The Importance of ‘Voices’: The ITL Teaching and Learning Conference 2023

by | Jul 14, 2023 | Student partnership

The ITL T&L Conference took place on 6th July 2023. We would like to thank the co-chairs, Hannah Cobb and Jennie Blake, the conference committee and the amazing team of student and staff helpers who made it all happen and run by the rest of the ITL team.  

In the ever-changing landscape of higher education, a realm where both the pursuit of and the sharing of knowledge and practice is inherently embedded into our culture, the importance of discussing teaching and learning itself cannot be overstated. As educators, administrators, and advocates, it is crucial that we work together to delve into the central aspects the topics surrounding Teaching and Learning practice, engaging in meaningful conversations that transcend the traditional boundaries of academia.  

One element in particular stood out to me as a core piece of the Conference this week past, amidst the myriad other topics that deserve just as much attention: Voices – student, staff, and otherwise.  If there was one thing I ended the week playing over in my mind, it was the potential unleashed by bringing diverse voices together. We can empower students to actively shape their educational journey, exchange unique and insightful practice from staff often siloed, and challenge racialized inequality by listening to the ideas of those who experience it on a daily basis – All of which contributes to fostering a vibrant culture of collaboration, inclusivity, and innovation across the institution. 

The Conference Plenary was a panel discussion around ‘Challenging racialised inequalities in Higher Education’, which immediately set the tone for the rest of the day. Conversation flowed and when the floor was opened to questions, there was a clear hunger to discuss the practical actions that can be enacted to tackle racial inequalities at Manchester. Jackie Carter, who has written previously on this blog and for THE on addressing challenges faced by disabled students, made note of the importance behind hearing the voice of those on the panel, who have experienced the effects of institutional inequalities. 












With this in mind, I was later present for Duncan Hull’s ‘Lightning Talk’ on the topic of podcasting and student partnerships. A core part of his work centred around giving student partners the opportunity to discuss how their learning experience has impacted their employability. The central thesis for Duncan’s project was to platform students by giving them the chance to talk to each other on a public forum – and I noted one of the unsung factors of his success with the ‘Hearing your Future’ podcast: an ‘informal’ Academic voice.  It seemed to me that by speaking with his students, by the use of a collective voice accounting for both sides of Teaching and Learning, his practice and the impact upon his students was that much greater. 

I had conversations with a range of attendees over the course of the day, and at the core of most of those was the sentiment that by getting together a range of voices to speak to pedagogical practice from all across the institution, we can raise up practice and projects that are happening (and in many cases have been relatively quiet), and give them a place to be shared and discussed.  

The final session of the day was a panel from the Students Union, tackling exactly the above. How can we make voices heard, in an institution as large and populous as Manchester University, and how can we tackle the divides that sometimes manifest between academics and students.  I particularly appreciated a suggestion from Nick Weise, which I felt drew together the threads of the day quite nicely: “Our staff are also students, because we’re learning how to do things every day, we are all lifelong learners”. And really, isn’t that what the whole conference was about? We all have things to say, and input, to work to continue improving pedagogical practice; regardless of whether we are a student, support staff, or academic staff, we can all take time to listen to each other, and learn how to better help teaching and learning. 

If there is one lesson to walk away from this conference experience with, it is that we have only just scratched the surface potential of the iceberg this year (It’s not a perfect metaphor but I’m sticking with it!).  Enthusiasm to both present and attend far outweighed the size of the venue, and there is clearly no shortage of ‘voices’ waiting to be given a platform across the University. So, here is to a successful first run, and a promise of even bigger and louder conversations in the coming years.