Collegiality and Condescension



March 1, 2016

I gave two presentations at the American Political Science Association’s Teaching and Learning Conference held in Portland, Oregon. My first presentation was dedicated to Active Learning, Flipping the Classroom, and Educational Technology. I spoke to my areas of expertise and institutional leadership at my home campus. There were more than two dozen people in the room. Overall, I had what I felt were good connections at the workshop. I exchanged business cards and offered some WordPress or remote system help to a few colleagues immediately after my workshop.

Imagine my surprise when a random colleague from my first presentation emailed me immediately to point out a few things. He wanted to remind me that the afternoon keynote and I disagreed about “learning styles,” and that one of my slides was incorrect. What really made me smile is that he took the time to “splain” me. He assumed that I missed the keynote and he also assumed that there is one truth about learning and teaching in all of Political Science. What I have issue with was not so much his tone, but the fact that he assumes that there is only one right answer. There is not. My presentation was about my experience over the course of 18 years of teaching; it is my philosophy and might vary markedly for another Political Science instructor. And, I am also pulling from the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, which is interdisciplinary.

I was amused. I could not help it. I emailed him and explained that the discipline of scholarship and teaching disagrees with his assertion, and that the area of universal design literature also notes that there are multiple types of learning. I did not have to reply and I know that; however, I had to point out the fact that there is so much research about teaching and learning outside of Political Science. I also felt that his smarmy email needed a thoughtful response.

I shared his email with a few others and fielded some really hilarious responses. One thing that was common was the shock that he felt compelled to email me and correct me. He surely had the chance at my session, yet chose to email me. I joked that @worsereviewer must have been at my session and “punked” me. My point here is that this email was not collegial. This colleague was passive aggressive and reminds me about poor conference behavior. It is cowardly to email someone and attempt to correct them via email, when you can engage in a conversation at the conference. He made no attempt to chat with me at the conference. If this colleague wanted to have a legitimate conversation the opportunity was lost when he sent me the email. Email communication during a conference or post-conference should really be about engaging in a conversation that is helpful or one that is collegial and not one that is patronizing at best, noting that you have done something wrong, and attaching a few articles as proof.

I am sure that someone is reading this and thinking, “You are taking things too seriously.” However, my response is that these are those moments when we witness behavior that marks our participation at conferences. Many of us have stories that we share about things that have happened at conferences that made us not want to attend again. I will go back to the Teaching and Learning conference with enthusiasm, and I truly hope that this colleague will try to talk to me to my face or engage with me during the next conference session.

By the way, I did tell this colleague that his email made me smile. His email made me smile, as I remembered that his email was not so much about me, as it was about him. And, I made eye contact with him later at the conference, but that was it. I was leaving a meeting and saw him, so it was not the time for me to approach him.

The conference was a success in my mind, and it is always great to see other educators, but I was reminded of why I attend more teaching and learning or educational technology conferences.



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