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All aboard the ISSOTL express!

Written by Alison Leslie



I’m not new to the concept of scholarship in teaching and learning but my recent experience of attending the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) 2023 conference in Utrecht, the Netherlands, was a familiar destination by a more scenic route.  

Full steam ahead

As a qualified language teacher with 30 years’ experience of designing and delivering learning in a wide variety of contexts, it’s in my professional DNA to constantly question and adapt the way I teach to meet my students’ needs. Therefore, in the 15 years I’ve been teaching at the University of Leeds, I’ve taken an active interest in student education and enjoy any opportunity to discuss teaching and learning. This includes presenting at Leeds events such as the Student Education Conference (SEC), Student Success Conference and the Researching, Advancing and Inspiring Student Education conference (RAISE), further afield in the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference and within my professional community of BALEAP (the British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes). And you can find me regularly stopping off at online university platforms such as Teaching, Innovation and Practice in Student Education (TIPS) and the Academic Skills Network.  

Becoming an ISSOTL train spotter 

Who knew you could do scholarship in a railway museum? The main venue for ISSOTL 2023 was Utrecht railway museum, possibly because the organisers wanted to model the conference theme of ‘context matters’.  This was the final destination which united delegates in considering how our different institutional contexts shape the way we teach although we all share interests and concerns about the nuts and bolts of student education such as assessment, academic support, sense of belonging and artificial intelligence (AI). These strands brought Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) passengers from all corners of the globe together in resplendent train carriages and waiting rooms and there was a collective buzz as we navigated our route from poster to workshop.  

My university role in supporting students academically led me to participate in inspiring discussions, such as how we can view AI, not as a threat, but an opportunity to rethink what and how we learn.  And presenting my own paper made me consider how to communicate what I do to a wider audience outside my discipline. This is largely because EAP and inherent concepts such as ‘skills’, ‘academic literacies’, ‘language’ and even ‘support’ can be misunderstood and even problematic, reinforcing deficit discourses.  Sharing my experiences and finding common ground with presenters in similar roles in North America, for example, made me feel that I had found a new tribe.  

Where next? 

Boarding the ISSOTL 2023 train has certainly refuelled my SoTL. I am continuing these conference conversations with my LITE Fellowship colleague and next year we hope to share the findings of our LITE project ‘Stepping Up Standing Out: Supporting international PGT students to make the most of their year in a UK university’ to other ISSOTL passengers. Will you be on that train?