#ETConf20, The ‘New Normal’ and SoTL

Reflections on this year’s QAA Enhancement Themes Conference

Sandy path cutting through a wildflower meadow, disappearing in the horizon

Frazzled Thoughts

The reflections on this year’s QAA Enhancement Themes Conference are probably going to meander, from idea to idea, like a bumblebee from blossom to blossom. Two of my favourite phrases from the conference came from Prof Sally Krift who stated that we are in ‘a time of abundant disruption’. Doesn’t this sound more like a fun challenge than a threat? Abundance! Abundance of creativity, possibility, collaboration, community, sharing … this was definitely the abundance I experienced over the last months.

No question there has been and is disruption, there are countless wicked problems. As fellow ADHD brain I very much appreciated one of the panel members today talking about their challenges and how much they would have enjoyed just working at their own pace in their own space through lectures online instead of having to sit through lectures in the classroom. I empathised so much. On the other side another panel member would have preferred being able to go to the lecture, and yet another one was pointing out about students being worried or scared to come to campus. So as educators, what do we do? How do we enable all of our students to have the best possible learning experience–given the circumstances?


This was my favourite word of the day, and phrase two shared by Prof Krift. A colleague yesterday, made me understand something. The first weeks of lockdown everyone was in Panicogy mood and mode. Unless you were already teaching online anyway. And their perspective was that whatever solutions were found in that moment of Panicogy, people expect to continue using these, instead of analysing, and identifying what worked, what didn’t. One presenter pointed out the situation could be with us well into 2021, too long a time to work in emergency mode. Now I am cheating a little and embed a couple of tweets and threats with points well made:

Time to SoTL

We need evidence-based practice now, more than ever before.

I was so happy that colleagues in the QAA Enhancement Themes Conference feel the same!
I believe now, more then ever, is the time to evaluate, explore, analyse our practice, and how this relates to the underlying theories and concepts. Now more then ever do we need an evidence based practice, we need to document our decision making processes, the rationales, the thinking behind, to be able–later–to evaluate and understand. We need to gather evidence on the student experience in this time, and work closely with our students. We need to document all the steps we will have undertaken* to adapt, throughout the next academic year. There will be things that are not going to work, or things we didn’t know, because we didn’t know that this is something we don’t know–yet.

The New Normal

SoTL is important, because how it is right now, is the ‘New Normal For Now’. But ‘New Normal Forever’, will emerge in the process, and we do not yet know, which elements of our practice, of how we are higher education, how students learn and what they expect from their studies will become the New Normal Forever. I am taking some serious artistic license here** because there is no such thing as forever, and I hope education will always develop, move, grow. But when reflecting on the conference, my mind split the New Normal into two categories, and ‘New Normal Forever’, are the things that will never go back to where they were–is this the death of the traditional lecture after all? I doubt it. While ‘New Normal For Now’ are things that are of temporary nature–I hope the physical distanced campus is one of these things. There are so many unknowns ahead of us, or is it that we just cannot keep up our illusion of knowing what’s to come?

Anyway, disruption will be with us for a while. In the next post I reflect on strategies for coping with disruptions, and the joys one can find–despite or maybe even because of how things are.

*I am not entirely sure I got the grammar/time right here
**The wordsmithing was too tempting!

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