I have taught Aboriginal studies courses that foreground antiracism in various universities since the late 1970s. For most students this knowledge is new, given the lack of serious compulsory Aboriginal studies courses in schools, and sometimes very confronting in that it names racism and white privilege. Teaching such content especially in compulsory courses requires skill and flexible strategies as much as passion for social justice. Hannah Morgan (2012) terms this sort of education “troublesome knowledge” and notes that students often resist such “unsettling” learning. The intense and political nature of the content and the debates, and often partisan and passionate nature of the literature, are quite challenging for students used to more passive ways of learning. In this challenging learning environment, the primary teaching and learning need is for students to collaboratively transform their own positions about the content. My approach requires me to instill in students their need to unpack their assumptions and values in a culturally safe and supportive environment. At the University of the Sunshine Coast I teach undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and Cultural Diversity within a “collaborative, social justice framework”. The framework is underpinned by a teaching and learning contract that stresses student motivation and collaborative learning, combined with a teaching style that is built on conversational facilitation and dynamic, interactive experiences that help to realize transformational outcomes in students. I have used my own experiences and those of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal colleagues, along with SETAC feedback, informal conversations, specific research projects to explore student resistance and transformation around these learning and teaching questions. For my part, I need to establish a ‘contract’ with each student and a ‘mutually respectful and supportive coalition between the students. By using a ‘conversational’ style of lecture delivery and tutorial facilitation, (most) students become committed to undertake sometimes painful and always challenging transformational learning. Such responses are consistent with the work of Lonka and Ketonen (2012) on the importance of academic emotions in effective student centred learning. Seeing teaching and learning as a “deep” conversation allows for the critical development of trust (Dron, 2007) necessary for students to feel comfortable honestly and openly discussing their own unlearning and learning around controversial and challenging topics central to their future professional practice with diverse communities. This helps students to both foster their curiosity about the content but also respects and supports their own development of knowledge and critical capacities, depending on where they are individually in their learning journey. This presentation will cover some of that process with particular emphasis on the key role of face-to-face teaching in both lecture and tutorial formats, the use of assessment feedback to support and extend learning, and the specific contribution critical reflection through weekly journals provides. Examples of the process and the research will be briefly indicated and ways forward suggested. Full references will be provided in the presentation.
2014 Learning & Teaching Week: Teachers as Learners, Sunshine Coast, Australia 1-5 September 2014