A Day for Learning

[Cross-posted from Abject.]

Pano shot of "A Day for Learning" as we get rolling

Since starting at TRU, I’ve particularly enjoyed collaborating and scheming with our Dean of Students Chris Adam, and Director of Instructional Design Irwin Devries. For some time we’ve been talking about a sort of gathering to reframe and refocus our efforts to enhance the learning environment at our university.

What I love about working with Chris and Irwin is how naturally we seem to lock in on a common approach to problems. We quickly agreed we did not want to go in with rigid formal outcomes in mind. We kept the agenda as loose as we could, while ensuring we at least considered some key themes. But the objectives stayed simple in our minds: gather forty or so committed educators, put them in a nice space, strive to generate real and human conversation. To talk honestly about our dreams for our university.

Love this representation of Estella's wonderful opening story. #myTRU #trulearn

The day began with a blessing by Elder Estella Patrick Moller from Nakazdli First Nations in Fort St. James. She provided our first surprise of the day, as she took up our invitation to follow her prayer with a story of her own sense of place, sharing a rich and poetic account of her own schooling, at home and in formal institutions — balancing the hardships with a sense of a “whole new world” that was opened up to her. She spoke of shadows and of words as if they were living entities that somehow played off of one another…

The group seemed to draw energy from Estella’s inspiration, and we leapt into small-group discussions of how our own origins have shaped us, particularly as learners. (We are indebted to Amy Perreault and kele fleming from UBC for their wonderful ETUG session last month that inspired this exercise.) I certainly felt like the discussion in my own small group both grounded and provoked my thinking about how I approach what I do. This segment of the day was masterfully handled by our guest facilitator Sylvia Currie — just one of her many invaluable contributions to the event as a planner and leader.

Irwin leads student panel

We eventually segued into a session dedicated to the voices of our students, and they delivered in a big way. The diversity of perspectives is difficult to synthesize… we serve adult learners with careers and families (particularly in our open and online distance courses), and they tend to expect that we respect their time with clear and carefully-structured experiences. But we also heard from bright young people who spoke of being transformed (a word that would re-occur throughout the day) by a passionate instructor, of the thrill they experienced when hurtled into the unknown. The discussion that emerged from this segment was so engaging we ignored a planned follow-up exercise and just drove the students mercilessly for additional insights until we broke for lunch.

I couldn’t have been more thrilled with guests we had with us. In addition to Sylvia, we had TRU student Lisa Thiessen doing visual facilitation, and our colleague Clint Lalonde from Royal Roads University paid us a visit as well. After lunch, we brought up Jeff Miller, who delivered a historically-grounded yet forward-looking overview of the many openings and challenges presented by new media. Having worked closely with Jeff for so long, I have come to expect his effortless eloquence and amazing breadth of expertise, but nonetheless it was a kick to look over the room and see how his ideas were provoking connections and generating discussion. We finished up the day with a rare appearance by The Bava himself, who endured a long and nightmarish journey (his return trip still ongoing as this is written) to join us. The Reverend gave a characteristically spirited sermon on what a culture of innovation means in higher education (deploying the DTLT video to fine effect), the importance of a humane open web, and what it means to be an instructional technologist today (we all need a code, after all).

[NOTE: I’m afraid I have not gathered the associated media around the visualizations and presentation recordings as yet — but I was thinking on the weekend about my long-held tendency to put off blog posts until conditions are perfect. Which all too often results in no blogging at all. So hopefully there will be follow-ups that will flesh out the threadbare descriptions above.]

The subsequent weekend contained its own delights. We had Jeff, Irwin and Jim out to the Lake for a Friday night meal of cochinita pibil (just one of the things Keira prepared in the course of her own busy workweek), and a night of laughter and song… some of which found its way to DS106Radio.

Bava does winterized Lake Life The lake does something

Jim stayed a couple more days out at the lake, and I am so grateful he was able to come here. (And so grateful to his wife Antonella for minding Casa Bava back home. We wish the whole Groom brood could have been with us.) After the explosion of energy that was Friday, the weekend was peaceful and sedate, though punctuated by outbursts of spicy food, intense movie and NFL viewing, stories and fits of uncontrollable giggling. As I always do after time with Jim, I feel both exhausted and energized, full of dreams and hopes and ideas. And I feel freshly resolved to make some art dammit, especially in all those areas where people think art can’t or shouldn’t be happening.