ICED again also stands for Intriguingly Constructively Experientially Different.
Some 634 participants from some 34 countries, including most of the 21 ICED member countries; 14 preconference workshops, attended in total by some 250 participants; 218 papers and 118 posters accepted; a reception in Cape Town’s Two Oceans Aquarium; conference dinner at Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens; lively conversations with old friends and new friends; and a big wheel apparently powered by a rainbow, which is always nice.
Three sunny summer Cape Town days spent in dark rooms – four if you count the preconference workshops, and a further two for lucky members of and participants in ICED Council, who met in a prison converted into a Business School, make of that what you will.
Preceded for me by a day of tourism – including Camps Bay and the very accurately named Seal Island – and concluding with an hour atop Table Mountain on the way, sort of, back to the airport.
Keynote: Care and Educational Development
Joan Tronto challenges us to take very seriously the conference theme of Ethics, Care and Quality in Educational Development. In her essay Who Cares?, Tronto (2015) suggests that “Rethinking democracy as a system to support people as they try to live more humane and caring lives is the next step in our ongoing democratic revolution.” Tronto suggests that we should put care above growth and equity as a driver, for educational development as for society as a whole. Tronto asserts that there is now a struggle among antidemocratic forces who do not believe in the dignity of each person; democratic forces who mostly do; and the halfway position of neoliberal capitalism. Educational development, Tronto proposes, thus has a responsibility to democracy, not just to education.
Tronto also suggests that we should not care for, because that can be disabling. We should rather care with, which builds productive and good relationships.
Keynote: Access and Care
Denise Woods works to improve access, participation and outcomes for people from diverse backgrounds at her University. She describes how a thorough analysis of issues affecting retention and success is essential if students are to succeed. A comprehensive approach to access is a form of caring. Rather than providing a package of generic support systems for students, her university takes an inherent requirements approach, asking each student ”What do you need in order to succeed as a student?”
This question made me wonder how we can ever properly teach someone if we don’t know them. Woods’s work also reminded of a study I undertook on the nature and effectiveness of access arrangements at a UK Polytechnic some 30 years ago. My report was called “Access to Failure?”, which was a fair and depressing summary, for both the students and the Polytechnic. (The question mark was purely diplomatic.) We had acted as though our responsibilities for access, for widening participation, ended when we admitted the students. We were so wrong.
Keynote: Decolonizing Knowledge
Achille Mbembe’s full keynote title was Decolonizing knowledge and the question of the archive. As a white citizen of a (hopefully) former but undeniably (hopefully also former) oppressing and colonising power; and coming from what I have learned in the South to call the North; I approached this with a little trepidation. I was prepared to be made to feel (more or less appropriately) bad, again.
It didn’t wholly turn out that way. One quote and two reactions, taken from my Tweets during the keynote:
Achille Mbembe at #ICEDconf16 :
- We need to study in the planetary library, which includes but is not limited to Africa.
Personal reflections on Achille Mbembe at #ICEDconf16:
- Ex-colonies are ex-colonies, but not just ex-colonies. They are much more than that!
- “Africanisation” sounds more positive than “decolonisation”. Looking forward rather than back.
Keynote: Discomfort as Care
Michalinos Zembylas addressed an issue that had been starting to bother me: How do we reconcile the need for care with one of the teacher’s essential educational roles, which surely is to challenge students (and of course also ourselves) by asking difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions? Tronto told me in conversation that challenge is fine in the context of a caring relationship. Zembylas also considered this, as I reported in a further series of Tweets:
Michalinos Zembylas at #ICEDconf16:
- How do discomfort and caring relate in education? Discomfort can surface and disrupt current views.
- Pedagogies of discomfort can be caring, but can do harm, even be violent. Change involves discomfort.
- But how much discomfort is necessary / appropriate? The challenge of [the increasingly widespread idea of] “classroom as safe space”.
- We must acknowledge, but not accept, our and [our students’] troubled / troubling knowledge in the classroom.
- Our job as academics & developers is to question everything. Including the idea & practice of care.
Ideas from and observations on workshops
I can do even less justice to the workshops that I attended, let alone the many more that I didn’t. But I noticed:
First, an enthusiasm for theory. I have also found this in other work I have done in Southern Africa (Baume, 2017) around scholarship and academic development. Staying current as a developer is seen to require staying up-to-date with advances in theory. Staying up-to-date with theory is seen as an important element in gaining new ideas to apply to practice, thus ensuring continued and enhanced professional effectiveness. And, beyond these, staying up to date with theory is seen as an important way to maintain the respect of colleagues and clients.
This enthusiasm for theory can be overdone. Without getting into the whole “What is academic development?’ debate, one of the things academic development clearly is is a field of practice – hopefully, of scholarly (which includes theory-informed and theory-informing) practice. Occasionally, theorising seemed to me any in danger of being overdone, losing contact with practice. Or maybe pendulums swing, and, taking a longer view, this is just a part, a phase, of the cyclical scholarly process. But, in the moment, I was sometimes concerned.
Second – the nature and structure of Southern African societies raises issues rarely considered in the North. A major project by Brenda Leibowitz and colleagues is studying rurality, and the relations between a rural upbringing and the experience of and success in higher education. Some elements of the approach are familiar – a focus on difference and also on mis-match, rather than an assumption of disadvantage. But other elements of the project, to which I am an advisor; most notably the likelihood that a rural upbringing may be a spectacularly different experience from an urban upbringing, and the attendant focus on the particular differences and their implications for higher education; have been new to me, although they are also addressed in Denise Woods’s keynote, with her emphasis on identifying and meeting the needs of the individual. I shall learn still more about this work at the meeting of the Southern African Universities Learning and Teaching (SAULT) Forum in Gaborone, Botswana, on which I represent ICED, in February 2017.
Third – the conference mostly comprised 20-minute papers, followed by 5 minutes Q&A. There had been a huge number of submissions, and replacing workshops with papers was seen as the way to accommodate this. The result felt to me a little un-ICED-like. I subverted my ‘paper’, on ‘Three pillars of professionalism in academic development’, back into a 25-minute workshop. No-one complained, other than the hotel AV technician, who could not believe that I was not using PowerPoint. Participants worked very hard. I said very little – it was all on the paper I handed out at the start, with outcomes and ideas and tasks. Subversion in the cause of development, I felt.
The 12 conferences of ICED
I am, as far as I can tell, the only person has been to every ICED conference, let alone presented / facilitated at them all. This puts me in a perfect position to make comparisons, and draw profound conclusions.
But I shan’t. In their core, ICED conferences are all the same. They are all gatherings of, over 20 years, a steadily growing, steadily more expert, steadily more scholarly, and unsteadily more confident group of academics and professionals. We are united in the belief that a systematic approach to the improvement of higher education is possible, attainable, and very important. And, largely untrammelled by whatever the official conference theme is, we share and test and develop ideas and practices. Thereby we variously join, confirm our membership of, and extend, the global higher education development community.
A few fragmentary glimpses, more about the settings than the conferences, may suggest some of the extracurricular richness of ICED:
At the first conference of ICED, in 1996, in Vaasa, Finland, we started to realise that maybe our idea of an international network of national educational development networks might, after all, work. We also discover that drinking outdoors until the sun sets is a bad idea when the sun sets, insofar as it does, around midnight, and not for long.
Also at Vasa – one lunchtime, I took a bowl of the rich dark stew. I turned to the woman behind me, whom I did not know, and said, “It looks like reindeer!” She looked out of the window, looked back at me and, in impeccable Scandinavian-inflected in English, replied “Yes, but I’m sure it will be fine tomorrow.” One of many reasons why I love international conferences. (“Rain, dear.”)
At the second conference of ICED, in 1998, in Austin, Texas, our American hosts wondered why so many European guests stepped outside when we discovered that the after-dinner entertainment in the ranch house took the form of a simulated Texas gunfight.
… third, 2000, Bielefeld, Germany. An immaculately run event in a beautiful green city overflowing with universities.
… fourth, 2002 Perth, Western Australia. One of the most remote cities in the world, and / but very welcoming, Perth also provided my first experience of a walk-through aquarium, my first sight of astonishing sea dragons, and a zoo in which the orang-utans looked almost happy.
… fifth, 2004, Ottawa, Canada, with sufficient time to explore the magnificent Canadian Museum of History (not, notice, the Museum of Canadian History).
… sixth, 2006 Sheffield, England, with Sheffield Hallam University standing in admirably for Colombo, Sri Lanka, the originally intended venue, Sri Lanka alas then being in a state of Civil War.
… seventh, 2008, Salt Lake City, Utah, with our unfailingly courteous and helpful hosts from Brigham Young University, and spectacular drives to and from Las Vegas; for the shows.
… eighth, 2010, Barcelona, Spain. After heavy days of keynotes and workshops, ICED-ers prowled the streets, tracking down rumours of a particularly excellent restaurant or tapas bar, where conversations about educational development continued long and late.
… ninth, 2012, Bangkok, Thailand, another large and very lively conference, in the middle of downtown Bangkok, suffused with local tradition and culture. And enormous amounts of cake.
… tenth, 2014, Stockholm, Sweden, at the Karolinska Institute. The conference dinner was held in the overwhelming museum built to house the giant warship Vasa, which sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 and was raised in 1961. At that event, in the shadow of the Vasa, I was given the Spirit of ICED Award, which I received in a confusion of pride and humility.
… eleventh, 2016 Cape Town, South African, as above.
… twelfth, 2018, Atlanta, Georgia, which conference convenor Michele Di Petro convincingly assured us will be a fine affair.
The thirteenth, in 2020, will be held in Zurich, Switzerland. ICED necessarily plans a long way ahead.
Go to ICED Conferences, and thereby confirm your place in a strong and encouraging global community. And get to some great places; personally, professionally, academically and geographically.
Baume, D. (2017). Scholarship in Action. Innovations in Education and Teaching International al, 54(2), pp. 1-6
Tronto, J. C. (2015). Who cares? How to reshape a democratic politics. Cornell University Press
David Baume is an independent international higher education researcher, evaluator, consultant, staff and educational developer and writer.
firstname.lastname@example.org, www.davidbaume.com, @David_Baume