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SOTL’s Resistance Role: Advocating for Excellence

By Joelle Fanghanel
President of ISSOTL

I feel strongly that SOTL has the potential to inflect some of the irrational or erratic directions we see emerging for higher education – the market drive; a focus on extrinsic aims and immediately tangible outcomes; generally a sense that critique and intellectual endeavour are under siege.

Whilst an increasing number of countries are beginning to apply SOTL principles to the way they think of educational practice, the international academic community is struggling to find ways of agreeing on how to define and identify the nature of academic excellence, often failing to recognise that this can only occur through a focus on collective endeavour. There is evidence in our discussions at recent ISSOTL conferences of a growing awareness of the need to engineer change in strategic ways rather than through a focus on individuals and individualized excellence. We have a role in continuing these discussions to reach further out. The impact of ill-conceived policy developments on the academy and on students are issues that are relevant across the world. SOTL is a formidably powerful paradigm for faculty development and reflective collective practice.

SOTL can unleash the potential of academics to influence policy and to become advocates of forms of education that are meaningful to address today’s challenges. In engaging worldwide, ISSOTL contributes to a collective redefinition of academic work, moving away from simple binaries that emphasise divides between research and teaching, to focus instead on academic practice as a vehicle for transformation. The need for a focus on context-relevant collective practices to strategize change is incumbent to the academic community as a form of resistance to reductionist understandings of practice that do not acknowledge its complexity, and threaten its diversity.

Whilst we may feel that it is difficult to engage ‘en masse’ colleagues from all of the world’s regions, I see it as an important focus for ISSOTL. The energies, resources, and time spent on engaging internationally are worth it. I believe (and that is the result of what the French philosopher Alain called ‘deliberate optimism’) that SOTL can become an international frame of reference and help students and academics resist expedient policy solutions that stifle the spirit of enquiry worldwide.

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