Recently I attended my first LILLY Conference. This conference, hosted by the International Teaching Learning Cooperative, is focused on evidence-based teaching and is one of multiple that they host in various locations around the USA every year. This particular iteration of the conference took place in Asheville, NC from Aug 7th-9th, 2023.

At the LILLY Conference, I attended many sessions covering all aspects of instruction including topics such as assessment, grading, experiential learning, classroom culture, metacognition and universal design for learning to name just a few.

The first session I attended was titled, “It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Deliver it: A Consideration for Feedback Delivery ”, presented by Trish Wedderburn. This presentation brought forward new ideas around the format in which we give feedback. This session was timely as Morgan and I have been experimenting with Ungrading which requires a good amount of feedback and we’ve noticed it’s not always acknowledged or acted upon by our students. My favorite ideas to come out of this presentation session were to make implementing the feedback an assignment in and of itself, explain from the beginning your style of feedback, why you do it that way and why it will help them, and asking students what they want feedback on. I was surprised to learn that students perceive written feedback differently than audio or visual feedback, though it made sense once I stopped to think about it (i.e. think of all the different ways you can read the tone of a text message or an email). It was a lively session where faculty from various disciplines were sharing how they go about giving feedback which was insightful and helped establish an expectation of participation from the audience and an overall vibe of enthusiasm for me as a first time attendee.

The keynote on the first day was titled “Creating Environments Where Faculty and Students Thrive” and was presented by Taimi Olsen, the Director of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation at Clemson University. This session surprised me by diving into cultural differences between Gen Z and other generations. I was pleasantly surprised as the presenter made her points – getting into how Gen Z perceives the concepts of quality, persistence, time, and responsibility differently than other generations. She discussed how these differences manifest themselves and strategies for, you guessed it, creating an environment where both faculty and students thrive despite these perceived differences. One of the strategies Olsen touched on was using asset-based approaches when teaching Gen Z such as implementing character and values in your teaching. This strategy felt extremely relevant as Morgan and I just participated in Wake’s Program for Leadership and Character’s 3- day course design workshop. Clemson’s Faculty Learning Community on the Values of Teaching created some videos on this topic as well, covering kindness, candor, introspection, silence and trust & respect that you can see here

Another session I attended that stood out to me was titled, “Trauma-Informed Educational Practices to Advance Student Learning” and was presented by Kris Atkinson of Metropolitan State University of Denver. In this session, I was able to revisit ideas related to trauma-informed pedagogy I first encountered during the early days of COVID. One of the most impactful moments for me from this session was hearing a response from an audience member who was replying to another audience member that was sharing their hesitancy with implementing trauma-informed pedagogical practices. Their hesitancy was one that I think many of us who teach can identify with and/or understand, they felt uncomfortable with what they felt was the pressure to make judgements on the severity of a students’ trauma when determining an appropriate response and/or determining when a students’ behavior was concerning enough to ‘ring the alarm’ and report them to appropriate centers on campus. The responding audience member mentioned that when the brain is responding to trauma, there isn’t a hierarchy of response based on perceived severity of the traumatic event, the brain is just responding. The brain doesn’t react according to the severity of the trauma, i.e. it doesn’t know that it’s responding to a car accident versus war versus a pet goldfish dying. The brain doesn’t react based on society’s hierarchy of severity. What this respondent was getting at is that people’s brains just respond differently and we don’t need to be judging the severity of someones’ trauma, it’s safe to just assume that everyone has likely been through a traumatic situation at some point in their lives and design your class in that way – similar to how we’ve been taught to think of, and implement, Universal Design practices. Atkinson did mention that 66-85% of students in higher ed have likely experienced some form of trauma exposure, which is a statistic that reflects the general population.

This particular session overall really reminded me that many of the behaviors and/or attitudes I’ve seen from students, i.e. difficulty concentrating, withdrawal, over or under reaction, decline in performance, etc are often symptoms of trauma but can easily be considered to be something else. Many people have these symptoms and don’t even correlate it to being related to trauma.

This session also had another audience member, Erin McKenney from NC State, who shared her strategy for supporting students of concern, including the language she uses in her syllabus. She states in her syllabus that if anyone misses a certain amount of ‘milestone’ assignments (she designates particularly important assignments as this and explains in syllabus) or a certain amount of classes she will be reaching out in x, y, z ways. With this approach, she avoids what the hesitant audience member above mentioned – the awkward feeling of having to judge for yourself whether a student is in fact struggling, and if so how bad is it and what accommodations to make on a case by case basis. You can read more about this in Erin’s blog post. I found this really helpful, especially as a way to frame that certain behaviors from students will be a cause for me to react in certain ways out of concern and to show that I’m looking out for students’ wellbeing in an active way.

Another LILLY session that got me thinking was titled “Understanding Student Biases & Perspectives of Teachers” and was presented by Michael Berntsen of University of North Carolina at Pembroke. This session focused on how students’ biases about gender and sexuality really impact their perspective of their teachers and how these biases form their expectations around how their teachers are likely to teach which, ultimately, affects course evaluations. Some of the biases that this presenter shared, from interviewing students at his institution, included that students perceive female teachers as more likely to give opportunities for extra credit and teach with/from pathos and that male teachers are more likely to hold strong boundaries and teach with/from logos.

These are only some of my highlights from the LILLY Conference, but I would highly recommend anyone involved in instruction to check out the conference if they are able. The attendees, the content, the food and the location were really enjoyable! I’m happy to have had the opportunity to attend.