It has been a long time since I’ve written in this space. I hope to remember to record my experience of presenting in my first academic conference at some time, but this is not what has brought me back to this space. I’m here because I might just get the chance to share my great passion for connection in the digital world. I might just be about to teach alongside my mentor – the person who has so greatly inspired me to consider the importance of taking on the vocation of being an educator. I might just get to affect and be affected by a group of amazing Augustana students this semester. And maybe this will help me reach that final goal – that final push toward the completion of my masters degree – and after such a long, tumultuous, and affecting road, I want to do it right.
So. I’ve been invited to be a part of Spirit of the Land, an experiment in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) by the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta. Now that all the big names have been dropped, I can tell you how this MOOC is different, how we’re shaping things to be our own, and how I have become passionate about my capability to contribute in a meaningful way.
Now I’ve been a student, staff, and most recently over the summer, an actual contracted instructor at Augustana for many years. It’s been a foundational part of too many of my final papers to count. Every time I write about education (which is a lot during my MAIS program in adult education) I reflect on the deep shifts of meaning I traversed through my time at Augustana. I attribute this to the sense of responsibility Augustana and other small Liberal Arts universities have for the kind of people our students become. When I come into contact with an institution or a teaching methodology that does not pay attention to this fundamental connection between teacher and student, I balk. I cringe. I shut down. And then, since I don’t take things laying down, I push. I know I have done my share of pushing in my program at Athabasca – some appreciated, some not – and that I will at some point experience the same when I meet myself in my own classroom.
It comes back to this. When a student enters a classroom, s/he opens her mind, her way of seeing the world, her way of knowing, maybe even her heart, to the perspectives of the theorists taught in the class, and, what’s more, the perspective of the professor who is presenting the theorists taught in the class. I remember in my first year at Augustana I was speaking to one professor.. asking “but if postmodernism is wrong, then…”
“wait a minute,” he said. “Who told you that postmodernism is wrong? Perhaps you should decide that for yourself!”
Wait… I can do that??
So.. from that value-laden, and consequential perspective on being an instructor, I prepare myself to work on this MOOC… which is actually an OOCC, I consider what it is I’d like to contribute to the way the individuals in this course see the world.
First – what is Spirit of the Land about? It’s about developing a community land-use ethic. It’s about Aldo Leopold’s assertion that one day we will see the land and our relation to it in the same way we see our relationship to one another. That we will feel ethically responsible for the destruction and desecration of life we are bringing about on our planet. And we will do this in community, for “nothing so important as a land ethic is ever ‘written’. It arises in the minds of a thinking community,” says Leopold.
Second – it’s about community. It’s a course that is happening over breaking of bread with one another. With “students” and “community members” cooking together and then sharing the nourishment of deep intellectual consideration of important issues. It’s about connection. It’s about conversation. And it’s about bridging our classroom/intellectual/academic worlds with our embedded/emotional/physical/spiritual worlds. And it happens together.
Further, it’s about connecting to the great healing stemming from the recognition of the great wrongs that have been done to the people whose tradition, language and culture grew from a relationship with the land we are living in and growing on. The First Nations people who have, for so long, been relegated to the sidelines for their naive relationship to the natural systems of our planet. These people who can stand #idlenomore and are defending mother Earth with their words, their hearts and their bodies.
All of these things appeal to me greatly. And I’m being given the opportunity to demonstrate how these types of connection can happen in the digital world. Throughout my research into connectivist learning theory, I have grown to understand that the digital world is not just a place to go to get information, it’s a place to form a trusted network that moves beyond the vetted tidbits of information fed through the traditional forms of media. Social networks are ways to understand the world from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. When Arab Spring happened, when China shut down the internet, when #occupywallstreet led to campus protests being peppersprayed in a place of higher learning, I came to realize that people who are connected to one another without necessarily going through the mechanisms of censorship share the opportunity to make social truth transparent. This is in direct opposition to those who perpetuate lies.
There are a lot of lies happening about our relationship to the natural world. Our relationship to each other. Our relationship to ourselves. These lies can be combatted with a connection to like-minded individuals who have explored the importance of developing a healthy, balanced, ethical relationship to the systems that sustain life.
How can I not be absolutely honoured to be a part of something so beautiful?