By Nhial Tiitmamer
For speakers at Thursday’s Place-Based Learning Symposium at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus, it takes more than living in a place to make sense of its meaning. The speakers point out that community service learning, field work and looking at historical heritage are essential parts of getting to know the meaning of our local places. Hosted in conjunction with the Boomtown Trail, the symposium is a part of Augustana Campus’ Place-Based Learning Initiative, a program that looks at places as sources of learning. Boomtown Trail is a tourism project, which promotes the uniqueness of places in central Alberta.
The speakers included a three person panel composed of three Augustana faculty professors, Dr Karsten Mündel, Dr Glen Hvenegaard and Dr Jeremy Mouat. University of Athabasca President, Dr Frits Pannekoek, renowned for his contribution to the Alberta’s heritage, gave the keynote address.
Dr Karsten Mundel, Director of Experiential Learning program at Augustana Campus, talked about community service learning. Community Service Learning is one of the signature programs at Augustana Campus with the aim of allowing students to move out of classroom and apply classroom theories by doing works with community organizations. Dr Mundel said the key element of how community service learning happens is through partnerships with the university.
According to Dr Mundel, the program does not only allow opportunity for achieving important community projects and students’ practical knowledge, but it also allows better understanding of how socio- cultural relations in social places influence how people interact with the environment. He challenged the audience to think of more ways of working in partnership with the university to create more learning opportunities.
For Dr Glen Hvenegaard, students make a sense of place through outdoor fieldworks, which allow them to move out of classrooms, be engaged with the natural environment by “measuring,” “calculating” and “analyzing” the elements that influence the natural environment. For him, learning is more than just a theory inside the four corners of a classroom.
An award winning professor renowned for his classes which immerse students in outdoor learning, Dr Hvenegaard believes that students need to see, touch, smell and interact with the physical environment to make better understanding of places, how they function and what they mean to us. Hvenegaard calls this process of learning a “nurturing of meaning in natural places.” He said the key reasons for nurturing meaning in natural places is to raise personal awareness, learn about our places by traveling, improve management of our natural resources and environmental awareness, which increases our chances of survival. He also says nurturing meaning in natural places is important in eliminating what he calls “nature deficit disorder,” which exists as a result of alienating ourselves from the natural environment. This can be achieved through social and physical interactions in a place, which can lead to full satisfaction about the place.
Based on his experience, Hvenegaard said students prefer field assignments because they result in enjoyment and enhancement of learning, among other thing. Through outdoor classes, he promotes what he calls Friluftsliv, a Norwegian words for free outdoor life, which engages students in what he calls the joy of discovery, knowing and of feeling at home in natural places.
Hvenegaard said the way this can relate to Boomtown Trail is through purposeful travel, a travel intended for learning and understanding of the meaning of places, which include natural landscape and cultural heritage sites. Other ways include meaningful connections with the places and concern for nature. Hvenegaard teaches experiential courses in Bio-Geography and the Canadian North. Both courses are intended to allow students to gain firsthand field experience about the natural elements of places.
Dr Jeremy Mouat, award winning Professor of History and Chair of Social Sciences at Augustana Campus, talked about his experience co – teaching a course about history of Camrose’s Bailey Theatre. Dr Mouat said the course looks at Bailey theatre as a place lived through the 20th century. Through the course, students examine films, political rallies, public space, heritage and preservation issues as a way of making sense of places.
Dr. Frits Pannekoek, President of Athabasca University, explored heritage in which he emphasized on preservation of heritage not just for tourism purposes but for better understanding of ourselves and who we are in relation to the heritage places. He said a true preservation of heritage “comes from the soul of community and purpose of a place.”
The rest of the symposium continued on Friday, where keynote speakers included Augustana Campus Dean, Dr Roger Epp, Gordon Pitts, bestselling author and senior writer for the Globe and Mail, and Bob Scot, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Alberta Tourism.
Both the Augustana Campus Place-Based Learning Initiative and the Boomtown Trail share a deep passion about the meaning of places, an element which has made them successful to bring people together to make better understanding of the meaning of places.