Hello World

“Spiritual matters are difficult to explain because you must live with them in order to fully understand them” ~Thomas Yellowtail, Crow

We are a collection of archeologists, student researchers, Indigenous educators, artists and learners on a journey to help you learn about, and physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually engage with a key part of human history, and a key part of the history of the land that is now called Canada.

These modules were created by a group of people who engaged with the subject matter with a beginner’s mind, most of us know very little about this history. Like detectives, we were able to piece together an experience that is designed from the ground up to be unique, to challenge assumptions and give you a new way to experience our early lives on this land now called Canada. It combines virtual reality experience whereby you can enter a Late Woodland, 16th-century Iroquoian longhouse. The VR, created by Canadian archeologist and researcher, Dr. William Michael Carter, will physically transport you into the proud and rich tradition of First Nations people. You’ll experience how they lived, their daily lives, how they slept and lived communally.

The learning modules will then help you to dive deeper,  physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, into the research and study of the Iroquoian people.

Michael has had an extensive 24-year professional career in the 3D and 2D computer animation, and visual effects (VFX) industries, in both the software and production environments. He is a 2015 Team Award recipient for the Ryerson University President’s Blue and Gold Award of Excellence, in the design, development, and implementation of the Master of Digital Media program.

His research focuses on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Culture, both from the perspective of the enculturation of data and in the formation of pre-cultural markers within AI itself. The use of Virtual Archaeology to enhance Art and Archaeological research, as well as the deployment of robotic systems within hazardous archaeological sites. Additional research is in the DNA of 3D points within virtual objects and the representation of providence and provenance data as an actor-network.

Michael holds a PhD in Anthropology (Archaeology) from Western University, a Master’s in Education from the University of Toronto, two post-graduate diplomas in Computer Graphics and Computer Animation from Sheridan College and an Honours BA in Anthropology and Visual Arts from the University of Western Ontario. Michael is currently a Getty Foundation Fellow in the Institute of Ancient Itineraries.

In creating these materials, it was our goal to throw away the same-old, colonial approaches to learning. We wanted to dispense with the old teaching frameworks and try something completely brand new. We came to the project with the desire to decolonize the classroom, indeed, eradicate the traditional classroom, in favour of materials that were steeped in principles of anti-oppression and rooted in Indigenous learning principles.

Ewan Cassidy, the project’s Indigenous research assistant, noted there were some readings about the work to decolonize the South African educational system after the apartheid system was lifted. In that material, we found some very powerful grounding principles for the project. Fataar (2018) deals with the notion of misrecognition in education[1]. Misrecognition is defined as not understanding who the students are, creating curricula that doesn’t reflect them, and institutions that don’t support them.

“Misrecognized students develop a complex life” and adopt ‘survivalist educational navigations and practices'” (Fataar, 2018, p. 600).

The article also makes the argument that even a South African school system has been co-opted by “techno-modern instrumental reason”; this instrumental reason has replaced racial discipline. The educational experience for Black South Africans has been fraught with “subtle and insidious forms of inequality” (Burke, 2012).

Contemplating these systemic inequities that students might face, we started discussing some key questions for as we began creating the educational materials:

    • How do we ensure the equitable and informed delivery of VR?
    • How do we deliver the VR intervention in a way that is exciting, relevant and respectful?
    • How do we help instructors and students reflect upon and deepen the learning?On the first question, we discussed the issue of the digital divide in Canada. Tanya grew up in the North (Peace River, Alta) and we discussed that some classrooms might struggle with access to technology and resources. The following is taken from research Tanya conducted earlier on the accessibility of VR in Canada and some things to consider:
  • According to Statistics Canada, currently 25.5 million people in Canada own smartphones. Based on medium-growth estimates, Stats Canada predicts that by 2020 81.3% of Canadians will own smartphones.
  • Currently, iOS devices dominate the mobile phone market share in Canada, differing from global trends where Android devices are leading the market.
  • In Canada, the market share for iOS devices rests at 53.94% and Android devices rest at 45.94% (Retrieved from http://gs.statcounter.com/os-market-share/mobile/canada/2016).
  • However, the Android purchases in Canada, as well as globally, tend to be younger and more price-conscious, whereas iPhone users tend to be correlated to those with more disposable income and older users, according to Statscounter by Global Stats, based on May 2019.

Based on Toronto’s digital divide, it is uncommon for lower-income families to have a laptop or desktop in the home. However, it is more common for them to have a smartphone. Due to the cost of iPhones and depending on the target population, it might be (if lower-income populations are the target) wiser to focus initially on Android delivery and a downloadable, free app. Some statistics about the digital divide in specifically in Toronto might inform our decision-making:

 Digital Divide Statistics

  • 58% Canadian households with annual incomes of $30,000 or less with home Internet access.
  • 98% of Canadian households with annual incomes of $120,000 or more with home Internet access
  • 83.5% of ACORN survey respondents who find high-speed Internet “extremely expensive.”
    59% of survey respondents who pay for the Internet by forgoing other household necessities.
  • 71% who used food money to pay for Internet services.
  • 64% who used recreation money to pay for Internet services (Retrieved by https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/02/02/anti-poverty-advocates-call-for-affordable-internet.html)

How do we ensure the equitable and informed delivery of VR?

We might consider providing instructors with three ways to access the VR intervention and get the most from it. In this way, we might create a set of easy checklists and instructions for different ways to engage with VR even with:

  • Limited gear and technology access (offline or via a classroom projector)
  • Only some access to to specialized gear, ie. Google Cardboard
  • A full experience with specialized VR gear, high-end classroom or museum, with checklist and troubleshooting tips

How do we deliver the VR intervention in a way that is exciting, relevant, informed and respectful? Exciting?

In our earliest brainstorming sessions, the research team came up with the following:

  • We could create videos
  • We could create podcasts
  • We could have some dynamic e-learning materials (modules) for children, families to learn at home
  • We could create activities that allow students to create their own longhouses based on styles and features that might be commonly found.
  • Could this be an app with presets and drag and drop? It would need to be open source as an OER tool.
  • We could create some branching narratives to allow people to decide or make choices about what experiences they wanted to have in the VR intervention.

How do we make this subject matter relevant?

We could answer questions such as:

    • What was life like as a child in an Iroquoian city?
    • What was life like for a mother?
    • Young person?
    • Leader?
    • What were the beds like?
    • What was mealtime like?
    • Seasonal celebrations?
    • Trade?
    • How Western culture has led to climate change, poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, income inequality? We could come up with ways to link this to our current reality of living unsustainably.

In this vein, one of the key ‘eureka’ moments for our work on this was the suggestion by our Indigenous advisor, Michael Mihalicz, for us to look at the LaFever (2016) piece entitled, Switching from Bloom to the Medicine Wheel[2]

A medicine wheel image showing sections: body, mind, spirit, emotion
johnhain (pixabay.com) Retrieved from https://www.needpix.com/photo/223794/medicine-wheel-wholeness-well-being-four-directions-mind-spirit-body-emotion-balance

In our very first meeting, we decided we didn’t want to approach this topic the dreary block and tackle of creating learning materials against the typical Bloom’s Taxonomy. We talked about the checklist of tasks in a traditional set of learning materials. For those of us on the team steeped in pedagogical frameworks and the right (and wrong) way of doing things.  Ewan Cassidy, our lead Indigenous research assistant, looked at us as we cycled through those early possibilities. He slumped back in his chair in the starkly light lab meeting room where we met and said, “you’ve just described every high school class I’ve ever taken.” This, he explained, wasn’t necessarily a good thing. (He was right).

That comment set the tone for the rest of the work. Ewan pushed and inspired. We wanted to break things, break the mold, and break out of the ‘by-rote’ approaches to creating learning materials and modules. There’s an old Tom Waits quote that sprang to mind, “There’s a lot of intelligence in the hands. When you pick up a shovel, the hands know what to do. The same thing’s true of sitting at the piano.” This intelligence in the fingers, this engrained and entrenched way of doing things, Waits argued, is the enemy of the artist and, we felt, the educator as well. In the words of Audre Lorde, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” [3]

Lorde inspired us with this quote in its entirety, in particular, governing some of our thinking in support of this project:

“Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference – those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older – know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.”[4]

We determined these guidelines for bringing spirituality into the learning can be accomplished in the following ways:

  • Allowing students to reflect on ideas, emotions and physical experiences via discussion, self-reflection via journaling and creative activities
  • Relating feelings through presentations (oral or creative) or written stories
  • Demonstrating communication, community building and honouring (mindfulness) skills
  • Role playing, videotaping and self-assessment

We were intrigued by the ideas of Indigenous teaching including long-term mentoring, and student as teacher and instructor as a learner as a basis for some activities to enhance the learning delivery.

This is an image of the Medicine Wheel with subdivided layers explained in the text of this piece.
Original graphic based on LaFever (2016) [footnote]LaFever, M. (2016). Switching from Bloom to the Medicine Wheel: creating learning outcomes that support Indigenous ways of knowing in post-secondary education, Intercultural Education, 27:5, 409-424, DOI: 10.1080/14675986.2016.1240496[/footnote]

From the framework of the Medicine Wheel, Michael further recommended that we embark upon a Design Thinking process to determine what was needed for both students and instructors. Design Thinking is a process whereby designers, product developers, and instructional designers engage in a structured and stepwise process to create innovations that are grounded in human experiences and empathy.

This was the resulting Instructor's, Design Journey.

  1. Fataar, A. (2018). Placing Students at the Centre of the Decolonizing Education Imperative: Engaging the (Mis)Recognition Struggles of Students at the Postapartheid University, Educational Studies, 54:6, 595-608, DOI: 10.1080/00131946.2018.1518231
  2. LaFever, M. (2016). Switching from Bloom to the Medicine Wheel: creating learning outcomes that support Indigenous ways of knowing in post-secondary education, Intercultural Education, 27:5, 409-424, DOI: 10.1080/14675986.2016.1240496
  3. The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House, Audre Lorde, Retrieved from https://collectiveliberation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Lorde_The_Masters_Tools.pdf
  4. The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House, Audre Lorde, Retrieved from https://collectiveliberation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Lorde_The_Masters_Tools.pdf[/footnote When Michael Mihailicz made the suggestion of the Medicine Wheel and LaFever (2016), we realized we found the framework we’ve been searching for the Longhouse OER project. LaFever (2016) proposes a reconception of pedagogy away from Bloom’s Taxonomy. Most North American classroom instruction uses Bloom’s Taxonomy - which divides learning into the mental, physical and emotional. LaFever (2016) notes that secondary and post-secondary ignore the physical and emotional as well, with only some disciplines touching on those aspects such as counselling which deals with emotions and the trades which deal with hands-on physical tasks. The Medicine Wheel proposes a fourth element which is spiritual.
    “What good is education without love?” ~ Catherine Adams, Kwakiutl, born 1903 Smith’s Inlet, B.C
    In our discussions, we acknowledged as LaFever (2016) does that this fourth aspect is completely ignored in traditional Western/North American pedagogy. We asked ourselves: "How might the spiritual be integrated into the classroom?"  LaFever (2016) proposes that the spiritual can be woven into a learning environment in the following ways:
    • Honouring - a recognition that we are all connected to the earth and that things exist outside of materiality and our own self-interest
    • Attention to Relationships - an understanding that relationships and community is key to learning and living; supportive relationships inside and outside the classroom are key to thriving
    • Developing a Sense of Belonging - Helping learners find and understand their place in the world
    • Feeling Empowered to Pursue a Unique Path - Guiding learners to find their unique place in the world and guiding them along their journey
    • Developing Self-Knowledge of Purpose - Helping a learner become self-actualized as a “unique entity in the group." [footnote]LaFever, M. (2016). Switching from Bloom to the Medicine Wheel: creating learning outcomes that support Indigenous ways of knowing in post-secondary education, Intercultural Education, 27:5, 409-424, DOI: 10.1080/14675986.2016.1240496


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Into the Longhouse, Around the Medicine Wheel Copyright © by Michael Carter; Ewan Cassidy; Michael Mihalicz; and Tanya Pobuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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