Peace 365 & SPACE: Make Things that Matter – Linking Curricular and Extra-curricular Learning

Two new Complementary Contemporary Issues courses running this winter feature direct ties between classroom learning activities and well-known Dawson extra-curricular initiatives.

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Peace 365, designed by Ivan Freud, puts students to work examining the relationship to self, others and nature through the lens of peace studies, and also participating in new Peace Certificate and Peace Centre activities outside the classroom.

Peace 365 is designed as gateway course for the Peace Certificate, using the Learning Communities model as an approach to course design, permitting the integration with co-curricular activities of the Peace Certificate and Peace Centre.  This gateway course creates an opportunity for dialogue between teachers and students/classes in terms of developing both separate and common learning outcomes and assessments across the Peace Certificate and could serve as the foundation or hub for the Peace Certificate’s Communities of Practice (CoP) of both faculty and students.

The Peace 365 course is divided into the three categories, those outlined by Abdennour Bidar in his recent book “Les Tisserands,” namely the relationships of “self to self,” “self to other/community,” and “self to nature/the environment.” The overall endeavor is to weave these three realms together to help peace-minded individuals promote peaceful communities in sustainable relationships with the environment.

More specific learning outcomes are grouped under these headings (Self, Community, Nature), each of which begins with the development of knowledge from multiple perspectives, and proceeds to applications involving the integration of multiple disciplines.  By the end of this course students will be able

  • To develop a poised, non-reactive, objective awareness of one’s thoughts and feelings. Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “I’ve lived through a lot of horrible things in my life and some of them actually happened.” Given that we cause ourselves a lot of unnecessary suffering through our interpretation of events in our lives, developing an awareness of our internal dialogue would thus be of great benefit in reducing one’s suffering. As one reduces one’s own suffering, one automatically reduces the suffering of those around them.
  • To develop and employ non-violent interpersonal communication skills in mediation and conflict transformation.
  • To apply a fundamental understanding of ecosystems and generate strategies of how to live in harmony with nature while promoting both individual and communal sustainability.

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In SPACE: Make Things that Matter, led by SPACE coordinator Joel Trudeau, students are learning about design thinking methodologies, and then using them to address real-world problems and challenges, with an eye to presenting their major projects in the annual SPACE exhibition.

SPACE 365: Make Things That Matter is part of an integrated learning community in conjunction with SPACE (Sciences Participating with Arts and Culture in Education) at Dawson College. It embraces the notion that all problems, even the seemingly intractable ones, can be solved through human ingenuity and a collective desire to improve the lives of everyone. The course explores problem solving, innovation, and the future through the application of design thinking, social impact tool sets and related methodologies. A sequence of design challenges and activities linked with various innovation initiatives concretize the methods. Students generate, develop and realize their own breakthrough ideas by way of learning basic skills of brainstorming, research, prototyping, and public presentations. Collaborating in groups, they may pursue any problem that aligns with the yearly theme of the course, can be related to a contemporary issue and has the potential for a synthesis of disciplines.

All project ideas are placed in an appropriate social context where students draw on different areas of knowledge in the consideration and treatment of contemporary issues from a cross-disciplinary perspective. Students are encouraged to derive inspiration and incorporate knowledge, skills and problems from their programs and other learning activities. Final projects may be presented in a variety of public venues and will be linked with annual SPACE co-curricular undertakings.

Some highlights so far this term:

The course is a third of the way through and we have reached a few noteworthy milestones with this first MTTM cohort. In the main, confusion has been replaced by curiosity and a sense of possibility, apprehension with trust, and passive attention with active, ambitious engagement. There is a collegial and collaborative spirit in the class that has been fostered by the course methods and the AL environment.

The class is diverse (12 different programs/profiles) and though less than one half of the students were pre-registered because of interest or previous affiliation with SPACE, they seem to be ideal for testing implementations of the course.

The new AL classroom (3H.10), which was not completely furnished or functioning as intended during the first 5 weeks, has presented another resonant methodological layer as we adapt to its uses and changes. We are learning the nureva span software that links our meeting work with the cloud. Though iterations away from fluid, natural use, it’s not a challenge to see how this will bolster collaboration in and out of the classroom.

The course content has been curated to draw out the relevance of the course methods, but there has been an adjustment period to the freedom offered in selecting breakthrough project ideas to develop and cycle. So far students have progressed through two design challenges: they have re-designed the gift-giving experience for another person and made or modified their own journals for reflection and research in the course.

They have experienced positive aspects of engagement, inquiry, and collaboration, as a class and in groups. Two unique exercises worth highlighting have reinforced the positive atmosphere. We explored connections, however spurious, of individual, passion-fueled interest with the 2017-18 SPACE theme of en-tropy by formulating questions (e.g. What if we allowed society to decay into chaos?). These questions were explored in groups, then at the class level in a fishbowl arrangement by responding to an input question of a student volunteer with dialogue formulated only in terms of questions. This exercise brought into focus the importance and difficulty of asking good questions as well as listening when the desire is to answer with or defend a position.

In an attempt to form bonds across the groups and to experience a diversity of ideas from students with different backgrounds directly we also conducted a “speed dating” exercise where individual questions were presented and students exchanged personal information in pairs. At the end of class we observed the impact of our exchanges by stringing thread between individuals who had interacted in pairs, left impressions within the group or during the fishbowl exercise. We were all connected, a clearly powerful visual metaphor (even for our blind student who sees the world in remarkable ways!).

Also noteworthy: On Feb. 6th the class witnessed and responded in real time to the SPACEX launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket. The idea of using science fiction to prototype possible futures, another methodological lens for the course, could not have been better demonstrated. They were assigned to write a micro science fiction prototype (a kind of flash fiction treating a futuristic scenario) linked to a contemporary issue of interest to help creatively define a major project. Major project proposals are now being submitted for feedback and soon will be prototyped for testing and further feedback. What the outcomes will be are not clear yet, but there seems to be genuine excitement about the ideas being explored and an eagerness to research and learn.