In this post, Martha Caddell of the Learning and Teaching Academy urges us to amplify our commitment to collegiality and introduces a number of upcoming events that can help rejuvenate connections across our global learning community. Prioritising collegiality and creating space for deliberate kindness and connection seems as important now as at any point in the pandemic.

How do I even begin to reflect on the past 18 months? In January, I wrote a blog post looking back at 2020 that considered what we might wish to learn from our experience of lockdown working and learning pandemic. Little did I know that, for many of us, this second semester of the year was to prove even more challenging. The cumulative tiredness, compounded with increasing tension between ongoing emergency working conditions and a perceived need to get ‘normal’ academic developments back on track, is taking its toll.

There is, of course, a power in admitting the limits of what we can do, individually and collectively. It enables us to prioritise, to focus on what matters, and to work differently. With that comes the opportunity to step back and consider how we work and who we collaborate with. The first flush of pandemic working saw us reaching out to colleagues across our global campuses, taking time to hold social events and check in on each other. Now, many of us are sliding into seeing the same faces on Teams calls and missing the chance encounters and impromptu coffee chats we made time for in early lockdown. With so much that Just Needs Done, the space for deliberate kindness, for reaching out to engage with colleagues, feels increasingly compressed.

So, perhaps now is a time to refocus on practical compassion, to amplify our commitment to collegiality and (dare I say it) create space for celebration. A little space for reflection on what we have achieved together can go a long way to rejuvenating enthusiasm for work, for supporting students, for engaging with each other, and to help steel us for the ongoing uncertainty we face as we (perhaps) turn to consider a return to campus.

The LTA is wrapping up this academic year by creating spaces for reconnecting with colleagues and practical action to reflect on what has been achieved this year. We hope that some of these will be of interest and help you forge links with the Heriot-Watt community beyond your own personal ‘usual Teams suspects’. So join us as we gather for the Learning and Teaching Symposium 2021 and to celebrate our HWU Global Teaching Excellence Awards.

Space to Celebrate and Appreciate Colleagues Who Have Made a Difference

We thought long and hard about whether to bring back the Heriot Watt Teaching Excellence Awards this year. There has been so much exceptional effort made across the university this year, as we have all adjusted to new ways of working together and supporting students. In the end, we opted to press ‘Go’ on the Awards as a way of celebrating teaching across our whole community. To reflect this context, we’ve introduced awards for innovation in team working and a ‘pandemic teaching hero’ award to recognise the collegiality and kindness that has characterised the last year of working. Please take time to put yourself forward – or nominate a colleague or team for one of the five awards. Details are on the website and you can nominate for each category here:

And be quick – nominations close on the 19th May.

Space to Reflect and Connect

Last year’s Learning and Teaching Symposium was an astonishing event, with hundreds of colleagues dropping in to sessions from across all of our campuses to share ideas and support each other at the height of the pandemic uncertainty and just as we launched into our new model of Responsive Blended Learning.

With many months of blended and online learning now under our collective belt, we hope this year’s Symposium will be another welcome chance to reflect on your experiences of RBL. Importantly, it is also a chance to think beyond the pandemic to how we wish to work, teach and support student learning as we move closer to a recovery.

This year’s Symposium conversations will encourage us to reflect on our strengths as a global learning community.

  • How have we worked together to deliver teaching through this challenging year?
  • What have we learned about supporting our students and putting wellbeing and care at the heart of our teaching?
  • What do we want to hold on to and develop further from our experience of ‘pandemic pedagogy’?

Colleagues from across the university will be sharing their practice. Check out the programme, join the dedicated L&T Symposium Teams site, and step into as many sessions as you can. There is plenty to inspire you and many opportunities to pick up new ideas and top tips to help with your preparations for next academic year.

We are delighted to be able to offer a diverse set of keynote sessions which will be sure to spark discussion and inspire action.

  • Dr Maha Bali will be joining us from American University in Cairo to explore ways of building community online with Intentionally Equitable Hospitality. This interactive session is sure to inspire and will help you develop practical activities to engage and support your students.
  • Professor Helen Higson of Aston University will be reflecting on her experience of supporting colleagues and students through the pandemic months and will help us consider how our communities have been strengthened – and what we may wish to hold on to and reshape as we step beyond the emergency context.
  • Professor Kay Sambell, author of our new suite of Assessment for Learning resources, and Professor Sally Brown, will be joining us for a unique ‘in-conversation’ event, considering practical questions about developing and adapting assessments to ensure they are meaningful, truly inspire learning, and are practical to deliver.

Please do make time to join these keynote sessions – micro-CPD that will inspire your thinking and offer top tips to enhance your classroom craft.

Space to Engage Beyond Work

With space for informal ‘water cooler’ chats a distant memory, we are bringing back some of the popular informal sessions that we’ve hosted across the year. We are peppering the Symposium with a number of informal tea-breaks, an Open Mic session, a gathering of the Crafty Club, and an open-to-all meditation session. Please do carve out a little time to take part and connect beyond your regular meeting circuit!

Prioritising collegiality and creating space for deliberate kindness and connection seems as important now as at any point in the pandemic. There are opportunities across the next month for you to step out of meetings and into our wider global learning community. Help us strengthen connections and support – indeed inspire – each other as we head towards the end of this most unusual academic year.