Landscape photo: rolling hills and blue sky with clouds

Sept. 28, 2021

Werklund School researchers explore impact of land-based learning experiences on undergraduate education students

Apply for a University of Calgary Teaching and Learning Grant by Jan. 17, 2022
Photo of Jennifer MacDonald and Aubrey Hanson

Jennifer MacDonald, left, and Aubrey Hanson.

Education often feels like it has been separated from the land because people, especially non-Indigenous folks, are most familiar with their learning taking place indoors. The thing is, learning hasn’t always taken place indoors. A team of two researchers from the Werklund School of Education are working to understand ways to renew relationships with the land and to remember ways of being with the land.

Associate professor Dr. Aubrey Hanson, PhD’17, from the Werklund School of Education and member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, is working with her colleague Jennifer MacDonald, a PhD candidate and sessional instructor, to conduct research on the ways that undergraduate education students are experiencing land-based learning opportunities and making connections to their learning in the program.

Their 2020 Teaching and Learning Grants project is titled Investigating Student Experiences Learning in Indigenous Education with and through the Land.

Nose hill park

Nose Hill Park.

Listening, learning and reflecting on land-based learning experiences

All undergraduate education students are required to complete the EDUC 530 – Indigenous Education course that runs every fall. Part of this course involves optional professional development opportunities that offer land-based learning experiences such as visiting Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, Nose Hill Park, and camping at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, where students learn from Indigenous knowledge-holders. Each experience provides pre-service teachers with opportunities to connect with the land and help them embed this work in their teaching.

“We wanted to know what was meaningful in these land-based experiences and how we might carry it forward to embed more opportunities into the Indigenous Education course,” explains MacDonald. By interviewing students and instructors who took part in the land-based experiences before 2020, the team has been able to observe layers of understanding that contribute to the renewal of relationships to the land and Indigenous knowledge systems.

Interpreting layers of understanding

The first layer of understanding involves recognizing the importance for all people, especially non-Indigenous folks and pre-service teachers, to understand that they are part of systems that have suppressed other systems like natural laws and Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing.

Once students have recognized these aspects, there is some sort of commitment to a critical study of them, which is the second layer.

The third layer involves reimagining and renewing relationships and prioritizing this work by learning through a different ontology and sense of relationship to the land.

“These layers of understanding can help people to grow their practice and help to make room for more holistic and experiential education in the schooling system and beyond,” explains Hanson.

We have high hopes for this transforming what education means to people. It is about building healthier futures for all people.

Both Hanson and MacDonald emphasize the importance of recognizing that they are not trying to create a new pedagogy, but are instead trying to help students relate to traditional knowledge systems, which pre-date colonial schooling systems. Hanson says that for non-Indigenous folks to be stepping into relationships with Indigenous knowledge traditions, it is about listening to things that people already know.

“Reconciliation in education, beyond what is mandated, is also about helping students understand that we all have a story on the land and in place. We have all come to live here, so how can we live here well? Not just as guests, but with responsibility and accountability,” explains MacDonald.

Apply for a grant or volunteer to adjudicate

The University of Calgary Teaching and Learning Grants are designed to enhance student learning experiences through the integration of teaching and learning research and educational leadership. Since the start of the program in 2014, 251 teaching and learning research projects have received funding. Past grant recipients have achieved remarkable results through their research projects in diverse areas of development and innovation, and scholarship of teaching and learning.

Are you interested in submitting a research proposal for a 2022 University of Calgary Teaching and Learning Grant? Successful applications can receive up to $40,000 in funding.

The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning invites applications from academic staff and librarians, archivists and curators, as well as teaching assistants, postdoctoral scholars, student service professionals and administrative staff. Applications are due Jan. 17, 2022.

Online drop-in consultation sessions are offered in October, and internal peer review opportunities are open until Oct. 31, 2021. Learn more.

The success of the grants program is strengthened by the diverse perspectives of the university community through the adjudication process. Adjudication for the grants will occur during February 2022. Faculty, staff and students can apply to adjudicate grant applications and get unique insight into the program. Apply to be an adjudicator.

About the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning 

The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning is dedicated to better understanding and improving student learning at the University of Calgary. Its mission is to strengthen teaching and learning communities, cultures and practices to create extraordinary learning experiences. Every year, the Taylor Institute publishes a detailed community report to share and measure their progress toward key priorities. Learn more about the 2020 Taylor Institute Community Report.