The first university of Edinburgh Learning and Teaching Conference was on the 20th June and I enjoyed myself immensely. There’s lots I want to reflect on from the conference, but it will likely come in dribs and drabs. One of the ways I am trying to practice some ‘academic kindness’ is to not beat myself up about not blogging more. It’s been surprisingly difficult for me to get back into the habit post-book.
But the first thing I want to talk about after #UoELTConf18 is the Twitter conference. I can’t tell if it’s been the switch of disciplines, or just the technology and the users maturing, but I am absolutely loving the conference hashtag over the last few years. For the last couple of conferences I’ve been to, I’ve had just as interesting (if not more interesting) discussions on Twitter as I have had in the sessions.
At AMEE, last year, I expanded my followers list exponentially, and love seeing how medical education at large talks. That community introduced me to things like Bawa Garba case, and a new take on many ethical considerations. At the last few QAA conferences I’ve been to, Twitter has been used to collect questions from the middle of a crowded auditorium, and from more junior colleagues. I’ve been able to question speakers over my allotted time, and in a way that feels (to me) to be respectful and non-pressuring to the speakers.
I also retweet whatever someone tweets about my work – and I’m always interested to see what people choose to share or take away from one of my talks. For example, this is Jen Ross’s take away from our paper at the conference
key takeaway from @jilly_mackay re in depth analysis of recent NSS survey open comments – undergraduate students LOVE their teachers to be research experts, passionate about research – but they want one of their teachers’ passions to be teaching THEM. #uoeltconf18
— Jen Ross (@jar) June 20, 2018
Now I think that’s a fair and concise (thank you, 240 character allowance) summary of what I took twenty minutes to say. But sometimes I’m surprised by what people choose to share of my work. Sometimes I think: “But that wasn’t important at all”, or “You missed the cool bit!”. The more I communicate science, the more I think I’m a very poor communicator. I hope this is the Dunning Kruger effect at work, but then that leads me to wonder that if you’re aware of the Dunning Kruger effect, and think you’re not very good at something, does that mean you’re actually not very good at it . . . ?
One of the other fun new things about #UoELTConf18 was that my other talk was a Pecha Kucha. Twenty slides with twenty seconds per slide. I had to write a Pecha Kucha talk differently, and think very carefully about the content of my presentation, as opposed to the style of my presentation.
It’s not groundbreaking to recognise that different formats need different material content, but watching how Twitter can transform my own conference experience has made me think a lot more about the purpose of a conference presentation, and what good content can and cannot make up for.
What my take-home message for all this? Well I have a few. First, I have really started designing my slides with the idea that they should stand-alone, as much as possible. That’s not to say that each slide is made for sharing (see take-home point two), but a combination of simplicity, visual appeal, and a clear idea of what slide is meant to do has helped me a lot recently.
Two – I am clear when I don’t want slides to be shared. I have a little graphic I use to indicate when I would rather a slide not be shared on Twitter, i.e. because I feel the data is confidential, or inappropriate to have an isolated question around. I forgot this in a recent slide deck and reminded my audience verbally instead, and they were very happy to acquiesce. As an aside, I think this might also be something we lecturers might want to consider as lecture recording becomes more wide spread. There’s no harm in a visual reminder sometimes.
And third, I’m going to try and generally remember that improvement happens when you push yourself. Without being a little self-critical, I can’t get better. And if someone picks up on the ‘wrong’ slide once or twice along the way, well they might have just been looking for something else entirely.