August 21, 2023

Thinking Design with SALTISE 2023

You know SALTISE?

SALTISE (Supporting Active Learning & Technological Innovation in Studies of Education) is the learning community service that brings together instructors and professional development staff from English and French educational institutions within the greater Montreal area, as well as other regions of Quebec. Launched 10 years ago using an approach related to the Community of Practice model, SALTISE has become a unique feature of our network. On June 12th and 13th, 2023, I had the opportunity to participate in the SALTISE annual conference with the theme: Educators as Designers “A Practice-Research Conversation”, bringing together educational practitioners and international scholars.

Is SALTISE a community of practice?

Spearheaded by a team at Dawson College who participated in a joint grant and who created the Dawson Active Learning Community (DALC), SALTISE has been at the forefront of intercollegiate collaboration from the start. It originally revolved around STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). It’s increasingly broadening its purview so that a collaboration between literature and interior design feels right at home within the SALTISE sphere of action. Though it’s focused on anglophone CEGEPS, SALTISE involves people from diverse institutions, including teams from anglophone universities and individuals from francophone colleges or universities. At its core, SALTISE fosters a sense of belonging among diverse practitioners who realize they depend on one another. In other words, it’s a community, in the sociological sense.

The community of practice (CoP) construct is particularly relevant, as the group focuses on concrete and practical actions, both in terms of active learning and in its work with an active audience.

Like a community of practice, the way SALTISE works is determined by the group itself. The knowledge developed by the group is broadcast widely, in a remarkably well-documented way. Exceedingly rare in the field of digital resources, the site even covers the adoption of strategies and resources in diverse colleges and universities. For instance, we can tell that Game-Based Instruction & Gamification has been used at John Abbott College (traditional classroom) and at Dawson College (smart classroom) with groups of 30-40 students, or that Concordia University’s Philippe Caignon has used it for a Family Feud activity.

Having been launched 10 years ago, SALTISE does have CoPs’ longevity on its side. And membership is wide enough to count as a CoP.

The thing is, SALTISE brings people from different domains, which is quite distinct from the way a CoP normally works. More specifically, SALTISE builds bridges between practitioners and scholars (particularly those in education and learning sciences). It is both a community-based and structured way to improve teaching. In fact, one might argue that SALTISE does it more methodically than most other groups. In this sense, it’s closer to an academic organization of the type which has annual conferences open to anyone.

The annual SALTISE conference

The SALTISE conference is designed to bring practitioners and scholars together. As you might expect, there are graduate students and senior scholars who present their findings to a captivated audience, taking copious notes and asking pointed questions about methodology. Other sessions are much closer to Eductive’s Real Life Story format in which educational practitioners (teachers, pedagogical advisors, etc.) inspire others by sharing their experience with a method or strategy that they’ve used in courses they’ve taught, whether in person or online.

Part of what makes SALTISE conferences unique is what happens between conferences. For instance, the community of SALTISE innovators includes fellows who work on very specific dimensions of college pedagogy. In the past, some members have received mini grants “to support efforts to develop materials and tools that enrich the students learning experiences and promote the use of active learning instruction at the post-secondary level” (Who We Are | SALTISE). Partners and learning communities include groups which are distinct from those who provide support for the overall college network. And SALTISE developed tools include myDALITE which was built in the CEGEP network with funding from Harvard X. When you scratch the surface, you realize that the SALTISE conference is a tree from a different set of roots than the ones you may know.

SALTISE 2023: A special event

For the 1st time, the SALTISE conference was co-located with the Annual Meeting of the International Society of the Learning Sciences (ISLS). SALTISE co-director Liz Charles sits on ISLS’s communications committee and there has been fruitful collaboration between the 2 organizations in preparation for this year’s events. Local scholars, many of them junior, benefitted from direct interactions with members of a global audience, without spending any money for the privilege. In addition, projects showcased during the poster session were quite varied in both content and format. I had the chance to engage with several people during that poster session, giving me hope for the future of learning, digital or otherwise.

For its 2023 conference, the SALTISE community had an inclusive theme: Educators as Designers: “A Practice-Research Conversation”. This theme helped select experts as keynote speakers and solidified the community’s work on roles among learning professionals. Recognizing pedagogues in their design work also pushes a dimension of active learning which revolves around collaboration, for instance through peer instruction (SALTISE has invited Eric Mazur to Montreal in the past).

Experimenting with formats for conference sessions

As a community based on innovative pedagogy and active learning, SALTISE adapts to diverse situations and listens to feedback. Based on suggestions from the conference committee, the team has added new session formats to this year’s edition, offering a unique experience to its participants. For instance, roundtable sessions allowed attendees to discuss with people involved in different projects, assigned to specific tables in the same room. In addition, hands-on mini-workshops were anything but mini in their impact, as participants would go through a version of the learning experience that facilitators organize for their own classes.

Also related to format, a decision has been made to have extensive breaks between sessions. It allowed for deep interactions among participants and greatly decreased the sense of urgency from the typical conference.

Some sessions were bilingual, which can be challenging. In other contexts, mixing talks in French and English can cause some friction if not discomfort. The bilingual sessions I attended ran smoothly and I perceived that the cross-fertilization between participants from both sides of the language divide helped alleviate the Two Solitudes effect.


I’ve participated in the following sessions:

Indicative of the spirit of collaboration across the network, Eductive was identified by some presenters as they had been collaborating with our team. For instance, a few days before the conference, we’ve published a Real Life Story about the Interprofessional Education project which was the focus of the 1st symposium. A workshop about that same project was among my personal highlights from Intercollegiate Ped Days 2023.

Though SALTISE caters to Quebec’s Higher Education network, some of the participation came from practitioners and scholars outside of Quebec. Both keynotes were delivered by international figures (Laurillard at University College London and Miller at Harvard University). MacDonald and Bézaire came from Carleton University where they work, respectively, as Health & Bioscience librarian and instructor in Food Science.

Practicing design thinking

The theme for SALTISE 2023 (educators as designers) helped the community gather around an important trend among learning professionals: design thinking.

As many terms in professional jargons, “design thinking” requires contextual definitions. There are clear definitions among well-known organizations catering to User Experience Designers (UXD). For instance:

Design which involves “design thinking” has some features that distinguishes it from other design approaches.

Expressions and terms related to design thinking include “human-centred design” and “user-centric design”. Learning Experience Design (LXD) is currently a major trend in Instructional Design, particularly in Learning & Development (L&D) which encompasses experiences like corporate training and professional development.

However, major distinction between Learning Experience Design (LXD) and traditional approaches to Instructional Design (ID) is in the length of design iterations. The “ADDIE” acronym refers to the dominant model for ID:

  • Analysis, Design
  • Development
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation

Developed for the U.S. Army, it offers a cyclical approach, with evaluation (the last step in the process) feeding analysis. In some variants, evaluation is involved at each step in the process, which implies a feedback loop. Simply put, the feedback loop in LXD is quicker and closer to the learners. In LXD as in User Experience Design, the basic approach is to implement and test an early prototype upon which designers and learners work together to improve the experience quickly and continuously.

Design Thinking advocates often use a version of a simple diagram by Henrik Kniberg to explain a core concept in such an iterative process: instead of focusing on the delivery of a fully-fledged product, it’s useful to quickly release a working prototype, what we now call a “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP). As Kniberg suggests, in that same blogpost:

So yes, do some up-front analysis, discover as much as you can before starting development. But don’t spend too much time on it and don’t trust the analysis too much – start prototyping and releasing instead, that’s when the real learning happens.

— Henrick Kniberg

As learning professionals, we may be sensitive to this type of concrete process of improvement. Not only are we helping other learners develop their competencies, we’re involved in our own learning processes, based on thoughtful interactions with others. At least intuitively or empirically, we realize that deep learning experiences happen by thorough engagement between learners and teachers on preliminary material. A simple document we start creating with learners may have a more sustainable impact on learning than an elaborate piece of material demonstrating high production value.

A design subtext of the SALTISE conference

What does this tangent on Learning Experience Design have to do with the SALTISE 2023 conference? It provides one of the keys to understanding what design means for teachers in the collaboration between scholars and practitioners.

For instance, Caroline Chouinard and Stéphanie Granger’s pedagogical empowerment mini-workshop had participants engage in a very simple exercise around a mood board linking lessons from interior design to literary analysis. The mood board itself was far from a finished product yet the learning experience was arguably more profound than that derived from observing a well-crafted piece of furniture or reading a piece of text.

Similarly, Ayca Koseoglu and Amanda Saxe’s talk about Universal Design for Learning (UDL), set in a session about Leveraging Technologies merged insight from Universal Design in architecture and course development. Though the presentation itself was closer to a lecture than a workshop, ties between principles of universal design and UDL Guidelines can lead to concrete action (informed by research) which addresses learners’ needs.

The Design Thinking paradigm was particularly useful in the context of Jeremie Choquette’s testimonial on adapting SALTISE’s Courseflow from its course design basis to curriculum development (during the last session I attended at the conference). The software developer was explicitly linking Activity Theory (associated with Lev Vygotsky) and Agile methodologies in software development. Doing so, he addressed the learning potential from thoughtful collaborative work towards shared objectives. Curriculum Developers involved in the co-design process were able to learn about their own field, which underlines the importance of interprofessional work for Professional Development.

Where does this leave us? Collaborative action

It’d be easy to summarize much of what happens through SALTISE as “learning by doing”, a well-trodden path in contemporary education.

Members of the SALTISE community care deeply about the ways research constructs favour improvements in pedagogical practice. Yes, active learning is largely about learners doing specific tasks instead of passively “ingesting” information. Perhaps more importantly, there is a whole science behind active learning and scholars are currently involved in research projects about the method.

In the end, the key lesson might be that we need to collaborate widely to improve learning and teaching. As designers (of learning experiences), teachers benefit from a wide-ranging dialogue between researchers and practitioners.

About the author

Alexandre Enkerli

Alexandre helps learning professionals make technology appropriate for their contexts, just like he did as a technopédagogue for Vitrine technologie-éducation from 2014 to 2016 and as a Technopedagogical Advisor for Collecto from 2021 to 2023. Alex comes back to this role after a few in Ottawa (creating cybersecurity learning pathways and a Massive Open Online Learning Experience on public engagement), and in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean for participatory-action research at COlab.

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