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Paddles & Pedagogy: An Environmentally Grounded Learning Experience with Dean Carrie Nolan

People together on a beach carrying a kayak.

Progressive Pedagogy is thrilled to share the unique work of Carrie Nolan, Dean of Strategic Initiatives at Coast Mountain College in British Columbia (North West Region). Dean Nolan takes her experience as a cross Canada paddler and uses it to inform experiential learning experiences. Dean Nolan teaches Paddles & Pedagogy, as well as courses in Curriculum Design and Delivery of Instruction.

Paddles & Pedagogy, a faculty field school that Dean Nolan created. She explains:

“Paddles & Pedagogy is a course on experiential place-based learning that is a six day sea kayaking trip in Mexico (happening again in Feb. 2020 with open enrollment!). Immersion, connection and a unique learning environment are all conditions of this adventure that fosters pedagogical transformation. Being away from usual demands and being ‘unplugged’ fosters focus on the learning. By being a 24/7 learning experience, there is time to socialize and create shared experiences that build bonds to support the learning after the adventure has concluded. Taking instructors away from the familiar encourages that they get outside of comfort zones which opens instructors to learning, reminds them of what it is like to be students, and unleashes an imagination of new possibilities. As one instructor said ‘Paddles and Pedagogy was legitimately a transformative experience for me as an instructor… It helped me identify the things I was already doing right but more importantly it provided tons of feedback about how I can improve the things that aren't aiding my students' learning.'’”

Inside a Yurt

“The second pedagogical innovation is playing with classroom shapes. In 2017, I led a strategic initiative to bring a yurt teaching lab to campus to encourage deliberate experimentation with teaching. Last year, faculty engaged in action research exploring how built pedagogy influences teaching and learning. We learned that the round shape of the yurt facilitates a more democratized learning environment where students find themselves a greater part of the learning and see their instructors positioned, literally, as facilitators of learning rather than keepers of knowledge, where student accountability is inherent and a sensory connection to the world beyond the classroom creates ‘aliveness’ in learning. Not all our classrooms are yurts, so we must consider, as educators, how we can shape our learning environments for equality, accountability and permeability.”

Outside a Yurt

“When I teach, I consider the relevancy of material to the student, transferability of knowledge gained, and connections within the student and to the world around them (Chapman, 1995). The learner must have an active, participatory role in learning. I developed the Classroom CARE (Community, Action, Reflection, and Environment) model for the purposes of fostering quality educative encounters in the higher education classroom. Encounter is the relational aspect of experience, a meeting taking place between one and another. Educative encounter is a particular type of meeting between the learner and themselves, others and the world, resulting in learning, as indicated by growth. A classroom formed for educative encounter will go beyond the four walls of the classroom to connect with, and potentially influence, others in students’ communities. Learning must not be compartmentalized, the active must precede the passive, and to prevent a separation of intellect from emotion, subject matter must come from the learner’s interest (Dewey in Archambault, 1964). When it comes to reflection, I aim to take the learner through the questions of what, so what and now what. Focusing on environment means taking responsibility to create a welcoming environment that is conducive to learning in the classroom and connecting students with external environments. Finally, I do my best to consider the questions that, according to Gillete (1990), an educator must ask:

•    How do we educate for growth?

•    How do we nurture maturity?

•    How do we reveal blessings?

•    How do we offer love?

•    How do we stimulate awe and wonder and miracle and jubilation and ecstasy?

•    How do we reveal self-respect and honesty?

•    How do we share the mystery of the ordinary? (p.18)”

“Dean Carrie Nolan is an award winning experiential educator, cross Canada paddler and Kickass Canadian. With a Ph.D. in Education, MA in Experiential Education and BA in Outdoor Recreation and Geography, Dean Nolan aims to increase educational encounters in higher education, helping instructors to engage students in meeting themselves, others and the world. Her current work as Dean of Strategic Initiatives, has her focused on supporting faculty growth in teaching and learning and transforming Coast Mountain College to become the college of choice for experiential place-based learning.”

Dean Nolan shares her co-authored publication “Meaningful Hope for Teachers in Times of High Anxiety and Low Morale” (citation below). For those interested in joining the 2020 cohort of Paddle & Pedagogy, more information can be found here. More information on Coast Mountain College's Centre of Learning Transformation (COLT) can be found here.

Nolan, C. , Stitzlein, S. M. (2011). Meaningful Hope for Teachers in Times of High Anxiety and Low Morale. Democracy and Education, 19 (1), Article 2.

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