Article Review – Active Learning in Indigenous Studies

As we move into next week, I wanted to begin reading about active learning in Indigenous Studies. At first I attempted to search the terms, Active Learning and Indigenous Studies. But this came up with 1 article and was not quite what I was looking for. I changed my keyword search to Experiential Learning and Indigenous Studies and found many more articles to chose from. I thought that was interesting and I am not aware of any major differences between active learning and experiential learning.

I found an article written by professors from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This article discusses a course designed with an experiential learning component followed by a reflection in the form of a digital story. In Canada, like many other countries with high populations of Indigenous people, have a lack of awareness surrounding Indigenous issues. “Within the Canadian context, non-Indigenous peoples’ lack of awareness of and misinformation about Indigenous worldviews and lived colonial experiences (e.g., residential schools, the Indian Act, enfranchisement, criminalization of spiritual practices, etc.) are influenced by their systematic exclusion from educational curricula.” (Castledon, et. al, 2013) Not only are Indigenous peoples’ issues not recognized, this is perpetuated by society through the lack of education in public schools. The authors identified this as an issue and developed a course where the goal was transformation. They hoped this course would lead to transformative learning. “Transformative learning is an educational theory that seeks to promote ‘a critical dimension of learning… that enables us to recognize, reassess, and modify the structures of assumptions and expectations that frame our tacit points of view and influence our thinking, beliefs, attitudes, and actions.” (Castled, et. al, 2013) Transformative learning theory is something that I would really like to learn more about as I am developing this course in history. I really believe that Indigenous people who have lost their traditional knowledge through colonial processes could have a transformative experience when relearning it.

The results from this course were so positive, the faculty sought permission to conduct a study with the students from the course. They sent one person out to interview all the students and  once they reviewed transcriptions for accuracy they began to develop themes from the qualitative data. These included, Openness to transformation: students were aware of the importance of including Indigenous perspectives in their work but all agreed Indigenous issues were never taught in school. Transformation through relationships was another theme: the students saw value in relationship building as a way to overcome ignorance. And all students felt a sense of pride in their final digital storytelling project but also felt vulnerable because the project was personal.

This study was interesting to me. It not only gave me ideas about experiential learning to add to my history class. The students in this class went out and learned from the Mikmaq First Nations community. The elders in that community  engaged the students in learning activities that included ceremonies, sharing circles, medicine walks, and eel fishing. They also discussed environmental resource issues with elders and leaders of those communities. These are the types of activities that really make a lasting impact. Hearing from elders about their connection to the environment and beyond that to the spiritual connection is very powerful. Some students, even Indigenous students, don’t hear that in their everyday lives. This example also introduced me to a theory that I want to look deeper into. It didn’t go into detail about what the Transformative Theory is, but it sounds like it might be a good connection to the course I am developing.

Works Cited:

Castleden, H., Daley, K., Sloan Morgan, V., & Sylvestre, P. (2013). Settlers unsettled: using field schools and digital stories to transform geographies of ignorance about Indigenous peoples in Canada. Journal Of Geography In Higher Education, 37(4), 487-499. doi:10.1080/03098265.2013.796352

4 thoughts on “Article Review – Active Learning in Indigenous Studies

  1. “Not only are Indigenous peoples’ issues not recognized, this is perpetuated by society through the lack of education in public schools.”

    HMMM same colonial story, different colonized people. We’ve been talking about the same things in my ANE class, with Alaska Natives, Greenland Inuits, Aboriginal Australians, etc. Exact same stories. I don’t have a lot to respond to your article review. I think it was very well done and you covered all of the salient points of an article review perfectly. I think I might go look up this article and read it – it sounds like it’s right up my alley. I think it could be applied really well to many different contexts, and I might see if my ANE professor will look at it. Anyway, very well done!

    1. I had a semester in a high school English/History combo class that was American Indian Theme based. We read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and took field trips to see cliff dwellings, among other things. At the time I knew my teacher was awesome and that not many classes were going camping tours of Indian Reservations, but I didn’t recognize that the entire curriculum might be out of the ordinary. As I read your review, I began to realize that we did not read anything out of a history book and wondered why for the first time. Another cool assignment might be to study a current textbook and write an additional entry or modify an existing one . It would be really cool to send it to the authors of the original with a suggestion to incorporate into a new edition.

      1. This is a great idea, Kim. I really like supplementing materials. It’s a great exercise in so many dimensions. The student must consider what’s important to relay, what’s accurate, and cite sources. Great exercise.

  2. Hi Lexie,

    This is a good find. I especially like the part where students go out and do things with elders. I agree with you that, at best, the difference between experiential learning and active learning is nuanced. One could imagine, I suppose, experiential learning where students are more passengers than participants. For instance, watching an elder make snowshoes using traditional methods vs. making them themselves. Likewise, going on some sort of outing where all the preparations and planning has been done by others. Active learning is experiential learning at its best.

    I have read a bit about transformative learning theory. My take is that it is similar to other models we’ve considered except being a bit more focussed on the outcome rather than the process. Transformative learning theory leads to similar personal developments as identified by Fink, for instance (and Wiggins and McTighe, for that matter). Learning about one’s self, caring, the human dimension, and so on. Wiggins and McTighe refer to self-knowledge, empathy and perspective. These are all similar expressions of higher levels of awareness, I would say? However, if you find elements of Transformative Learning Theory that are expressed in ways which resonate with you – go with it. Much of this exploration process is about exactly this process and I’m really glad you’re finding a path through all of these different attempts at articulating something which is so very complex.

    Nice work!


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