It can be uncomfortable to discuss cultural considerations and relevancy as someone who moved to Alaska a mere five years ago (February 3, 2010 but whose counting). I consider myself a guest in Alaska and want to learn as much as possible about the Alaska Native people and their culture. As an instructional designer I have a unique opportunity to be part of the professional development and online course design experience for UAA and our community campuses’ faculty. Though I may not be a culture bearer it would remiss not to share my experiences and resources.
I should mention learning about cultures and how to reconcile these with a western educational system and upbringing is not something I consider with a specific goal in mind. Rather this learning experience is part of my personal and professional journey. With this in mind I joined the Center for Faculty Excellence (CAFE) Faculty Learning Community, Difficult Dialogues Stop Talking Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning.
A group of fourteen faculty members (plus one) read the Stop Talking text by Ilarion (Larry) Merculieff and Libby Roderick over the course of a month meeting each Friday in October to learn what we could in a limited amount of time about indigenous teaching and learning and how to balance this new awareness with the paradigm of higher education.
In this post I would like to accomplish two things: openly invite you to join this dialogue and leave you with a few ideas to connect your pedagogy with indigenous ways for both face-to-face and online courses.
- Icebreakers with a sense of place. Begin class by having students share where they are from, a unique food from home, or a personal object. This can easily be accomplished in an online format with the Blackboard discussion board or during a Collaborate webinar/online class session. Sarah Frick published an EduTip: Cultural & Linguistic Competence: Group Exercises and Learning Materials sharing the example of a Cultural Iceberg exercise.
Get outside. We began each of the faculty learning community, Stop Talking sessions with 10 minutes outside…listening and attempting to quiet our minds. This helped each of us disconnect from events and interactions earlier in the day and be present for our sacred time. Give your students an opportunity to get outside and observe as part of your course. In an online course this may be something students participate in on their own time and then reflect on as part of a discussion or journal.
- Sit in a circle. Circles are powerful as no one occupies a place of prominence or hierarchy in a circle. Physically sit in a circle or even refer to your online class sessions as a talking circle. Be suggestive and upload a video or image of a fire, or something else for the students to focus around in the class. A circle implies everyone is equally important in the class.
- Create time and space. It may take some students longer than others to verbally respond in class. Give students time and space to respond in face-to-face and online classes. This will be uncomfortable at first. I facilitated a work meeting recently where I set the intention to slow down the conversation and found that after 4-5 seconds someone felt as though they had to speak. For some students it may feel right to wait 5-10 seconds. In an online class communicate this approach to students so they are aware there is not a technical issue. Share a value with your students of respect for words and their power and encourage listening of peers.
- Role play. Assigning roles and points of view to students as part of a discussion or class assignment is a less threatening way to encourage students to consider another point of view. In a health class this may be students taking on the role of a doctor who trained in Boston, an elder from a rural community with cancer, a nurse trained in Anchorage, and a care coordinator from Southcentral Foundation. How could you use this approach in a communications course, science class, and even engineering?
- Invite an elder into the classroom. Invite an elder to be a guest speaker in your face-to-face or online class. Students will have a respect for the experience and wisdom elders have to share that may not be found in their textbooks.
Cultural considerations and relevancy should be part of our online pedagogy. Distance education courses are increasing along with our Alaska Native student and rural student population. Intrinsic to the UAA Mission is “serving the higher education needs of the state, its communities, and its diverse peoples.” I take this charge to heart and encourage you to consider what this means for our teaching strategies.