GNA Garcia, the gentlewoman scholar and one my favourite saunterers, first told me about the Henry David Thoreau’s, Walking essay. In it, Thoreau extolls the virtues of walking as a source of inspiration and generation of knowledge and reflection.
My most recent jaunt through the woods, this past Friday at noon reminded me of this essay as members of our team trekked behind the university campus along a section of the Bruce trail. We were joined by faculty, sessional instructors, staff and teaching assistants. As we meandered we shared our recent classroom happenings, challenges and developments.
My colleague, Lianne Fisher started these walking sessions and calls them Pedagogical Walk and Talk. This week, Lianne is flying to Winnipeg for the Canadian Educational Developer’s Caucus where she’ll deliver a session on Documenting Your Work. Our centre was recently audited by the the Ministry of Colleges, Training, and Universities. Part of this audit included a lot of spreadsheet counts- how many workshops did we offer? How many faculty attended? What was our impact? This experience, while it felt very reductive, as if it were possible to quantify teaching and learning impact in a spreadsheet, it did raise some good questions for our team. We think we are effective, but how do we know? Where is our evidence?
Much of our work, like teaching and learning is based in building connections between people and ideas; while a great deal does happen formal ways like workshops or consultation meetings, much of it happens in informal places – in line for a coffee, in the hallway between classes, even on the weekend at the farmer’s market.
The beauty of the Pedagogical Walk in Talk is that it taps into the serendipity of the informal gatherings but allows for a bit of structure and purpose. Afterwards, faculty will often branch off into their own collaborations, teaching assistants will come back to discuss an idea they overheard or at the very least we’ll have built a connection of breaking new snow together through the woods.