What I Learned in Class Today: Weaving it All Together

Written by Hannah Coderre and Erin Yun  

The What I Learned in Class Today project team is excited to share updates, highlights, and insights from the 2018 renewal of the original 2007 student-led project. In this story, you will read about the research process, insights drawn from student and faculty participants, and learn about upcoming professional development opportunities centring the What I Learned in Class Today resource.   

What I Learned in Class Today: Educational Experiences and Institutional Responses to Indigenous Engagement in Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Classroom Climate at the University of British Columbia is a renewal of the What I Learned in Class Today: Aboriginal Issues in the Classroom project that has Indigenous student-led origins to 2007. The Renewed Project began in 2018 and weaves together stories, teachings, and resources from the original project with the rekindled voices and perspectives of students and faculty in the classroom when Indigenous topics are discussed and the impact when they are not. The Renewed Project is a continuum of what was built by students at the time, Amy Perreault and Karrmen Crey, and considers the question of, ‘How has the way we talked about Indigenous topics in the classroom changed since the original What I Learned in Class Today Project debuted?’  

The question of change is considered throughout the Renewed Project materials, which includes the Faculty Perspectives videos and discussion articles to the recently released Student Perspectives video and materials. Amy Perreault, Erin Yun, and Adina Williams, team members on the Indigenous Initiatives team within the Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT) rekindled the project given the context of local and national initiatives, such as the 2009 Aboriginal Strategic Plan, Idle No More, and the 2013 Truth and Reconciliation proceedings in Vancouver, including Canada’s signing of the United Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and the opening of the Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (Renewed Project). While these initiatives have led to shifts in conversation and some overall progress on campus climate, there are still genuine concerns about classroom experiences that are impacting Indigenous student experiences within the classroom and beyond. The Renewed Project affirms that it is critically important to weave together student voices and faculty responsibilities in the classroom to shift the classroom climate to one that centers and supports Indigenous students and by extension benefits the classroom experience for all learners.  

WILICT Renewed Project Research Process 

Since rekindling the Renewed Project in 2018, a main challenge throughout the project was being hit with a global pandemic which resulted in pausing the research process and learning to pivot the work to an online modality. This included several ethics renewals, learning to conduct interviews through Zoom while creating a safe and comfortable online environment for student participants. Part of this process included focusing on creating resources on wellness, support, and privacy for student interviews. In addition, part of the research process was ensuring relationality and reciprocity in all aspects and that our research process was easily accessible for communities beyond the UBC context. A key learning throughout the research process was in order to create meaningful resources, time must be taken to ensure that relationships are centerfold, despite institutional pressures and timelines that may determine otherwise.  

Weaving It All Together: From the Original 2007 Project to the Renewed WILICT Materials  

Grounding the Renewed materials with the learnings, teachings, and resources from the 2007 What I Learned in Class Today project makes clear that the project is still highly relevant 15 years later. A key theme threaded throughout the original 2007 project and the Renewed Project is, although there are new strategic initiatives and policies in place, students still feel the varying levels of knowledge gaps when it came to instructors and class peers understanding Indigenous histories, topics, and contemporary realities. In addition, students expressed, when done well, the work of centering Indigenous knowledges and perspectives, contributes to creating a supportive and transformational classroom climate. Setting the classroom climate up for meaningful conversations to take place, however, is the role of the instructor as recognized by WILICT student participants.  

A common question the Indigenous Initiatives team encounters is the question around “how do I get started in this work?” This question often comes from faculty, TAs, or staff and it is often a journey that is as much personal as it is professional. It is the hope that the WILICT project materials, such as the Student and Faculty films, will ease the educational and emotional labour off the shoulders of Indigenous faculty and especially Indigenous students.  

The Renewed Project has a two-part Faculty Perspectives film that includes a series of interviews from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous faculty across campus that share their experiences and knowledges in bringing in Indigenous topics, voices, and knowledges into their course and learning environment. The film is accompanied by a six-part article series that builds on the Faculty Interviews and serves as a resource that delves into the key foundations of building a supportive classroom climate.  

This past fall, the WILICT project team released the Student Perspectives film, which documents Indigenous students’ educational experiences and institutional responses to Indigenous topics in the classroom. While the project included both the voices and perspectives of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, the film centres the stories of Indigenous student participants. All student interviews will be made available on the Interactive-Video-Transcript viewer later this year.  

Renewed Project Insights: Indigenous Student Voices and Faculty Responsibilities  

Students and faculty, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous have participated throughout the entirety of the project to share in classroom experiences when Indigenous topics are discussed and the impacts of when they are not. What became clear for the WILICT project team members is how the Faculty and Student Perspectives Films speak to one another and therefore the films and resources should be considered by viewers in relationship and in tandem with one another. In hearing Indigenous student voices and their advocacy for change in the classroom, it is the responsibility of instructors to create a better classroom climate for all learners.  

In the WILICT Renewed film, Indigenous students recognize that while preferred, it is not possible to have an Indigenous instructor leading all discussions on Indigenous topics in their courses. However, they call on non-Indigenous instructors to do their work, and do personal learning before facilitating a discussion on Indigenous topics. Additionally, students want instructors to recognize that they do not have to be the ‘expert,’ while also signifying the importance of not calling on them to fill in the gaps. The Faculty Perspectives resources provide a supportive starting place on positionality and creating harm-reduced classroom environments.  

Students also expressed that, regardless if a course does not relate to Indigenous history or contemporary issues, that there needs to be representation throughout the institution. This becomes ever more important as society comes to grip with the continued impacts of colonization or the roll out of the UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan. Due to Indigenous led movements of resistance, cross-campus strategic initiatives, and advocacy led by Indigenous faculty, staff, and students, Instructors may be more inclined to bring in Indigenous topics into their course – but it is in their delivery that makes the impact.  

Indigenous student participants in the WILICT Project also recognized the crucial importance of making space for classroom discussion on Indigenous resistance, resurgence and joy. Student participant, Gladstone acknowledges that, “if we’re always leaving the classroom feeling frustrated, not heard, or upset about things we talk about, I don’t think that’s a good thing. A lot of the conversation could also improve about talking about Indigenous resistance, Indigenous resurgence – colonialism has done a horrible thing and continues to do horrible things but Indigenous people are resisting that, a lot of the strength-based conversation isn’t coming up in classroom discussions, which is really heavy on the heart for Indigenous students.” Balancing the need for difficult conversations and discussions of Indigenous joy and resistance is one way to bring care for Indigenous students in the classroom.  

Upcoming for the WILICT Project Team 

We are in the process of creating a Renewed Facilitation Guide founded on the WILICT projects values of relationality and reciprocity that will help learners and those looking to bring the projects materials into their learning environments and teams. The learning environment may be personal or professional, a synchronous or asynchronous course, a staff meeting, or student project. In the meantime, there are helpful places to start such as navigating through the WILICT Website and checking out the Discussion Topics. We will also be hosting workshops and screenings, stay informed by signing up for the monthly newsletter. In the meantime, if you are interested in hosting a screening in your faculty or unit, please let us know!  

Connections to Indigenous Initiatives Classroom Climate Programming 

Indigenous Initiatives hosts a series on Classroom Climate. The Classroom Climate series supports and amplifies educational resources and projects that are focused on bringing Indigenous content and ways of knowing into the classroom. The Classroom Climate framework used by the Indigenous Initiatives team encourages the teaching and learning community to think beyond just integrating content to thinking about the classroom experience and dynamics as a whole. We host a session once and month and anyone is welcome to attend.  

Our upcoming session, Holding Indigenous Topics with Care on March 7th centers the What I Learned in Class Today resource as way to start learning about supporting Indigenous students and all learners in the classroom when Indigenous topics are discussed. For full session description and registration, please visit the events page.