This week I am spending a lot of time outside of the archive. The archive is hosting a group of concurrent education students as part of a trial summer institute experience. The basis for this summer institute is providing an education setting that focuses on experiential learning in relation to Aboriginal heritage and Northern Ontario. The week includes a few formal lecture type discussions, but for the most part activities are focusing on the real world and engaging with local communities.
Learning outside of a traditional education setting can be extremely rewarding. It can also be a bit overwhelming for students who have been trained to learn in a lecture or classroom setting. One of the most important skills that aren’t emphasized in formal education settings is the act of active listening and effective oral communication.
Listening to someone explain their own past as a formal oral history or in a more casual conversation can be an amazing learning opportunity. However, listening passively and not having a feel for the situation and atmosphere of the conversation can limit how much is shared or learned. Sometimes it is not appropriate to interrupt a speaker to ask questions, other times a conversation where you ask directed questions is completely fine. Knowing the person who you are speaking to helps a lot, as does reading the setting.
For example, interrupting a First Nations Elder with questions when they are providing a formal teaching probably isn’t the most appropriate. Chances are the Elder will ask you if there are questions at the end. If a question period isn’t part of the session it’s often possible to say thank you to the speak and ask short questions individually at the end of the session. A good facilitator will explain if questions are appropriate at the beginning, but this doesn’t always happen.
Yesterday, one of the community members the group visited spoke about the importance of thinking with both your heart and mind and responding to the situation appropriately. I think the advice is definitely valid. A lot of academically trained individuals have a hard time expanding beyond traditional school thoughts. When learning in a less formal more community based setting it is important to step away from purely academic modes of learning and be open to different interpretations and understandings of knowledge.