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Reflections on Last Week’s ISSOTL Conference

Posted by on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 in News.

by Nancy Chick, CFT Assistant Director

I just returned from the ninth annual conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL)—this year in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.  I’ve attended every ISSOTL conference, and this was among the best.  But of this year’s plenaries, posters, and panels, another part of the conference stands out as I reflect on the week and return home to Nashville.

For three days before the conference, 70 faculty and teaching staff gathered in one large room to write.  They were the members of ISSOTL’s International Collaborative Writing Group, a collection of scholars who’d applied to join in groups of eight (or so) to research, discuss, and write articles on selected themes.  Participants were accepted in late February and grouped by selected topics.

The resulting nine groups were populated by scholars from across the globe, including United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Sweden, Australia, and elsewhere.  Most had never met.  Yet their work began in March, when they started using the internet and Skype to brainstorm and research their topics.  Then, in three days of pre-conference intensity, they gathered face-to-face in Hamilton to begin framing, outlining, and even writing their articles.

I visited them on their final day of work to welcome them to ISSOTL and to encourage them in their writing, since in January they will submit their finished articles to Teaching and Learning Inquiry (TLI), the ISSOTL journal, which I co-edit with my Canadian colleague Gary Poole.

I went straight from the airport to the large room of roundtables where they were working.   I was struck by the room’s buzzing with energy, ideas, and excitement.  Half-empty coffee and tea cups were everywhere, as were biscuit crumbs and candy bar wrappers from the afternoon snack.  Hands were gesturing, fingers were typing, laughter here, debate there, English spoken in various accents all around.  Large sheets of paper were hanging on the walls with Post-It notes and scribbles on them.  The groups were in the process of evaluating the experience by identifying what they’d gained as professionals, as writers, as scholars, as teachers, and what they’d recommend for the next iteration of the project.

When I fielded questions about their submissions, one question was most interesting.  They had been concerned about the APA Documentation Style’s convention of truncating co-authorship after the sixth name with a simple “et al.”  These writing groups of seven, eight, or nine authors were truly collaborative, everyone contributing research, ideas, and paragraphs to the final product.  How would they decide who’d disappear into “et al”?

My TLI partner Gary Poole and I exchanged looks and immediately agreed that, while Indiana University Press (the journal’s publisher) requires APA style, we’d use all of our authority as editors to list all authors by name, despite the convention. ISSOTL has embraced this model of authorship—international, supported, collaborative—because it reflects the values of the Society.  The good spirits in the room and the annotated sheets on the walls spoke to the strength of this model for those participating.  Not honoring each individual by “et al-ing” some contradicted the major goals for the project.

Their articles will start coming to our editorial office (in Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching) on January 15.  I look forward to reading their work—and the long lists of authors.


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