I was sitting in the bucket of a rusty blue 1950’s truck. I felt the murmur of the engine and I bounced with the rhythm of the ruts that covered the well-used gravel road. I couldn’t help but think – this is a unique way to learn about the world. (Yes, it may sound surprising, but I did get to ride in a truck for class – we were touring a farm.)
At Augustana, students have many opportunities to learn and complete courses outside of the classroom. Without the anxiety of multiple choice midterms or the stress of 3-hour final exams, I was able to expand my knowledge and think critically about topics in a different environment.
This fall, I had this experience in an interdisciplinary course called “Making Peace with the Land.” To some, the name may seem daunting or strange. I felt the same. I went into the course completely unaware of what I would accomplish or gain (and I was surprised about how it turned out).
The course, which has been running for around 5 years now, allows students to visit farms and places outside of Camrose to learn about agriculture, ecology, sustainability, reconciliation, Indigenous traditions, and community living.
The course is meant to encourage students to get involved with members of the community – classes would often start with a local soup supper cooked by different students and community members. We got to enjoy time together and have meaningful discussions.
Other times, we went on field trips to hear from community members and leaders about their experiences with agriculture, reconciliation, and sustainability (and more!).
I sometimes had friends question the validity of a course like this – are you learning? How are you graded? What are your assignments? All of which are valid questions – the majority of the course-work was written reflections and essays based on our experiences.
I think that often we are stuck within one specific system of learning, so we sometimes aren’t open to other pedagogues. But, I think it’s important to be uncomfortable and rest in the uncertainty of risks. That’s what my experiential course taught me. It’s okay to learn in different ways and it’s okay to try out classes that are different from the ones you might typically take.
Beyond the classroom, I learned about societal issues that my particular community is facing (in Camrose) and engaging with senior community members exposed me to a range of story-telling that was unexpected. I heard about the issues from the people who had experienced them – which was invaluable.
One man I had the pleasure of working with, Bob (80+ year old man), had wonderful stories about Camrose and his younger years. It was great to join together with people like Bob and learn from their wisdom.
I was initially confused with the course because I didn’t need to memorize information or regurgitate vocabulary. I was solely expected to learn through the community members and gain knowledge from the places I visited. It’s a different way to learn – but it’s probably the most valuable course I’ve ever taken.
The places I visited were powerful. At Don Ruzicka’s Sunrise farm, I learned about coexistence, organic farming, and the importance of native pollinators. I learned about permaculture design and the interconnectedness of ecology at the Coen Family farm. I visited a First Nation’s Reserve – Maskwacis – and learned about the energy of nature, the effects of colonialism in Canada, and the importance of Indigenous ceremonies.
I shared valuable experiences with people who have a plethora of knowledge that is far beyond my own. I engaged with community members, and I learned about the local culture around agriculture and ecology.
Throughout this course, I experienced a sense of engagement like no other – and I believe it’s valuable to challenge the ways we learn and plunge into different experiences. (You never know what to expect – but it’s worth it!)
Melissa is a second year BA in Global and Development Studies at Augustana. Her favourite pastimes are drinking tea, eating chicken wings, rock climbing and playing her ukulele. Melissa loves wearing bright red lipstick to match her hair and her sarcastic personality! Read her stories on YouAlberta.
This post originally appeared on The Quad on February 23, 2017.