Archival Practicum Projects

adventure begins mug sitting outside on rock with leaves nearby

I recently wrapped up teaching an Archival Practicum course. Students spent the term immersed in working with two sets of community heritage organization archives. This course built on archival theory the students learned previously and was designed to provide hands on skills. We did a lot of physical processing, had quality discussions about arrangement decisions, and tackled some basic preservation concerns.

One of the most rewarding parts of this class was seeing students execute their practicum projects. Each student designed an access or outreach initiative to ‘take archival records out of the archives.’

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Historical Reminiscents EP 40: Place Based Learning

Woman showing two children a tree

Last week I spent time with undergraduate students from Huron University College’s history program.  As part of the “Documenting early residential schools” a SSHRC Partnership Engage project between Huron University College, the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, and the Woodland Cultural Centre students were able to visit the Shingwauk site to learn about the early history and work with some of the archival records documenting the Shingwauk School.  In this episode I talk about the power of place based learning, experiential learning, and the role of archives in teaching history.

I would love to hear your thoughts about place based learning as a tool for teaching history. Leave a comment or send me a message on Twitter.

Mentioned in this episode:
-Hay T. Johnson, “Place-based learning and knowing: critical pedagogies grounded in Indigeneity
-Ryerson University, Best Practices in Experiential Learning

Download or listen now.

Intensive Learning Opportunities

Group of Kings students standing in front of Shingwauk Hall, Algoma University.

Photo: Kings students standing in front of Shingwauk Hall, Algoma University.

Earlier this month I had the privilege of hosting over 40 students from King’s University College (Western University) during their visit to Algoma University.  The students spent a really long time on a bus traveled to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to spend a couple of days immersed in learning about residential schools and Indigenous communities.

This visit was somewhat unique in that it was completely organized by students. The trip was framed as a unique educational opportunity and as enrichment but not tied to one specific course.  The students were from a mixture of undergraduate disciplines and were at varying points in their respective programs. The organizing group approached me in October of 2017 with the idea for their trip and after months of correspondence and planning it was fantastic to see this experience come together.

The students had two full days of intensive programming on campus. The agenda included a historic our of the Shingwauk/AlgomaU site, discussion with a residential school survivor, an Indigenous youth panel, workshops facilitated by local Indigenous community partners, attending the Gathering at the Rapids Pow Wow, and lots of time for discussion and reflection.  It was a heavy couple of days with a lot of deep learning and with an emphasis on experiencing things first hand.  For many students it was their first time being on the site of a former residential school and it was the first time they had interacted with a residential school survivor in person.

Opportunities For Success
One of the byproducts of intensive learning is the sense of team building and community feeling that grows out of engagement in a transformative educational opportunity.  For me, the creation of a safe space and the generating of a community feeling were an essential part of developing the King’s programming.  Our opening activities, breakout sessions, and discussions were designed with inclusive and safe space practices in mind.  We also attempted to take a decolonized approach to debriefs by using sharing circles instead of Western classroom style engagement tools.

One of the benefits of intensive learning is the ability to incorporate experiential elements. This could looks like visiting local heritage sites, speaking with community members, or engaging in local events. I think the best intensive learning models look beyond the walls of the classroom and engage students in activities that they would not be able to experience as part of their regular coursework.

Space For Growth
One of the obvious challenges of intensive learning opportunities is the limited amount of time.  Facilitators are often trying to make the most out of a short time period by combining a range of learning opportunities and reflection techniques.  Inevitably, something isn’t going to make it into the final agenda.  This can be mitigated in part by providing resources for students to engage with prior to and following the intensive period.  This might take the form of required reading or viewing before the event, a list of take home resources, or a discussion forum organized to occur after the intensive.

In the case of the King’s visit one of the challenges was building in enough processing and reflection time. Dealing with historical trauma and first hands accounts of violence, systemic racism, and abuse can be challenging. We wanted to make sure that students left each day with tools to process the new information they were presented with and to ensure that they left knowing what support resources were available to them. Considering we only had two days together we spent a lot of that time in discussion and we engaged in a number of debrief and summary discussions.

As a facilitator I find intensive learning really rewarding, it is wonderful to be part of a group that is on an educational journey and to see them progressing in their understanding of a complex historical topic. Acting as a facilitator to this type of event is also really draining. Being on point for over eight hours each day is exhausting.  I would recommend building in co-facilitators or guest workshop leaders to any intensive learning program.  A collaborative approach to delivery means that the burden of instruction isn’t falling on one or two people – who will definitely be exhausted by the end of the experience.

Come up with experiential learning opportunities and developing schedules for intensive learning events can be challenging.  Come up with engaging programming that covers a range of topics and fitting it in a two or three days is tricky.  For folks engaged in this type of work I would suggest building in evaluation time, that way staff and participants can provide feedback on what worked and didn’t work.  One of the things I would consider going forward is making sure there is more ‘active’ time build into each day — even just doing activities which require participants to move around the room can help breakup long periods of sitting, which can be hard on attention spans and physical bodies.

Have you participated in any intensive learning programs? Do you like this style of education opportunities? 

Community Archives and Collaboration in the Classroom

keep-calm-and-collaborateEarlier this week Skylee-Storm Hogan and I were invited to speak as part of an ongoing faculty professional development series focusing on collaboration.  Our session focused on ways faculty can collaborate with archives, how archives can be brought into the classroom, and using archives across disciplines.

The workshop was relatively informal with Skylee-Storm and I briefly talking about our experience working with archives in classroom spaces, how to engage students with primary source research, and past successful collaborations.  The rest of the workshop was spent discussing potential collaboration opportunities, approaches to teaching site and national specific history, and creative engagement possibilities.

One of the things our conversation touched on a number of times was the idea of archives as interdisciplinary and that archival work can be skill building for students across programs.  This point is something I’ve talked about before, but I do really believe that the skills that students learn through engagement with archival material can be far reaching.  During our presentation Skylee-Storm hogan talked about the development of primary source research skills, community outreach techniques, curatorial skills, writing, and presentation skills that were developed through engagement with archival material.  These skills are not tied to a single discipline and are often connected to tangible projects as part of course work or employment.

During the session we also spent a considerable amount of time discussing community engaged research.  This involved thinking about how a grassroots community based archives can be used to teach research methods, foster community connections, and how to build classroom examples around the archive.

Overall the conversation was heartening and really reminded me of the uniqueness of the archives that I work in.  The Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre archive is deeply connected to a marginalized community.  The survivor community has played a fundamental role in the development of programming and holdings since the establishment of the SRSC archive. This Indigenous community led approach to research and collecting is something unique and is something worth talking about. In an era where more and more institutions are looking at ways to integrate Indigenous content and Indigenous voices into the classroom space the holdings of the SRSC are increasingly important when talking about preserving the legacy of residential schools, community based healing, and teaching history from an Indigenous perspective.

The session also reminded me of the ongoing need to educate and advocate for archives.  Even internally there is always more work that can be done to raise awareness about the extent of holdings and what services archives offer.  That outreach piece is something that often feels like treading water – you might be repeatedly having the same conversation with different people – but eventually it does result in progress and if all goes well increased awareness and use.

Community Knowledge and Active Listening

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. 

Hands-On: Experiential Learning at Heritage Sites

The idea of experiential learning (the process of learning through doing) is being heavily promoted in education systems right now. Hands on activities, active involvement in learning exercises, and anything other than listening to people talk are all types of experiential learning. 

Living history sites are excellent examples of heritage organizations which utilize experiential learning.  Visitors to living history sites are often engaged in what life was like at a certain time period.  This might include learning a period dance, learning a song, baking bread the ‘old-fashioned way’, helping harvest a heritage garden, spinning wool, or numerous other activities. Living history sites are designed to immerse people in the past and often do so through experiential learning.

How can (and do) heritage organizations other than living history sites engage visitors in types of experiential learning? Art institutions often provide classes which introduce visitors to a particular art form – be it pottery, drawing, or painting.  An example of this is the Whitney Museum of American Art‘s drop in drawing class, which situates participants in a gallery and provides drawing instruction.

An increasing number of museums are also offering experiential learning based educational programs.  At times these programs take on a feel of a living history and allow visitors to learn a historical skill or participate in a period celebration (eg. Christmas in the 1800s).  Museums also utilize educational reproductions to allow hands on experience with collection material. The Norwegian-American Museum‘s curator for a day program is an example of a museum program which fully dedicates itself to experiential learning.

Some archives have also moved to providing a more experiential based outreach programs for schools.  These programs often focus on introducing students to the value of historical photographs and documents.  For example, students can be sent on a source ‘scavenger hunt’ where they search through reproductions of newspaper clippings, photographs, and other material to find particular information. 

Do you have memories of a particularly good (or bad) experiential learning program at a heritage site?

Photo credit: Olds College