TLC 2021: Who Do We Want To Be?

Friday 30th July 2021

On 9 July 2021, Bloomsbury Institute’s Teaching and Learning Conference returned for a day spent considering the importance of identity to the future of higher education.

Shifting guidelines around coronavirus restrictions meant that preparing for the event had the feeling of planning for a picnic in the rain. So it came as no surprise when, after the government chose to extend restrictions beyond the date of the conference, the event was rearranged to occur in two places: a thirty-strong in-person contingent in the Congress Centre, and a remote audience of many more via a live stream on YouTube.

A diverse programme of events began with an excellent keynote speech by Dr Iroise Dumentheil of the Centre for Educational Neuroscience. Her presentation provided the delegates with an illuminating overview of how neuroscience explains individual differences, whilst helping to explain how educational neuroscience can provide educators with evidence-based insights into the craft of teaching. Packed with cutting-edge research and illustrative science, the presentation was a point of reference for delegates throughout the day, and lively source of discussion on the YouTube thread.

Following the break Kolarele Sonaike, founder of The Great Speech Consultancy, delivered another keynote to remember, this time for altogether different reasons. His was a personal story reflecting on the complex relationship minorities have with the idea of identity, nationality, and the influence institutions can have over the nature of these relationships. Words, as we know, can do much to change the shape of a culture. Kolarele’s speech was a lesson in the power voice can lend to such words. A lesson reinforced by the proceeding conversation, leavened by the eloquence of Annell Smith.

The afternoon programme was packed with a variety of shorter talks and reflective vlogs from Bloomsbury Institute lecturers and beyond, bringing character, energy and expertise to the day.

There was also, for those who may have become a little tired of home entertainment during lockdown, the hint of a party during the lunch break when Bloomsbury Radio’s Calvin Taffe played his reggae show, whilst members of the Student Guild complemented with Contrasting Identities, a visual art performance.

We also took some time to reflect on the past year, to recognise and reward excellent teaching and learning, support of the learning experience, and the continuous improvement of these practices.

Our students gave out awards to the Teacher of the Year, Mubashir Qurashi, and the Professional Service of the Year, the SEWS Team. Colleagues recognised their peers who made outstanding contributions during the challenging year of pandemic, lockdowns and online provision of learning:

  • Donna Leonard received the Innovation Award for the Tea and Chat initiative.
  • Shola Fiberesima received the Community Building Award for strengthening the community of Bloomsbury Institute students and staff.
  • Estates and Facilities Team was recognised for embracing the value of ‘making things happen’ during the pandemic. The team received the Bloomsbury Institute Values Award.
  • Academic Administration and Assessment Team received the Bloomsbury Institute Support and Enhancement Award.
  • John Fairhurst was given the Special Recognition Award for his exceptional work for our students and staff.

After many months of effort by those in higher education to redesign, improvise and deliver classes across the incalculable distance created by online learning, the great takeaway from this conference seemed to be around what learning together means. Mantras from prominent influencers – government departments, Silicon Valley moguls, blue chip companies – increasingly coagulate around the idea of a digital revolution, and it would be unwise and irresponsible for the sector to move against the tide.

Except that during those hours there was a feeling of being reconnected to a more essential form of learning. The immediacy of body language, laughter, voice, and something else. Something seemingly bigger than the room. The room reaching out into virtual space, and virtual space reaching into the room. Almost like the same electron existing in two separate places. Though very much of its time.

You can re-watch the conference on YouTube.