In November me and Alison Graham from the School of Biology attended the 2016 Symposium on Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Banff, Canada. We saw the Symposium advertised on twitter and decided it would be an excellent opportunity to share our GradeMark work with an international audience (the location of course had nothing to do with our decision!). I’d never been to Canada before though Alison had visited previously, so much planning went into our trip with regular weather checks in the weeks leading to our departure. Our arrival in Banff coincided with a spell of unseasonably warm weather at a time when the UK was receiving its first snowfall of the winter – to say we felt cheated was an understatement!

The warm weather mirrored the warm welcome from our hosts, Mount Royal University in Calgary. Brett McCollum, the Acting Academic Director of the Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, set the scene of the Symposium by inviting us to “share, challenge and support” each other over the three day event. The delegates were mostly Canadian but there were also many from the States and someone had even made the trip from Australia! We attended a pre-Symposium workshop entitled “Next Steps: Developing Your SoTL Project/Broadening Your SoTL Perspective” led by Wallace Lockhart from the University of Regina and Brad Wuetherick from Dalhousie University. They invited us to focus on a current or planned SoTL project and following from JC’s previous blog, this provided us the opportunity to spend some dedicated thinking space to consider two projects – one in progress on academic reading, and a potential new project about future-proofing HE teaching. The workshop was followed by an Opening Reception and Banquet, giving us the opportunity to get to know our fellow delegates and discuss how teaching practices differed between our respective countries. The first keynote was delivered after the Banquet when David Pace from Indiana University shared his work on “decoding the gap” between what we as educators expect our students to be able to understand from our teaching, to what the students actually understand, by breaking down activities into smaller, more manageable tasks. Discussing these concepts with Alison after the keynote made us both realise that this is something we do as a matter of routine at Newcastle, so it was reassuring to see that our teaching would be considered as a good example of this!

The Symposium got in full swing the following morning with eight parallel sessions followed by the poster session. We presented our much loved and well-travelled GradeMark poster, and had lots of interest in how we have incorporated GradeMark into our assessments. We took the chance to encourage delegates to attend our oral presentation the next day, which clearly worked as our session was very full. Our presentation covered our work in more detail and explained how we have created assessment-specific marking criteria, engaged the students in the use of these through dedicated taught sessions, and how the success of this has led to us using this model in a range of modules in both academic skills. Our presentation was well-received and initiated much discussion and sharing of practice, particularly with colleagues at the University of Regina and we look forward to hearing how they have adapted our approach.


Of course the Symposium was not all hard work; we tried our hand at curling, and took the chance to explore the beautiful Canadian scenery with a ride up the Banff Gondola (where we finally got to stand in the snow!) and a trip to a drizzly Lake Louise. Much wildlife was spotted with encounters with elk, muskrats and even a distant spot through the trees of a grizzly bear foraging grain from the train tracks!

Next year the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning will be hosting their Symposium in Calgary (see link or follow @issotl17 on twitter for updates) – we can highly recommend going! While it was a very successful trip and we both came back with lots of ideas to incorporate into our practice, I came away thinking about our impact and how we can evidence what our newly found colleagues might take from our work. How do we follow up those delegates that may change their practice as a result of interacting with us at the Symposium – we’d love to hear your thoughts!