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Institutional Cultures for Development, the "Wikification" of Learning, and Other Lessons from the HEDS UP Sessions at AAC&U's Annual Meeting

In a conference that has grown to about 2,000 attendees, the HEDS UP sessions at AAC&U’s Annual Meeting—a series of ten-minute talks in the spirit of TED Talks—offer a viable way, theoretically, of including more proposals in the program so as to increase participation and to be as inclusive as possible. The format of the presentations was an interesting concept, but maybe academics are too accustomed to reading papers, using PowerPoint, and rushing through lectures, such that they need more coaching to deliver such sessions effectively. I found the topics interesting, but the presentations were a little uneven. Too much one-way communication, too many delays because of technology saturation, too many unreadable slides, too much effort to be humorous, too little rehearsal for polished delivery.

Don’t get me wrong. The subject matter was important. Some kernels of good information, insights, and big-picture framing characterized the rapid-fire mode, but I wish HEDS UP would actually provide more guidance for presentations that actually look like TED talks. The sessions today did not.

Still, I was intrigued by a few featured ideas. I found the idea of “wikification” of learning was a fascinating spotlight on learning as collaborative, constructive process that emphasizes the need to use technology and other pedagogical means to help students learn how to learn, how to be critically reflective about not just what they know but how they learned it, when they learned it best or worst, how they can apply and connect their learning, and why they are learning at all. “Wiki” strategies are founded on the notion that learning, writing, researching are continuously evolving processes, a theme that has been echoed so far throughout the conference in several sessions.

Kiernan Mathews’s report on the COACHE project—the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education, a Harvard-based consortium of institutional leaders—yielded some interesting insights into the challenge of how to create an institutional culture that nurtures and develops academic leaders, focusing on the big picture of creating an effective connection between the work and development of faculty and the complexities of academic leadership. How do we keep from being so focused on our individual tasks as faculty or leaders that we lose sight of our larger collective goals? The well-known video of individuals passing a ball while a gorilla enters and exits the scenario was the common example of our challenge as an academic community. Many viewers miss the gorilla, as well as the vanishing ball carrier or the changing color of the curtain, because we are so focused on our own individual task or perspective. We miss the big picture. Matthews’s lesson is that we need to broaden our perspective in order to build stronger bridges between faculty and leaders to build more robust faculty governance structures. In order to do so, we must work on trust, shared purpose (relationships), understanding the issues at hand, adaptability, and productivity. If you use your imagination, you will better understand how and why Mathew used a cooking metaphor throughout his presentation, suggesting that the great chefs rely on the same five imperatives to achieve their greatness. For faculty and leaders to realize an ideal community of sound, shared faculty governance, they need to be more like the great cooks.

John Zubizarreta is professor of English and director Honors & Faculty Development at Columbia College in Columbia, SC.