Well, another Lilly Conference in Traverse City is "in the books." I've written in past blogs that this conference is a highlight of my year. I enjoy the conference's top-notch organization, the opportunities to spend time with colleagues, participating in the sessions—all of it. This year Matt and I had a presentation on the program: "Let's Get Physical: Students as Visual Aids." Unfortunately, I had to watch it on video, since I was a few thousand miles away. Matt kindly made sure to record it. At the end of the session, he looked into the camera and said off-handedly, "you missed it"—he had no idea how right he was.
I've not had many complaints about being on sabbatical this semester, enjoying professional and personal adventures in southeastern Europe. I've wiled days away in Istanbul and Belgrade, took in views of the Aegean, and spent many an hour in cafés. The opportunity to teach in a different venue (the American University in Kosovo) has provided plenty of stimuli for thinking, learning, and scholarship—new classroom experiences, opportunities for collegial collaboration, and research topics. That said, in the last couple weeks I found myself wishing I were back in Michigan for the Lilly Conference. In this case, distance has made the heart grow fonder.
Obviously, I wished I'd have been there to co-present with Matt. We've done this a few times now, and we mesh pretty well when we're "up front." Also, I was really excited about our topic this year. Matt actually came up with it at last year's Lilly conference. I was presenting on engaging students the first day of class, and he noted that I would use students as "props" to make points—something he does as well when he teaches. He immediately suggested doing a future session about this. This led to some very stimulating thinking, discussion, and research between us. It served as the basis for my participation in Cornerstone University's Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) summer research program (sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at the university). As we refined our work, we got to thinking about what to call the instances when we would "use" the students as "visual aids." These weren't nearly involved enough to be "kinesthetic activities," yet they engaged students physically in the learning process. After some wordsmithing, we hit upon the term "kinesthetic illustration." I won't explain further—you can learn more by watching the video: Matt did a great job presenting. I just wish I'd have been there.
That wasn't the only thing I missed. I messaged Matt the day the conference started, asking how things were going. He mentioned that on the trip up from Grand Rapids, the autumn colors in northern Michigan had been brilliant. My wife and I both enjoy the season, and Traverse City is a great locale for seeing the leaves turn. My profound sense of absence only grew the next day when Matt sent a text that the one of the keynote speakers had just discussed the importance of rapport in the learning experience. This is a topic that has caught my attention recently (see my last blog dated September 18); when I read the message, I groaned—I could not believe I was missing this! As always, Todd Zakrajsek and his staff had a professionally rich program. Distance had definitely made the heart grow fonder!
Yet the spirit of Lilly was not absent here. Besides the video of our session, I had two "tastes" of Lilly a few thousand miles away. One, I had the opportunity to organize and participate in a forum at AUK on "Innovation and Creativity in Education." There were three of us on the panel, bringing different perspectives to the topic. We had over 30 people in attendance, and the "Q&A" lasted for almost an hour. (We had the advantage of being the only session—no deadline for clearing the room!) It reminded me of the different insights on teaching one can find at Lilly, and the interaction it produces. The following week, Amy Strage, who directs San Jose State University's faculty development center, came to AUK to consult on setting up a center here. We'd been chatting for a while before we realized that we had met before—at last year's Lilly conference! (It is indeed a "small world.") Besides a chance to reminisce about the conference, her work here reminded me of what Lilly is about—opportunities for improving teaching and learning.
I've enjoyed my sabbatical this fall. Given the chance to do it again, I certainly wouldn't turn it down. I would make one change—I would move it to the spring semester. That way, wouldn't have to say I "missed it."