Picking up from the morning sessions at the 10th Annual UBC Learning Conference, the afternoon sessions continued to discuss the conference theme, “Exploring the Dimensions of an Exceptional Learning Environment.” The afternoon sessions opened up a discussion on the ways to get involved in campus sustainability at UBC, the vision and values of Aboriginal Engagement at UBC, a summary of the World Café discussions which took place prior to the conference, and closing remarks.
Sustainability Education at UBC: Towards Place and Promise
The afternoon sessions kicked off with an informative presentation on some of the sustainability education projects currently taking place across campus. The session’s first panellist, Jean Marcus, Associate Director of UBC’s Sustainability Teaching and Learning Office (TLO), shared two exciting new programs launched earlier this year by the TLO. The Sustainability Teaching & Learning Fellowship Program selects five full-time UBC faculty members who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to teaching, learning, and sustainability education and appoints them as Fellows for 12 months. The Fellows work collectively to enhance the vision of sustainability education at UBC and partake in the development of new courses, programs, or co-curricular activities. The Sustainability Teaching & Learning Spotlight Program provides financial resources to enhance existing courses at UBC in order to increase sustainability issues and accessibility within the course content. Jean also talked briefly about the UBC Sustainability Education Intensive (SEI), launched in 2009 by the Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth (now CTLT) and UBC Sustainability. SEI supports change and enhancement in sustainability education from a grassroots level, and encourages all members of the community and beyond to participate as post-secondary educators in this project.
Next, Farah Shroff, faculty member in the Department of Family Practice and the School of Population and Public Health, shared her viewpoint on the value of campus sustainability. When asked what “sustainability” means, Farah immediately thought of social justice and its associations to environmental, economical, and social sustainability. Farah believes that UBC has the immense potential to train and teach students how to become aware of these issues, and learn how to adapt and foster “sustainability as a way to solve injustice globally.” As we move forward, Farah hopes that UBC students will be trained to bring together interdisciplinary voices in identifying the value of social sustainability.
Matt Zustovic, a third year Forestry student and Undergraduate Team Member in the Forestry Sustainability Group, continued the discussion and highlighted the Living Atrium project currently taking place within the Forest Sciences Centre. Launched in October 2009, the project aims to increase sustainability and awareness within the building by connecting nature and the urban academic environment. This project involves dedicated student volunteers whose commitment and passion to learning beyond the classroom have contributed to the growth of the Living Atrium project along with the launch of a new project, Living Atrium Talks, which encourages interaction and learning outside the classroom. Like Farah and Jean, Matt also believes in a collective effort and believes that “sustainability has to encompass everyone.”
Attendees then learned about the technical aspects related to sustainability from Naoko Ellis, Associate Professor, Chemical and Biological Engineering, from the Faculty of Applied Science. Naoko has harmonized the concept of sustainability into core chemical and biological engineering courses, believing that “sustainability should be integrated into every course that we teach.” Within the UBC SEEDS Program, students are able to challenge existing engineering processes by using the campus as a living lab. Students collaborate with UBC faculty, staff, and students to meet with clients on campus to identify solutions and recommendations towards real-life issues such as energy efficiency and materials compost. Students then generate a detailed report, which is then posted on the SEEDS Library repository website.
Lastly, Yona Sipos, moderator of the session, concluded the session on behalf of panellist Margaret Gardiner, Program Assistant in the First Nations Languages Program (FNLG), who was not able to attend. Margaret’s involvement with the First Nations Languages Program is an example of another type of sustainability education initiative at UBC. The program is focused on a diversity of languages and aims to advance social cohesion through a process of engagement that physically brings people together in the same space through special events and FNLG courses.
Place and Promise: Aboriginal Engagement at UBC
The second afternoon session was a panel discussion moderated by Amy Perreault, CTLT’s Aboriginal Initiatives Coordinator. Each panellist discussed their role here at UBC and their participation in the implementation of UBC’s Aboriginal Strategic Plan. The first panellist, Larry Grant, a Musqueam First Nations Elder and an Adjunct Professor in the UBC First Nations Languages Program, has held many influential roles at UBC while serving as an ambassador for his people. Larry spoke in earnest about the history of Aboriginals in Canada, and the place of Aboriginal students and communities in today’s system. By addressing the history of the Musqueam and Okanagan lands where the University sits, Larry broadened the audience’s understanding towards the complexities of the relationships that are built and strengthened here.
Linc Kesler, Director of the First Nations Studies Program, continued the discussion and stated that all university classrooms should encourage students to actively address Aboriginal issues as a way to contribute to the ongoing dialogue. In order to understand Aboriginal engagement initiatives at UBC, Linc believes it is important to have an accurate historical and educational representation that is fostered through active discussions. For the campus community at large, Linc believes it is also critical for staff, faculty, and administrators to recognize the integral role that they play as part of the vision and values of the Place and Promise plan.
The next panellist, Francine Burning, shared her family history and reflective thoughts towards her experiences with Aboriginal education. Francine belongs to the Mohawk nation, Turtle Clan of the Six Nations Indian Reservation in Southern Ontario, and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree at UBC in the Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program. While growing up, Francine described a “process of indoctrination…alienation about [herself], about [her] people” that she often felt within her learning environment. It was at age 23, where Francine experienced a safe learning environment for the first time. Pursuing Aboriginal education allowed Francine to gain the tools that helped her come to UBC and to become a leader, which empowered her to approach education in a liberating way.
The session was concluded by Margery Fee, Dean’s Advisor on Aboriginal Initiatives in the Arts. Margery emphasized the key points of her fellow panellists, and affirmed the need to teach about Aboriginal history and to bring awareness to students. Margery briefly highlighted the Indigenous Foundations website project that aims to educate students, researchers, and the general public in British Columbia and around the world about the issues related to Aboriginal histories, peoples, and cultures.
World Café Report
The conference sessions concluded with a short review of the World Café sessions that took place in early October. Cindy Underhill, Learning Resource Design Strategist at CTLT, and Victor Ngo, a third year Human Geography co-op student at CTLT, presented the collective perspectives on the question, “What makes a great learning environment?” The answers that were provided from the participants, grouped as learners and teachers, were compiled into a world cloud using Wordle and were displayed for the audience members during the review.
Victor provided a brief introduction to Wordle and how it works—it is an online “toy” that allows users to generate a visual depiction of words and phrases that fall under a specific topic, or answers to a question. Users are also able to tweak their word cloud with customizable fonts, layouts, and color schemes, and the final images created is free for the user to use and keep.
Cindy proceeded to ask the audience if any particular words stood out, and if it rings true to the audience’s own experiences in teaching and learning. Audience members noted that the word “collaboration” occurred in both groups. During the original discussion, both groups of learners and teachers brought up the value of collaboration when engaged in a learning environment with peers, and in a student-teacher environment. The audience also observed a difference between the two groups; learners provided many words that spoke towards a degree of sensitivity of their learning environment, such as “ambience,” “comfort,” “temperature,” and “acoustics.”
In addition to the conditions of a learner’s classroom environment, a summary of the learner’s discussion also included the different ways to engage with context, specifically online environments. Building relationships and engagement in real world, hands-on activities were also valued. On the other hand, a summary of the teacher’s discussion included the value of respect, acknowledgement, community of practice, and a flexible and responsible environment. By sharing these conversations about learning and teaching environments, Cindy anticipated more sessions to take place throughout the year.
The 10th Annual UBC Learning Conference officially came to an end with closing remarks by Dr. Harry Hubball, Senior Advisor, Teaching and Learning, and Academic Director, pro tem, at CTLT. No matter where we are in our individual walks of life, Harry encouraged the audience to continue in these dialogues beyond the conference and to continue to participate in a proactive learning experience. Furthermore, Harry also noted the international recognition of UBC (which coincided with a group of professors from Beijing among the attendees) and the University’s “great position to put forward a lot of innovation.” Harry recognized the range of diversities throughout campus where exceptional learning environments can be considered, and stated that the learning possibilities are endless through the array of experiences that we can draw upon, beginning with the conference’s presenters and panellists. All it takes to influence change is a simple dialogue with our peers. The conference may be over, but we all need to keep the conversations rolling!
A video recording of some of the Learning Conference sessions can be found here: http://ctlt.ubc.ca/2010/11/04/2010-learning-conference-videos