In the documentary SILENCE=DEATH(1990), poet and philosopher Allen Ginsberg declares AIDS to be an allegory for anthropogenic environmental destruction, saying that living with AIDS is dying with AIDS, be it planetary or personal. He says:
The planet has AIDs… ozone layer depletion, acid rain, greenhouse effect––they are lesions on the skin of the planet. Desertification, deforestation, and poison-dumping both in oceans and land… the key problem is the immune system of the planet doesn’t seem to be able to repair the damage done by the human virus (n.pg.).
Further to Ginsberg’s analogy, I posit that maybe the planet is undergoing radical radiation treatment – killing what is healthy along with the deadly in an effort to survive. It’s an impending apocalypse where death isn’t the end, but extinction is. It’s an existential end of all we know. As anthropologist Ernest Becker (1973) explains in his landmark book The Denial of Death, it is “an impossible paradox: the ever-present fear of death in the normal biological functioning of our instinct of self-preservation, as well as our utter obliviousness to this fear in our conscious life” (pg 15). This impossible paradox is like philosopher Eugene Thacker’s (2010) framing of an unthinkable world, a speculative world.
The main theme of Kisima Inŋitchuŋa is made clear through its English name, which is based on a direct translation from Iñupiat: never alone, or “I am never alone”. Nuna may be the only human actant in the vast majority of the game, but she’s never solo. She has her steady and dependable companion, Fox. Fox’s dependability continues after their death and they are reimagined as a spirit that can continue to connect Nuna with both the natural and spiritual world, which are considered one-and-the-same in Iñupiaq culture. Spirits, the Aurora Borealis, and other animals are constant presences throughout the game, and engaging with these beings in respectful relations brings game play success.
It is with deep gratitude that we bring this project to the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, Stó:lō, Stz’uminus, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.
This map is a sonic engagement of Treaty Six on the North Campus of the University of Alberta. Campus has a long history as Native Land, be it as a traditional meeting place for diverse Indigenous peoples (Cree, Blackfoot, Métis, Nakota Sioux, Dene, Saulteaux/Anishinaabe, Inuit, Haudenosaunee, and others) on the banks of the kisiskāciwani-sīpiy (North Saskatchewan River), as the homestead of Laurent and Eleanor Garneau, or as a Papaschase Cree settlement – forcibly disbanded by the government only 20 years prior to the university’s founding.
Featuring bioacoustic sounds of South Quad, the recordings converge around the Sweetgrass Bear, a granite sculpture created by carver Stewart Steinhauer as a physical expression of treaty obligations (Almond et al., 2018, para 8). According to Steinhauer, the use of granite calls into being the Rock Grandfather – a facilitator of human communication: “the Rock Grandfather uses a non-linguistic approach to communication, speaking directly, consciousness to consciousness, bypassing language altogether”. The materiality of the sculpture thus facilitates a sensory encounter meant to engage the holistic teachings of the Sweetgrass Bear.
With this digital experiment, it is our goal to detail spacetime aurally on this Land where we learn, grow, and imagine with a focus on Indigeneity, sacred ecology, and deep listening. Where colonial mapping logics delineate and contain space for the sake of state seizure and control, sonic mapping begins to chart the complex entanglements and fluidity of spacetime that defy borders and static representations of space and place. It is our hope that this map becomes a site of heard (and felt) connection wherein resonance with the sounds of the environment requires a (re)orientation to campus – a place sounding with the vibrancies of the Land and hi/stories of Treaty Six.
kiskinowasihta – listen carefully, so that you will know it after
Pauline Oliveros has taught me a lot about sound. Her declaration that “everything is sounding” shifted my listening practice and, somewhat painfully, revived a personal awareness of the bioacoustic environments through which I move (Oliveros, 2017). Pauline’s life’s work was oriented towards deep listening: “creating an atmosphere of opening for all to be heard, with the understanding that listening is healing” (Oliveros, 2017). This resonates with me, I believe that all kinds of healing and connection occurs when we allow ourselves to listen to (and feel) that which animates our surroundings.
When I typically navigate campus I usually have my oversized headphones on, blasting the world away through music. I usually have a certain amount of time to run errands on campus, or I’m rushing from one meeting to class to another meeting. There’s no time for intentionality or exploration. Sound easily distracts me. As such, my surroundings fade behind the auditory boundaries I’ve constructed in an effort to focus. Still, sounds seep past the headphones. Making this map forces a reorientation. Headphones off, listening intently with my audio recorder at hand, ready for action.
I always have my headphones. In a panicked, I-can’t-leave-the-house-until-I-find-them, sort of way. My headphones allow me to disengage with the sonic environment – or rather, to curate my own, one in which I choose what I want to hear when I want to hear it. However, it is not lost on me that this protective act of retreating disconnects me from the intimate (and intimately-connected) kinesthetic and sonic awareness that Pauline champions. And so, headphones off, I too reorient towards a campus that is sounding.
This reorientation is and always will be informed by our own orientation(s): how we move through the world, the social locations we inhabit, the relationships we prioritize. As arbiters of its content (and process), we have deeply embedded ourselves in the map. Which, by way of its creation, operates as a proposition, an “argument about the world” (Harley, 1989, p.11) and particular places on campus asserted through our curation and navigation of it.
Memories shape the sounds of this space, and this map. As a student, I’m lucky to be surrounded by incredible Indigenous scholars who shape my understanding and perspectives, and their wisdom echoes inside me while I track sounds. Listening for the crunch of snow, voices in the distance, the wind, I also hear the voice of Trudy Cardinal (Cree/Métis) describing the importance of listening to learning, and the respect inherent in that act, saying “When I’m honouring what I’ve lived as Indigenous pedagogy, it comes from my grandmothers. It’s not that they lived the traditional Indigenous lifestyle on the land, it’s just their way of being and knowing. It’s an embodied knowledge, if we learn to listen to that again.” In other words, listen, learn, and live.
Treaty Six is based on nêhiyaw laws and understandings of treaty. In nêhiyaw oral tradition, the treaty with the crown was a “ceremonial covenant of adoption between two families” (McAdams 2015, p.41), a friendship and peace treaty to last as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows. However, the written treaty used by the state of Canada (but made with the crown of England) conveys otherwise: the surrender of Indigenous Land for minimal compensation and reserves. According to Sharon Venne, nêhiyawak “have a relationship with [their] Creation based on a legal system designed to protect and honour the land. These are the laws that guided Cree Peoples when the Chiefs negotiated and concluded Treaty Six in 1876” (Venne 2007, p.2). Dwayne Donald further articulates that at the heart of the nêhiyaw legal system lies two cardinal concepts, that of miyo wichitowin (human-to-human relations) and miyo wakohtowin (broader kinship, including with plants, animals and rocks) (Cited in Stewart, 2015a, p.140). In Nationhood Interrupted, Sylvia McAdams reinforces the importance of these connections: “Indigenous nêhiyaw laws are “written” in the landscapes of the hills, the rocks, the waters, everything in the land tells of our history and our laws…to follow these laws means to follow a sacred life inextricably connected to the earth: one without the other would die” (McAdam 2012).
This is the version of treaty that the Sweetgrass Bear, a campus focal-point, represents, asking, as Emily Riddle (2019) suggests, “what does it mean to acknowledge treaty in a place [the university] that is constantly dispossessing Indigenous Land?” Further, what stake does the university have in reconciliation when, as Riddle suggests, nêhiyaw treaty “un-reconciles us” (2019)? The above questions point to the dis/harmony our map hopes to highlight: what might a practice of listening to the stories of the Land teach us about dissonance and the points of irreconcilability of the university and nêhiyaw treaty?
The University of Alberta is mapped in many ways: Google, ArcGIS, campus tours. These mappings situate a complicated space in a rather depthless way. Superficial geography. We, the human element, write the Land’s context. This Cartesian delineation is an inherently colonial understanding of Land that imagines humans and other-than-humans as separate from one another as opposed to intertwined. The question these maps answer is what the space is as opposed to what it does.
What does space do to us? What does the Institution do to us?
When the Land writes upon us, it becomes place and consequently we become part of it. It is space with meaning. Travelling from Treaty Six, Haudenosaunee scholars Joe Sheridan and Roronhiakewen “He Clears The Sky” Dan Longboat (2006) explain how Land, cognition, creativity, and knowledge are inextricably braided, writing:
restoration of mind, spirit, and imagination is a sequence that requires us to know the antiquity we embody and from there to plan the ecological restoration blood memory demands. Without maturation of our primal condition, neither we nor Mother Earth can know reciprocity on its own terms: as mind in nature, as nature in mind (p. 366).
More simply put, our ability to think, imagine, and theorize are dependant on the Land. It is affective and corporeal. When we consider ourselves as scholars, researchers, and educators at the University of Alberta, it’s imperative we acknowledge the Land and strive to live and work in relation to it, lest we ignore our own embodiment.
Wither a map – a disciplinary intervention
As digital humanities students, our project hopes to stage a disciplinary intervention – one that takes seriously the ontological and epistemological shifts required to challenge the colonial state apparatus. In honoring sound and story as cartographically significant, we aim to challenge a practice of mapping reliant on GIS (a product of the state) and its visual focus. How might the digital facilitate an engagement with the sensory composition of the Land? How might this engagement challenge the productive power of vision? How might this challenge remind us of our obligations to Treaty Six?
A map is what it does. A map is a communicative, contextual, spatial representation, a place-making feedback loop. It is a particular representation of a relationality to space and it asks that we recognize our position within and/or outside of it. It is a mediation of our understanding of the world, the multiplicity of our relationships to it, and how we may move through it. It is, forever, imbued with power and, subsequently, potential for subversion. Not a radical practice in and of itself, mapping in this way is a counter-argument to colonial logics of space – this map is in direct communication with the Map as state-apparatus, in particular, the state-treaty map as an articulation of power-knowledge that delineates space for the sake of colonial containment and control wherein this delineation cuts across Nations, waterways, traplines, and does not allow for the flow of relationships inherent in nêhiyaw law.
As such, we attempt to reject the settler-colonial visual-written supremacy of state mapping and instead prioritize spoken, sounding, story-based, mapping. Place is space supplemented with memory (Lippard 1997, p. 9), and memory is not always written. It is felt, heard, sensed, and this map honours this reality and praxis.
As sound scholar Mickey Vallee (2018) tells us, bioacoustics are inherently about communication, recording the sounds of the environment as they communicate with each other and the listener (p.206). The power of bioacoustics, he states, lies in its ability to “repair the damage of aesthetic distanciation as well as corporate extraction, both of which belong to the same colonialist enterprise” ( p.206).
This distanciation is productive, it allows for the disconnection required to continue to enact colonial erasure of the non-human animations of treaty. Sound shapes our experience of place; its vibrations, movement, audible expressions, emotional cues, inform our encounters with the university. It is both disorienting (reawakening and shifting things within the body) and orienting (connecting us to place in a meaningful way).
shut the fuck up and listen
Sound recordings are a particularly ephemeral resource, a challenge that speaks to essential archival questions: what counts as a “document” worth saving and what material realities inform our archival practices? Further, the majority of the historical sounds we had access to were produced sounds, human animated sounds – promotional videos, lectures, music recordings. We wonder how different this project might be if we could engage a bioacoustic record of quad, the river valley, the library, from 50 years ago? What continuities might we recognize what shifts might we witness?
I was always taught that listening is an honour. To listen is to experience generosity of wisdom, knowledge, insight, and memory. Pedagogically, to listen to the Land means to respect the Land and learn from it. Further to this perspective, artist and scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (2017) states that Land is both “context and process” (p. 151) and that “being engaged in land as pedagogy as a life practice inevitably means coming face-to-face with settler colonial authority, surveillance, and violence” (p.166). As such, if the Land is a teacher and an archive, how could the ambient sounds of this map help us better understand campus across space, place and time?
Ultimately, it’s time that we shut up and listen.
Kateryna and Kendra, among many other things, are graduate students in the Digital Humanities program at the University of Alberta in ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ, Treaty Six territory. They are committed to feminist collaboration that prioritizes relationships, care, and systems-fuckery in their work together.
Almond, A., McMahon, R. Janes, D., Whistance-Smith, G., Steinhauer, D., Steinhauer, J. (2018) We are All Related: Using Augmented Reality as a Learning Resource for Indigenous Settler Relations. Northern Public Affairs. Retrieved fromhttp://www.northern publicaffairs.ca/index/volume-6-special-issue-2-connectivity-in-northern-indigenous-communities/we-are-all-related-using-augmented-reality-as-a-learning-resource-for-indigenous-settler-relations/
Barnes, K. SE. (2019). Trudy Cardinal [Personal interview]. 2019, January 24.
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (2014). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Harley, J. B. “Deconstructing the Map.” The Map Reader, 2011, 56-64. doi:10.1002/9780470979587.ch8.
Kerry, and Brien. (2017) “Listening as Activism: The ‘Sonic Meditations’ of Pauline Oliveros.” The New Yorker, 19 June 2017, http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/ listening-as-activism-the-sonic-meditations-of-pauline-oliveros.
Lippard, Lucy R. (1997). The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society. New Press.
McAdams (2012). “I Hear Many People Talk About Treaty, Far Too Many of Us Do.” Idle No More. Retrieved from http://www.netnewsledger.com/2012/12/15/ idle-no-more-i-hear-many-people-talk-about-treaty-far-too-many-of-us-do/
Sheridan, Joe, and Roronhiakewen “He Clears The Sky” Dan Longboat (Nov. 2006). “The Haudenosaunee Imagination and the Ecology of the Sacred.” Space and Culture, vol. 9, no. 4, p. 365–381., doi:10.1177/1206331206292503.
Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake (2017). As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance. University of Minnesota Press.
Being at the crossroads and deciding between two paths is a metaphor, and a reality, that Sharla Peltier knows well. More than once she has faced a choice between two journeys, including one on the TransCanada Highway: east to Nippissing First Nation, Ont. to work as a speech pathologist and get her Master of Education, or west to Edmonton. While she chose to go to Nippissing, she still found a way to return to the University of Alberta, her alma mater for her 1986 Bachelor of Science in Speech Language Pathology. As a new faculty member in the Department of Elementary Education, focusing on language and social studies education, Peltier brings her knowledge of Anishinaabemowin and Anishinaabe pedagogy, fusing them with her experience in curriculum development and speech pathology.
“I’m really excited about the programs here,” says Peltier, a Chippewa from Rama First Nation, Ontario. “There is an opportunity to look at a totally different pedagogy because the University wants native language teachers from the communities to spearhead the Indigenous languages program. We know that’s going to create cultural and social economy of the language, which I think is missing.”
With her rich history from working as a speech pathologist for 30 years with Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, with Nipissing First Nation in North Bay, and with public schools in the Sudbury area, along with Aboriginal perspectives curriculum development with Ontario’s Ministry of Education, Peltier’s background gives her a strong knowledge base. It is this context that she brings to the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program and to the expansion of Indigenous language education at UAlberta. As an Anishinaabemowin-learner, Peltier is excited by the growth of these programs.
“We’re at a critical point”, she explains.
“Anishinaabemowin, Cree, and Inuktitut are the three most likely Indigenous languages in Canada to survive, just by sheer population of those Aboriginal groups, but when we look at the number of speakers, it’s dwindling. It’s really, really scary. So many Aboriginal languages in Canada have been lost. There’s a lot of documentation of the languages by linguists and language keepers have made dictionaries and videos to preserve the languages, but the schools are not turning out fluent speakers.”
One strength Peltier sees with the Indigenous language education expansion at UAlberta is the potential for collaboration with communities and local knowledge keepers. Building capacity for Indigenous people to become teachers through the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program and for language speakers to gain university credits through the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute brings Peltier hope for the future.
“People don’t see the language used in the community or they don’t understand the value of it,” says Peltier.
“If we have our people working together to teach it and to bring it out, then it’s going to work. The issue has been that while it’s been in the schools, it’s been disconnected from the community. Even where I’m from, there were Anishinaabe who were in high school who aren’t fluent speakers.”
Gikendamowin – Gikinoo’amaagoowin
Peltier doesn’t just bring a wealth of work experience to her role; she also embeds her cultural knowledge into her practice and theory. She sees her family clan–the loon– and the associated symbolism as a directive in her work.
“What I’m finding out is our clan will lead us through to find out life work in the community,” she explains. “The loon flies and has a voice, so it’s exciting when you think of it in that context.”
For Peltier, sharing her Anishinaabe cultural knowledge and world views to education is only natural, even though traditionally-Western perspectives on education have a completely different paradigm and practice. Still, she doesn’t see the two approaches as incompatible.
“There’s that whole institution of education that sets up teachers to be the authority figure in the classroom and to be responsible for the children’s learning and behaviour,” says Peltier.
“When you’re in a circle of Anishinaabe pedagogy and way of being, there is no hierarchy whatsoever; everyone is equal and each person is an important part of the process that generates new knowledge, stories and experiences. Knowledge is not a tangible thing. It’s not a stack of books. It’s a lived process of coming-to-know. In that way, everyone is knowledgeable and has wisdom. When we talk about how we transmit knowledge, it’s through shared experience and stories. Everyone has a story, so if we bring that into our schools and institutions, it will naturally bring people together. It’s inclusive as no one is excluded.”
Now Peltier has the chance to share this knowledge in the classroom before the students become teachers and make a bigger impact.
“To be in this position now, and to have the opportunity to work with pre-service teachers and educate educators, I have the time, their ears and their hearts so we can start to change things up so that they realize hope – it’s okay and it’s going to work for everyone. This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s amazing to be here.”
Gikendamowin – Gikinoo’amaagoowin: Knowledge – Education. Translated by Melody McKiver, Lac Seul First Nation, and Stanley Peltier, Odawa Elder and Language-Keeper.
He was a master’s student in Education Administration (now Educational Policy Studies) who became chair of Elementary Education, the fourth dean of education (1972-75) and the University of Alberta’s vice-president before becoming the only member of the Faculty of Education to hold the campus’s highest office (1979-89). It’s fair to say Dr. Myer Horowitz has a uniquely intimate relationship with this institution.
A tireless advocate for education and students throughout his tenure and into retirement, Horowitz reflects on the significance of the 75th anniversary of the Faculty of Education, the importance of leadership in education and the impact of his own mentors. Read the full interview with President-Emeritus Horowitz.
As the first chair of the Department of Secondary Education and third (and longest-serving) Dean, Herbert “Pete” Coutts stewarded the growth of Canada’s first Faculty of Education in the early years.
A fierce advocate for teacher education, Coutts was known as a leader in Canada and internationally. Under his tenure, both sections of the Education Centre were constructed and student numbers increased by over 500%. His legacy has been honoured with an Order of Canada, the naming of an award from the Canadian Society for the Study of Education and the Education library bears his name. Check out the interactive timeline on Coutts.
Dry history lessons that don’t resonate with students may be a thing of the past if a University of Alberta professor can get a new, interactive learning tool into classrooms.
In advance of the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation, social studies education professor Lindsay Gibson is releasing a set of 150 flash cards focusing on events in Canadian history. One side of each card names a historical event paired with an archival image; the other has the date, a further description of the event and its consequences. Gibson’s goal with the cards is to discover if K-12 students’ accounts of Canadian history could be improved.
“Students have difficulty putting the various events they have learned about in their K-12 education into a meaningful narrative. These cards are a tool that will help them build some coherence and understanding of Canadian history,” explained Gibson.
“We’re storytelling animals. It’s how we make sense of the past. Is it possible, with a tiny bit of instruction, to completely change the stories students might tell about Canada?”
The concept of the flash cards came to Gibson when a friend’s six-year-old daughter invited him to play a “history game” called Timeline. The game’s cards have illustrations of a historic event on one side and the date on the other. Players correctly place cards in a timeline with the goal of getting cards out of their hands. Gibson wondered how something similar could work in a Canadian context.
Inspired, Gibson created a set of similar cards to help British Columbia teachers bring Chinese-Canadian history into their classrooms. After the positive response, he expanded the project to cover Canadian history just in time for the 150th anniversary.
After developing a list of 150 events with the help of Canadian historians, Gibson created his first prototype. He chose to work with Grade 11 students who had finished studying the entirety of Canadian history in British Columbia’s social studies curriculum. Before he brought the cards into the classroom, he asked students to list the most important events in Canadian history and write Canada’s story. The results surprised him: only two students mentioned Indigenous peoples occupying the land prior to European contact and there were numerous historically-inaccurate claims.
“Students would make egregious errors,” said Gibson, “such as Pierre Trudeau being the Prime Minister who led Confederation and also brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms at the same time. At the end of 12 years of social studies, this is what you think?”
As part of his study, Gibson also asked the students to make their own timelines of what they thought were the most historically significant events and discuss them with classmates.
Graeme Stacey, the class’ teacher, was impressed by how the cards changed the landscape of his classroom.
“It was a totally engaging activity,” said Stacey. “There was no downtime, no kids on their phones or working on something else.”
“At the end of the day, we hope that students can tell a coherent, plausible narrative of Canadian history, but also one that is nuanced.”
The next step is for Gibson to get the cards into Alberta classrooms and discover what teachers here do with them and the degree they impact students’ ability to develop a logical narrative. Though he has already designed some accompanying lesson ideas focused on different historical thinking concepts, he recognized that there are many potential ways for a class to use the cards.
“I’m really excited to get them into the hands of teachers,” said Gibson. “What will they do with them? They are bound to come up with ideas that I haven’t even contemplated.”
While Gibson is excited to see what other teachers do with the flash cards, he also hopes students start to build their own stories of the past.
“At the end of the day, we hope that students can tell a coherent, plausible narrative of Canadian history, but also one that is nuanced,” said Gibson.
“I really want students to think critically about Canada’s 150th anniversary. Is it historically significant? With these cards, I hope to deepen their understanding of history and build this framework so they can deconstruct and or reconstruct the story they tell, rather than tell them ‘here’s the story.’”
Making a film isn’t a walk in the park, but Conor McNally (BA’15) may have found a way to make it about a walk.
The graduate from the Faculty of Native Studies was in his final semester when he was encouraged to go on a river valley walk with Education professor Dwayne Donald. Donald uses the walks to paint a picture of the Indigenous history of the river valley surrounding the University of Alberta’s North Campus and tell traditional Cree stories. The film, ôtênaw, which is Cree for “a settlement” or “a city”, gives viewers the chance to explore what Donald calls “the pentimento” or layers of Edmonton.
“The thing that really struck me was the delivery,” says McNally about Donald’s walks. “Presenting that history on the land, in the locations he’s talking about and interweaving it with Cree philosophies– I thought, ‘This is the best!’”
The experience inspired McNally to pitch the idea of filming the walk to Donald. McNally sees natural similarities between oral storytelling and film-making, which is why he thought it would make a perfect documentary.
“For Indigenous storytelling, there are limitations to the written word,” McNally explains. “A lot of it is being with people and people feel it differently as opposed to reading it in bed, wearing pyjamas. There’s more respect in person.”
The film, which is screening at Metro Cinema as part of April’s FAVA Fest, was awarded the festival’s Award of Excellence for “Outstanding Long-Form Documentary”.
ôtênaw: uncovering the layers of community
Once he got the green light, McNally leveraged some additional resources, such as a freezer full of 16mm film and grants from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the Edmonton Arts Council. In ôtênaw, McNally superimposes different shots of the river valley and archival images over Donald’s storytelling. McNally explains that Donald’s narration lead the way for the visuals.
“Looking at the rough edit I had, I’d say ‘it’d be great if I went down to the EPCOR power plant and shot some stuff there’,” says McNally.
McNally utilized another valuable resource while making the film– his community and their artistic skills. With the help of a friend, he reused animated painted slides from another project to emphasize Donald uncovering layers of Edmonton’s history. He also brought in other film-making friends to help him collect extra footage.
“It’s weird to call it ‘my film’ when there’s so many other people involved in every step of it,” says McNally. “The day we filmed Dwayne’s walk, I had this whole crew of people helping. My parents were watching my daughter and they invited the team over for chili after the walk.”
McNally notes that it was easy to connect with Donald beyond the film’s subject matter, bonding over their favourite hockey team, the Oilers.
“We had this moment where Dwayne thought he’d met me before and I was sure we hadn’t, but sometimes you meet someone and you think ‘We could be old friends’,” says McNally.
“I feel like I’ve learned so much from him, especially after watching the film a trillion times!”
The feeling of respect forged between McNally and Donald is mutual.
“Conor is a pretty cool guy and I admire him a lot,” says Donald. “He’s very passionate and committed to doing work that shows connectivities. To be a self-taught filmmaker and employ the sensibilities he does in this film– I love the music, the Elder’s words and the artfullness of it all.”
While Donald wasn’t originally comfortable with the idea of making a film about the river walks and storytelling he shares, he had the sense that something good could come of McNally’s initiative, and trusted him. McNally hopes that viewers take home a little more knowledge about their city and its story.
“All my films are about Edmonton in some way– I was born here and I’m not leaving anytime soon,” explains McNally. “I just want to raise awareness about these stories, because so many Edmontonians have no clue about any of this history. While Dwayne’s walks are free and open to the public, with film, one advantage is that it can be shown across the country. In that regard, I think it’s cool to tell very local stories and share them with a global audience.”
A mosaic-tiled rotunda caps an Italian Neo-Romaneque building and staircases wrap around four giant cedar totem poles from the Nsga’a Nation. The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto is an iconic building, and a childhood visit there put Elementary Education professor Lydia Menna on a path that would lead her to become a faculty member at the University of Alberta.
“I still have my very first admission token from when I went to the Royal Ontario Museum in Grade 3,” recalls Menna. “That was probably the first time I’d been to a large-scale museum. I was impressed by the monumental size of it.”
Menna’s teaching and research in language and literacy focuses on multiliteracies, a field that recognizes linguistic diversity and a variety of modes of communication, including material culture. Before she joined the University of Alberta, she worked at the Royal Ontario Museum in educational programming and exhibits, then pursued teacher education at the University of Toronto.
After living in Southern Ontario for most of her life, Menna made the move to Edmonton for Fall 2016. From the banks of Lake Ontario to the Prairies, it’s been an adjustment, but she takes it in stride.
“It’s been an exciting experience to move myself into a new situation and environment,” says Menna. “There are differences that you notice– it’s a new curriculum and it’s a different province. It’s exciting getting to know the students and work with them. That’s the part I really enjoy.”
The students are also keen to work with her by helping her explore the city, suggesting festivals or river valley trails to check out.
“When you let them know you’re new to Edmonton, it’s interesting to see what parts of the city speak to them,” explains Menna.
Learning about Edmonton isn’t the only way Menna connects with her students. She’s guiding them as they become teachers. Seeing this growth is heartening for Menna.
“You’re working with student teachers who are developing their professional practice for the work that they’ll do with many classes in many years. There’s impact.”
Thinking beyond the classroom walls
While Menna learns about Edmonton from her students, and her students learn about teaching from her, she is cognizant of how educators can make the learning process engaging.
“Learning exists beyond the classroom walls,” explains Menna. “We need to ask what are the kids bringing into the classroom and tap into the classroom we want it to be so we make learning meaningful to them.”
In particular, Menna thinks about the students who import their backgrounds into the classroom, and how that knowledge can be leveraged for learning.
“These students bring in other languages and experiences from other countries,” says Menna. “These are rich resources that they take into the classroom. We want to make sure there is space for that and give the students a chance to realize that these are assets as opposed to deficits. When you think of yourself as a learner, some of the most meaningful experiences were the ones you likely felt connected to.”
As an educator, Menna practices what she teaches by using her personal history with museums to show student teachers how to think about literacy beyond the confines of the written word.
“There’s an assignment that I do with student teachers, similar to an “all-about-me” book. I would present mine on the same day that the students would share theirs. Mine was a piece of creative writing that was revolved around this admission token and the first visit to the museum and how it was a catalyst for a life-long love for learning and museums.”
“It’s funny the path you take,” says Menna. “When I look at my personal trajectory, I see that education was the stream that flowed through it. I see the connection with multiliteracies and mutli-modality. Everybody takes a different path to get there.”
Pop culture is full of cyborgs like Darth Vader in Star Wars, the Borg in Star Trek or Neo in The Matrix. While cybernetic organisms are a mainstay of science fiction, Secondary Education professor Cathy Adams sees them everywhere, even in classrooms. Whether it’s the smartphone in your pocket or the computer you work on, Adams says technology is a cybernetic enhancement and it functions as an extension of who we are, how we live and how we learn.
When it comes to technology in the schools, there is no shortage of debate on the impact it can have on students or if it should be there at all. Adams, who researches digital technology integration across educational environments, as well as ethical and pedagogical issues involving digital media in schools, says it’s not a simple discussion.
Can you explain what you mean when you say students and teachers are cyborgs?
Adams: We tend to think of ourselves as autonomous from our technologies and our technology-textured environment; we are free to choose this or that technology and we alone decide whether we use it for good or for ill. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that technologies are not neutral, and that we have become the human beings that we are today only in and through our relationships to our technologies. Our professional practices, our political and cultural lives, and even our personal relationships are increasingly supported by and made possible by and through our technologies. We need to see that we humans are–and always have been–cyborgs.
Actually, most theorists don’t describe us “cyborgs”; the word in the academic literature is “posthuman”, which tries to take account of the socio-materiality of our situation. When I talk about teachers and students as cyborgs, I am drawing attention to this special human-technology relationship and posing some key questions about our future with technology.
Some parents are concerned about their children having too much “screen time”. How can an educator balance those concerns with integrating technology in the classroom?
Adams: There are different ways of approaching this question. One way is through media ecology. To see a classroom in terms of media ecology means to reflect on what a healthy, balanced and diverse media environment ought to be, especially in relation to different development moments in a young person’s educational life. Of course, most teachers often don’t have a lot of choice in the types of technology they have in their classrooms, but it is still possible to be thoughtful and deliberate in choosing when and how to use it and plan to do so in a way that is balanced and developmentally-sensitive.
When a particular technology is introduced into the classroom, we need to ask: what changes does that enact? Pencils, paper, desks and a chalkboard create a very different environment than one-to-one laptops and interactive whiteboards. Clearly new kinds of activities and ways of thinking are made possible in a new media environments. But there is a basic law of media that we all need to be aware of: every technology enhances one or more aspects of our lives, but it always comes at a cost.
What do people find surprising about this concept of technology users as cyborgs?
Adams: In my course, EDSE 577 Pedagogy of Technology: Teachers and Students as Cyborgs, one of our exercises is a 24 hour technology “fast”. Before embarking on this, we talk about which technologies we are going to abstain from using, since it’s nearly impossible to be without any technologies. We’d have to be naked in a forest somewhere! We usually limit the fast to 21st century technologies, which means not checking email, social media or even looking things up on the web. Of course, the day tends to also be interrupted by phantom cellphone vibration and periods of boredom.
In the end, it’s not unusual for one or two of our class to not make it the full 24 hours–but that is learning. But overall, the message is clear: our lives are intimately entangled in our devices.
Technology is changing rapidly. How can educators keep up with limited budgets?
Adams: I’m a strong advocate for coding in Kindergarten to Grade 12 because computing science is core to much of the infrastructure deciding and supporting almost every aspect of our lives today. Just as we need to learn mathematics, chemistry, physics, and biology to understand our world, so too with computing science. I’m not talking about turning everyone into programmers, software architects or data scientists, but of developing this basic literacy for a more critically-informed citizenship. And I’m also not talking about students learning how to use digital technologies. I’m talking about learning some of the basic principles behind this powerful science, how software and hardware are designed and built, the special languages used to write software programs, about algorithms and why should we care about them, how to think computationally and more.
Some are surprised to learn that there is actually little need for any sophisticated technology or even a computer to teach some of the most basic principles of computing science. While these technologies are powerful cognitive tools that our children need to use early so they can leverage them later, there are also some good reasons for not including them in the early grades, such as developing basic literacies first and focusing on social development.
Digital technology is a very big ticket item in often very limited school budgets. We need to step back and consider when, how and more importantly why we are bringing each and every digital technology into the classroom, especially in the early years.
What are some ways educators can integrate coding into their classrooms?
Adams: Today K-12 coding is a global movement. On account of this, some excellent educational resources are out there and freely available to teachers and parents. I recommend checking out code.org for example: the online lessons are fun, current and easy to set up. Both children and adults will benefit from trying these out, and gain a new understanding of what is meant by “coding”.
A number of years ago, Tim Bell and his New Zealand colleagues developed a curriculum called Computer Science Unplugged. It consists of social games and simple practical activities for kids to try out and learn some of the basic principles of computing science without ever needing to touch a computer or look at a screen. These lessons will serve our children extraordinarily well in understanding and being able to critically assess our changing digital technology environment, now and into the future.
Thinking back on the past year, it’s easy to conclude that I am lucky. I work with fascinating people, and I get to share their stories. Experiencing that kind of trust is humbling, and for that I’m grateful.
This year, the stories immersed me into the nitty-gritty details of waste management, introduced me to the concept of “math rappers” and gave me VIP access to a black metal and tattoo festival in Bergen, Norway. Despite this diversity, a few themes emerged: sustainability, pop culture in the classroom and hands-on learning.
Jerine Pegg adamantly believes that for students to learn science, they need to do authentic science. This value resulted in her taking composting worms up to Nunavut for local students to continue learning about waste management, gardening and healthy eating. It also aligns with what the folks at Energy Management and Sustainable Operations did on their waste audit – they have to do real science to know if the university’s sustainable practices have buy-in from the campus community.
“It was amazing because I didn’t know what to do, so I just started doing things.” – Jason Wallin
“I’ve never touched any construction or woodwork, so this is a lot of firsts for me, but I’m having lots of fun and making a lot of cool things.” – Jamie Lambert-Brown
Whether it was future Career and Technology Studies educators constructing projects in a workshop, or faculty member Jason Wallin’s on-the-fly documentary film-making in Bergen, trying your hand at something new and having a great time doing it was incredibly inspiring, and something I need to try more often.
From math raps, Star Wars, Minecraft and more to graphic novels in teacher and librarian education, pop culture has a place in education. David Lewkowich uses graphic novels to help future teachers reflect on their own education experiences, while Elementary Education alumna Jessica Maloughney uses a variety of pop culture touchstones to bridge gaps with her second grade students (Lydia Menna and Jason Wallin provide expert comment).