This week I’ve been at the annual meeting of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Liverpool (UK). I came late to the conference both to save money and because I had so much to do at home, but was able to take part in the last two days of the event, including what several colleagues and I have named “the failure roadshow” in which we discuss moments of failure in our work in the scholarship of teaching and learning and what we learned from those failures. The session we put on went quite well — it’s amazing how much enthusiasm faculty have for discussing failure rather than success. I have to ponder a bit more on why that would be…
In addition to our session, I am here to meet with colleagues from the UK, Australia, and the US about putting together a book of international perspectives by historians on the scholarship of teaching and learning. We’ve come to realize that a group of us working in this area have spent a lot of time talking about our work, have each published a variety of essays on the subject, but we’ve never gathered them together in any way to allow a reader to see just how diverse our experiences are–and how much they have in common–when it comes to teaching and learning in history.
The closing plenary of the conference was a big disappointment for me as a historian. The two speakers went on and on about what they call “threshold concepts.” Threshold concepts have apparently taken British higher education by storm of late–a sort of new religion in the scholarship of teaching and learning. But as a historian I had to finally ask a colleague sitting next to me, “This is supposed to be new?” I remember reading work by Grant Wiggins/Jay McTighe and Sam Wineburg in 1999 that discussed these same matters in great detail, both in general terms (Wiggins/McTighe) and in terms specific to history (Wineburg). I suppose if one packages old ideas with a nice name like “threshold concepts” it seems new and exciting.
My own vote would be for a website, but I think the sympathy of the group is much more for a book, largely because a book still conveys seriousness of purpose to a larger audience of scholars than does a website. So I suppose we’ll have a book rather than a website. Either way it will be well worth the effort because I think historians have a lot to learn from a consideration of international perspectives rather than just their own local ones.
While in Liverpool I also managed to visit a few museums, including the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the International Slavery Museum, the Tate, and the Beatles Story. All were quite good and with the exception of the Beatles Story, all were free…a nice change from home. Although the Beatles Story museum was largely for the serious Beatles fan, even those too young to remember the Fab Four would, I think, find some things of interest. Of course, there was a “Beatles-Themed Starbucks” in the museum. What museum today would be complete without a Starbucks? I particularly appreciated the way that the Maritime Museum and the Slavery Museum did not attempt to minimize Liverpool’s central role in the Atlantic Slave Trade.