Tag Archives: pedagogy

Indigenous Initiatives and Information Studies: Unlearning in the Classroom

Reviewed By: Natalie Daily, Britten Kuckelman, and Hollie Locke

Link to article: https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/ijidi/article/view/32212

The Library and Information Science (LIS) field has historically operated from a colonial position with regard to Indigenous communities, which has often lead to overlooking Indigenous ways of knowledge (pg. 67-68). The origins of many LIS practices can be traced to Medieval Europe and are incompatible to Indigenous knowledge practices (pg. 69). Additionally, merely using the hiring process to address diversity in the LIS field is not enough if practices regarding how services are offered to diverse communities aren’t driven by cultural transformation (pg. 69). In order to encourage more effective LIS services for Canadian Indigenous communities, the authors of this paper designed a course to lead LIS students through the practice of unlearning that which is yoked to the colonial mindset. The authors detailed their goals for the course, the methods they utilized to achieve these goals, and in-depth reflection to analyze the success of their efforts. Ultimately, adopting a posture of humility allowed students to learn from their classmates and prepare themselves for working in service to diverse target communities.
Canada has an Indigenous community that makes up close to 5% of the total population of the country (Statistics Canada 2017). Recently, the country has been having a public reckoning over Indigenous issues through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and recent efforts by the government to acknowledge the “occupation of unceded land” and recognize the rights of Indigenous people to control their own records (pg. 81). The course described in this paper offers a guideline for how to embed cultural competency in LIS coursework in a country that is demonstrating how to take the lead in integrating the Indigenous experience into society.
According to the authors, the purpose of the course was to cultivate a responsive learning environment where students could develop skills that are critical for work after graduation by providing strategies for support of Indigenous information needs. The primarily aim of this research was to determine the effectiveness of the pedagogical approaches, learning tools, and course materials that were utilized for this course (p. 72). Was this course successful in achieving its goal to prepare students to work with Indigenous peoples in support of ongoing developments in Indigenous culture, languages, governance, legislation, and litigation?
In order to assess how successful this course was in achieving its goals, the authors decided to draw from their own reflections on the design and teaching of the class rather than from the students’ input. According to the authors, the analytic process was “iterative” with both their “insights” and “humility” as educators developing throughout the course (p. 72). The authors followed a pedagogical practice that included developing an iterative planning and reflection process each week with face-to-face meetings where assignments and activities were discussed. Major themes of the course included Positionality & Awareness, Prior Knowledge & Unlearning, Reflective Practice, and Cultivating Humility (p. 73). Throughout the course, students were assigned weekly, non-graded reflective writing prompts, group work, and anonymous surveys (p. 74). In order to develop personal awareness and positionality within the framework of the course, the authors found, through trial and error, that utilizing collaborative tools that allowed the students to respond to the material with anonymity provided students with the opportunity to voice their concerns about making mistakes or offending classmates. For each of the major topics, the authors provided a lesson to the students and an activity that supported the advancement of the skills discussed. For example, during the unit of Prior Knowledge & Unlearning, the authors focused on Indigenous history and contemporary issues and encouraged students to question and potentially “unlearn” professional assumptions and biases towards Indigenous peoples (p. 76). Students were then assigned a reading activity about past federal policies that impacted Indigenous communities, which corresponded with the lesson (p. 76).
The authors struggled with the theme of prior knowledge and unlearning throughout the course. They found that students lacked basic knowledge of the history of settler initiatives in Canada and struggled with how much of it to teach during a masters level course (p. 76). On top of these knowledge gaps, they struggled to challenge students to unlearn the very core skills the students were taught in their professional programs. “The helping narrative, that part of being a professional is knowing what help is needed, bumps up against some of the ideas we wanted to critically engage with, and in some ways is counterintuitive to the concept of professional and intellectual humility” (p. 77). While the authors did not indicate any successful class activities, they identified a new way to frame this theme earlier on in the course for future classes.
Through multiple iterations of the coursework, the authors designed activities to provide students with the opportunity to critically reflect on and question normal practices in their profession. To this end, the authors provided the students with real life scenarios and asked students to strategize solutions. The authors then provided students with a framework for addressing dilemmas to teach students how to engage with challenging situations. This activity allowed students to challenge what is considered normal ethical practices (p. 78). To introduce the final theme of humility to the students, the authors assigned course readings and videos and then gathered reflection on questions about humility within the profession. “Overwhelmingly the reflections identified intellectual, professional, and cultural humility as key things that students learned about and will carry forward with them” (p.79).
Canada is not alone in having a history that is shaped by its relationship with its Indigenous groups, and making a concerted effort to “unlearn” cultural constructs and implicit bias is a concept that has implications for societies with their own Indigenous groups. Additionally, many societies have other diversity issues related to their colonial pasts that tend to shape the way that certain groups are treated. Incorporating “unlearning” into formalized coursework for LIS students is a way to give credibility to the knowledge of oppressed and/or disenfranchised groups and how to best serve them. This coursework should focus on unlearning biases resulting from settler, colonial, or Western culture that can be harmful to Indigenous peoples’ and other minority groups’ ability to gain appropriate access to information resources and materials.

Nathan, L. P., & Perreault, A. (2018). Indigenous initiatives and information studies: Unlearning in the classroom. The International Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion, 2(1-2). 67-85.

Statistics Canada. (2017, October 25). Aboriginal peoples in Canada: Key results from the 2016 Census. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/171025/dq171025a-eng.htm

Teaching in an Age of Ubiquitous Computing: A Decelerated Curriculum

By Julia Engel, Jody McKenzie, Kelsey Scrobis, and Cynthia Thompson

Link to article: http://www.digitalcultureandeducation.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/McRae.pdf

Article Synopsis and Core Research Questions

The current generation of young students are referred to as “digital natives”. The research in this article seeks to understand how educators can use these tools that students are familiar with to help reach them, as their information needs and behaviors have changed due to the ubiquity of technological tools being used in their everyday life. Though the perception of the use of these tools in a school setting has occasionally been negative, more and more educators have realized that they must study how to bridge the gaps that have been created between learning styles and previous teaching styles. This article discusses how teaching methods can change to help accommodate learners in the current age in which electronic devices are a main source with which educational materials are accessed. It evaluates how teachers use technological tools to bring information to students and seeks to answer the question of when using certain tools is most effective and appropriate. Traits inherent in these tools such as switching between screens and how it may affect whether learning occurs using a certain tool. It also discusses how analogue tools can be combined with digital tools.

Findings and Conclusions

Within this article, the author has many words of advice for teachers utilizing digital learning practices and advocates for switching to a decelerated curriculum which focuses on learning through a variety of literacies. Due to the constant presence of technology, “students have little trouble Googling information online and replicating it in assignments. They struggle however, when moving into higher level instruction where more complex deployment and interpretation of that information is required” (p. 136). McRae highlights the ways in which such a system can help students fully comprehend information processes and points out direct steps educators can take to implement a similar learning environment; embracing a decelerated learning environment means requiring a “course syllabus that explicitly provides spaces for contemplation built into the course content and assessment outcomes where students must move between digital and analogue interfaces and in that process, slow their movement and understanding of ideas” (p. 137).

McRae cites a study which compared students who were exposed to a decelerated classroom versus those who experienced the standard, outcome based curriculum, noting that the findings supported the ways in which multiliteracies “facilitate complexity, multiple experiences, and different attentions within and through methods that harnessed design platforms and pedagogic provocations to offer progressive alternatives to staid teaching and learning practices that were structured for empowered, singular and nationalised identities and learning modes” (p. 139). Overall, “instead of asking the students to focus on content, weekly outcomes and questions to consider, they focus on processes that mobilise information into critically engaged networks of knowledge” (p. 143); by offering students a chance to learn in a more concrete, conscientious way, the focus is switched from the routine completion of tasks to the awareness of the process by which we process information and connect ideas in our minds.

Deceleration Example

McRae used a decelerated curriculum in her course “Media and Social Context” at Curtin University in Western Australia. The assessment structure she had been using required students to do definitional work around ideology, conduct textual analysis, and then write an essay involving ideological analysis of their chosen text. With the course aimed at international students, she found that too much work needed to be done in the specified timeframe for the students to fully understand and develop the ideas needed to write the final essay. She changed the assessment to include tasks that slowly build knowledge through progressive assignments.

First, students were asked to select a topic and create a single-sentence thesis statement. They were required to provide a rationale for their statement and outline why the topic was important They also chose five articles from the set reading and create an annotated bibliography assessing each article. During the second part of the assessment, students created another annotated bibliography composed of ten resources not on the set reading list. Additionally, the resources were required to come from prescribed sources (e.g., two refereed articles, a blog, and a YouTube clip), encouraging an understanding and comparison between different types of resources. After doing this, students created an outline for their essay, indicating major themes

Overall, the students spent eight weeks on the same topic and completed their research by writing the essay. This is not a new type of assessment structure and is referred to as “building an information scaffold” (Brabazon, 2008). McRae found that adding the element of a long timeframe, however, “…can offer new modes to think and teach through that also critically connect technology, spaces and screens” (p. 141).

Critical Thinking

The author’s use of the terms “ubiquitous computing” and the controversial “digital natives” attracts maximum attention to her call for educators to rethink their use of digital learning objects and to dial back the complexity of assignments in order to achieve educational objectives. The term “digital native” originated in 2001 when Mark Prensky claimed in an article continual exposure to digital devices changed the brain structures of Americans born after 1980. A few years later in another article Prensky went so far as to title his article with the term “H. Sapiens Digital…” All other people born before 1980 (and not in America?) were labeled “digital immigrants” as they presumably adopted technology later in life. Prensky’s label begs the question; who conceived and built the “ubiquitous” digital environment that gave rise to his digital natives? By his own definition, it must have been those primitive digital immigrants. McRae’s anecdotes do not constitute empirical evidence of digital native behavior. Perhaps that is the point, even with access to nearly every type of digital tool, students are still unable to maintain focus and complete long-term assignments. There is a need to examine the effects in classrooms and in online learning environments of students accessing knowledge through multiple learning devices. It is the role of educators to provide the appropriate pedagogic praxis. On page 132, McRae calls on teachers to “have a reflexive understanding of the role that digital technologies play…” and to use professional judgment when incorporating digital tools and literacies in their curriculums.


Brabazon, T. (2008). Transforming learning: Building an information scaffold. Networks Magazine, Issue 4, http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/62740