This past week I attended my first in person conference since February 2020. It was the Annual Conference of the National Society for Experiential Education. Back in early Summer, when I received the email from the Center for Teaching and Learning about attending the conference I felt good with attending the conference. Florida at that time was doing better with the number of COVID-19 cases but that quickly changed and I was starting to become hesitant about attending the conference. Thankfully the numbers are starting to decline after a massive spike due to the Delta variant. Another encouraging aspect was that the conference had a mask mandate for all attendees. It was sent out via email several times prior to the conference. It was also nice that the conference was in Orlando so if I didn’t feel comfortable with the COVID-19 measures, I could drive home in 45 minutes. Thankfully after I walked into the keynote session I immediately noticed that everyone was wearing their masks and wearing them properly. The conference did include a lunch but I didn’t attend because I didn’t feel comfortable attending this event so I just ordered some UBER eats.
The conference this year had an overall theme focused on social justice in experiential education. My first session was the keynote by Dr. Raja Gopal Bhattar (they/them/theirs) on Tuesday morning. As stated in the website of the conference: “Dr. Bhattar is a nationally recognized higher education leader, advocate, consultant and author. Raja will address how effective experiential learning requires intentionality and clear understanding of outcomes for our communities. Through storytelling and reflections, this keynote will offer insights and strategies on how experiential education leaders can incorporate equity, inclusion and belonging in all aspects of our work.” I loved the keynote speaker! I like it when keynote speakers make me reflect and this was a perfect example of this. Some of the questions I had to think about white listening to keynote speaker:
- How do we show up?
- Identity versus perception?
- What is our role in upholding/disruptive inequitable systems?
- How our students receive us?
- Whose perspective is not on the table?
- How do societal systems enhance or inhibit student success on campus?
We also had to do an identity grid that helps us reflect on “how often do we think about who we are beyond our titles? ”
Other sessions that I really enjoyed were:
- Social Justice and Antiracism in Career Education and Experiential Education: Session discussed a process for creating a Call to Action with accountability measures, equity-oriented course syllabi, and a 5-step model to consider in your own work. This is a wonderful resources shared during the session: https://tinyurl.com/4j2tmxaw. This resources were used to create the Social Justice and Career Education infographic. Please see image below.
- Providing career readiness support to female students in male dominant industries: This was a nice round table session focused on different kind of events that staff and faculty can use to create opportunities for networking, grow , and support for female students and those who identify as woman.
- Using immersive virtual reality in higher education to facilitate authentic learning experiences: This was a very introductory session into VR and how a university had employed VR experiences into the curriculum to provide learning experiences related to manufacturing at the start of the pandemic in lieu of in person field trips. We got an opportunity to brainstorm ideas for our own curriculum.
- Learner-centric virtual exchanges: No travel, no problem: This session related to a virtual global challenge that an institution took at the beginning of the pandemic in lieu of study abroad programs. As soon someone who has coordinated a study abroad program in the past and who is considering one next Spring I want to think of alternatives in case the pandemic requires me to make a change in plans. This session helped me think about different approaches that I can take virtually.
- Influencers abroad: Enhancing cross-cultural awareness through social media activities: This session explored leveraging strategically designed social media learning activities to enhance cross-cultural awareness. I thought it was a creative to consider alternative assignments during study abroad experiences. Some of this assignments included: Vlogs, Instagram stories (academic versus personal accounts) every day, Instagram food related posts, and end of a program presentation/reflection.