Time to take the lead in Indigenization

Improving access and quality of education were central themes at the University of Saskatchewan’s Teaching and Learning Today conference, which took place May 1-2 on the Saskatoon campus.

“I think pretty much everybody there saw that we need to change academia and that those interested in open resources and Indigenization have more in common than differences,” said Heather Ross, an educational developer at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning and one of the conference organizers. “Like all post-secondary institutions across Canada, we need to find ways to work together to improve access and learning for everybody—and from what I saw at the conference, the U of S is ready to take the lead in that.”

College of Kinesiology PhD candidate Erin Barbour-Tuck said she appreciated that the conference was a safe place to talk through how she can improve her teaching through Indigenization. 

“I felt like everyone there wanted to move forward and because we all accepted that we had this in common, I was free to share some of the things that I was wondering or things I didn’t understand that I was afraid might come across as ignorant,” said Barbour-Tuck.

Erin Barbour-Tuck

Barbour-Tuck, who is teaching her third class this spring, wants to learn as much as she can about indigenizing her teaching and course material to help her prepare for the future.

“From a self-interest perspective, I know that understanding and championing the main values and initiatives of the university and of the college will be important to be considered for a future academic position,” said Barbour-Tuck. “From a more altruistic perspective, having a better understanding of the history of this place, as well as the perspectives of Indigenous peoples on what’s happened and where we are now, is important.”

Days after the conference, Barbour-Tuck was able to incorporate some of what she learned in her spring term class. She asked her students to sit in a circle and engaged in conversation with them instead of disseminating information at them.

“Many of the pedagogical methods discussed as being in-line with an Indigenous way of knowing really overlapped with some of the pedagogical literature I’ve already been reading and techniques I’ve been hearing about, so the fact that it meshed well was great,” said Barbour-Tuck. “The message is that it’s not just ethically and morally good to incorporate this because of our history and where we are with the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) Calls to Action—now we can say it’s also effective teaching practice, and that might be the last piece of the puzzle that academics need to take the step and incorporate these new ways of teaching and learning.”

Ashleigh Androsoff

More than 10 years ago, Ashleigh Androsoff was a PhD candidate, thinking about how to respectfully and ethically incorporate Indigenous knowledge in her teaching.

When she had the opportunity to teach her first Canadian history course, Androsoff thought very carefully about how she was going to present material in a balanced and fair way that integrated Indigenous content as thoroughly as possible.

Over time, Androsoff began to realize that she could do better. She began to think about how the way she was teaching reproduced western ways of teaching, learning and knowing. She lectured at the front, with her students sitting in rows facing her, and her assignments were very writing focused.

Androsoff did her best to inform herself about how to indigenize her teaching approach. She was inspired by Mi’kmaq elder Albert Marshall who talks about using a two-eyed seeing approach, which focuses on weaving Indigenous ways of approaching teaching and learning, with western ways.

Now, Androsoff is an assistant professor at the U of S specializing in western Canadian history in the College of Arts and Science. She presented at the Teaching and Learning Today conference about using the two-eyed seeing approach. She specifically spoke about how she indigenized doing a midterm and a final in her second-year prairie history course by having students write journal entries reflecting on what they learned each week throughout the course.

“Students reported that they found those weekly journal entries to be time consuming and a lot of work, but they felt that they learned more, which is very important,” said Androsoff. “Just as importantly, they also experienced less stress. Several students commented on how valuable it was to be tested on what they were learning as opposed to being tested on how they wrote tests.”

Just like Barbour-Tuck is discovering, Androsoff said she’s found that Indigenous ways of teaching are consistent with good teaching methods for all students—non-Indigenous and Indigenous.

“The overwhelming majority of my students specifically identify the techniques I’m incorporating as improving their learning outcomes overall, by which I mean, improving their grades, improving their understanding of the material and improving their engagement with and interest in their material,” said Androsoff. “Those are all wins and you might almost think of it as a bonus that they are consistent of and reflective of Indigenous ways of learning and teaching. But they’re of benefit to everybody.”

Stryker Calvez, manager of Indigenous education initiatives at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning, worked with Ross to organize the conference. Calvez has spent the last 10 years examining how to support constructive institutional changes that promote inclusive intercultural environments.

He said people are eager to change, but “they don’t know what they don’t know,” so he provides them with learning opportunities to slow down and take their time to learn how to support Indigenous knowledge in the classroom without colonizing it.

Calvez said that as far as he’s aware, there’s nowhere in Canada working on Indigenization in such a well-rounded way compared to the U of S.

“We have been working on this for a long time and we have gotten so far,” said Calvez. “If we don’t embrace our strengths and recognize them and celebrate them, we won’t feel confident enough to lead, and we need to lead because no one else is in the same place as we are.”

The Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning provides assistance with inclusive pedagogical approaches, curriculum redesign, decolonization and intercultural competencies. For more information, email gmctl@usask.ca.