HUMming Partnerships: Indigenous Canada, CSL, and Ice Cream Cake

14 August 2017

On July 20, 2017, a group of people who might not appear to have anything in common gathered over food, drinks, and ice cream cake to celebrate the 13 weeks of intensive learning and sharing that brought them together. The room was alive and buzzing with many different conversations. The excitement for the presentation of the blended learning certificates by the Faculty of Native Studies and the Office of the Provost was palpable. This event marked for the Humanities learners the completion of the Indigenous Canada course. This celebration of our learning was closed with a reflection from one of the learners, "during these past weeks spent together as a group I was offered healing. Being in a safe space full of people who had no idea that this is what has been going on . . . acknowledgment of the facts of our history and not the lies and half truths that was taught in my early years . . . has validated a good part of my childhood as an adult survivor of all that trauma."

Starting April 19, every Wednesday afternoon a dozen lifelong learners gathered in a small seminar room on the fourth floor of the Humanities Building to work through the Indigenous Canada course developed by the Faculty of Native Studies. When asked about the intent behind creating this innovative and timely course, a Native Studies staff person replied, "some of the reasons . . . include reaching audiences beyond the post-secondary walls, and creating access to postsecondary quality materials at a low or no cost. The material is also accessible in terms of format (video, text, transcripts and subtitles.)" Like the Humanities Program (HUM), the Faculty of Native Studies recognizes that not everyone has access to spaces intended for learning and exploring, like the ones you find at a university.

The HUM program, run out of Community Service-Learning (CSL) at the UAlberta, decreases these barriers by, among other things, providing transportation, food, and all the supplies. The HUM program strives to make its courses accessible; by cultivating opportunities for learning and knowledge sharing that are not dependent on previous educational experiences.

The HUM curricula explore a wide range of issues and are informed by the different perspectives of our volunteer instructors, faculty, and graduate students who come from disciplines across campus. Using primarily social science lenses, we continuously question how systems and institutions shape how we live as individuals and communities. In HUM, we cannot talk about contemporary Canadian systems without talking about colonialism, hegemony, hetero-normativity, patriarchy, discrimination, prejudice, and racism. When investigating how systems have evolved and how people experience them today we are challenged to think and learn about Indigenous experiences and understandings. We have discussed the consequences of colonialism and systemic racism in our classes, but because we are neither Indigenous nor have expertise in Indigenous Studies, we are not able to speak to the unique experiences of Indigenous peoples in Canada (or elsewhere). As instructors and facilitators we seek out opportunities to include Indigenous perspectives and history, and to learn from people who have ownership and lived experience with these topics.

Since 2015 the spring term has been used to pilot new programming. These spring courses have been great opportunities to respond to the voiced desire for summer classes while exploring different modes of learning. We were very excited to learn about the Indigenous Canada MOOC. The course themes explore both historical and contemporary issues experienced by Indigenous people in Canada. The benefits of bringing this course into the HUM program were immediately recognized and instructors and learners in the HUM program, as well as CSL staff, were eager to enrol in the course!

After getting a better idea of what it would look like to enrol in the Indigenous Canada MOOC it became clear that this method of individual online learning is not accessible for everyone. For instance, in order to participate one needs to have uninterrupted access to the Internet for at least an hour at a time. In addition, different literacy levels also make certain portions of the course inaccessible to some learners. The quizzes, for instance, require a high level of literacy. Finally, earning a certificate through Coursera to formally recognize your learning costs in the range of $60, a lot of money when you have little.

For all of these reasons, CSL reached out to the Faculty of Native Studies and the Provost's Office for support. They both responded enthusiastically and generously, and we were provided with the support to run the Indigenous Canada course in a way that helped to facilitate our learning as a group. We booked a room on campus and met each week, watching the video lessons together, engaging in group discussions and learning with and from one another, and supporting each other when necessary as some of the topics were upsetting and difficult to work through. Additionally, learners received formal recognition of their learning in the form of a beautiful certificate designed by Native Studies' Digital Initiatives Coordinator and signed by the Dean of Native Studies. These certificates were presented by faculty and staff from Native Studies at our end of term celebration. The Vice-Provost of Teaching and Learning initiatives also brought greetings from the Provost's Office. The learning that happened in this course is not over, and will no doubt be carried forward into future semesters, shared by folks who had the opportunity to participate.

When asked about their support of the HUM program, a staff member from Native Studies replied: "The Faculty of Native Studies is happy to be able to give a level of recognition to the CSL/Humanities non-traditional students participation in the Indigenous Canada MOOC by presenting the Blended Learning Certificate. We want to celebrate this kind of engagement, because it demonstrates how the Indigenous Canada MOOC really is reaching new communities that we were not able to reach before. Congratulations to all of the recipients! You are who we made this for."

The concluding reflection, as shared by a HUM participant at the celebration, captures the possibilities for learning: "a lot has been done to correct the wrongful acts [committed against Indigenous people] a lot more is yet to be accomplished. Having online studies was a great eye opener for a lot of the group. More importantly and understanding that we as a people, are all here together, we can help to recover, share and grow as a whole. The way we were meant to be in the first place."