By Brittany Johnson
This winter, Augustana welcomed an exciting new opportunity for students to take Native Studies courses with students from universities across North America via distance education. The three new courses – with a fourth in the spring – are open to all students, Indigenous or otherwise.
One of the courses this semester, Archaeology and Native America (AUIDS370), has three Augustana students enrolled with more from other universities. This course, taught by Dr. Sarah Baires at Eastern Connecticut State University, will include an archaeological dig in the spring as part of the course. Alvin Beal of the University of Wisconsin-Superior teaches First Nations Values and Beliefs (AUREL271), with one Augustana student enrolled. Augustana’s Dr. Janet Wesselius teaches Indigenous Thought and Knowledge (AUPHI492) to six Augustana students and one from another university, choosing to teach completely online to ensure that all students have the same experience. 4th Year student Brittany Johnson acts as the onsite faculty mentor for Augustana students enrolled in these courses.
The courses are available to Augustana as the only Canadian member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC), an international association of post-secondary institutions located across North America. In these distance education courses, students participate with other undergraduates and their professors from the various COPLAC institutions via online discussions and forums.
Students discuss weekly readings online and submit assignments electronically. They meet every week with the onsite faculty mentor, who assists with technical issues and reading comprehension. The mentor also collects feedback from the students regarding the effectiveness of the courses and distance learning system.
Overall, students have found that the weekly assignments and the discussion boards have led to a positive experience; discussing with peers and being able to return to certain discussions at any time has proven to be an invaluable asset of the online format. Tonya Simpson, a student in AUIDS370 said, “It is easy to stay motivated by having to respond to the forum postings and needing to post on the forums each week.”
Future courses include a course in Native children’s literature and another studying the politics of residential school systems. Each semester will feature two or three courses via the course-sharing initiative.
A grant from The Teagle Foundation for $270,000 will be spread out over the next three years and will enable the courses to be taught from various professors within Universities associated with COPLAC. Eastern Connecticut State University, University of Minnesota-Morris, University of Wisconsin-Superior, Truman State University, and the University of Alberta-Augustana will be working together to develop a Native Studies course-sharing project that will be fully functional and sustainable by the end of the grant period.