* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Tracey Mollins is a Toronto-based literacy worker, blogger and an online instructor. The opinions expressed are her own.
At a recent event at George Brown College in Toronto, the Learning and Violence project launched a set of important new multimedia tools for colleges, community-based adult literacy programs, and learners. Audio-visual animations illustrate learner experiences to help teachers and students understand some of challenges they face when they are trying to learn.
Community researcher and educator Jenny Horsman, who coordinated the Changing Education project, spoke about how experiences with violence can act as barriers to learning.
She also spoke about how important it is for programs to be creative in supporting students who face related challenges and demonstrated how the participatory nature of her research has worked to bridge the divide between research and practice.
For adult educators and learners working to create more egalitarian learning practices, the issue of how people have experienced, or are experiencing, violence can be the unspoken underlying problem that needs to be addressed -- the elephant in the room.
Learners feel that they cannot raise the issue of violence and if they do, many educators feel out of their depth in dealing with it.
Learners and educators may not recognize that many of the mechanisms people develop to survive violence can create problems when people try to learn something new.
Sometimes these mechanisms result in reactive behaviours that look to educators like learning disabilities, lack of motivation or resistance.
The new Changing Education multi-media tools are designed to help us name the elephant, open up the conversation, and review the daily practices we usually take for granted so that we can ensure they don’t create unintended barriers to students who have survived violence.
After Horsman’s presentation, several partners and researchers spoke about their role in the project, what they learned and about their goals for its the future.
Many participants said that this was the end of one phase of the work but the beginning of a new way of working at George Brown College and even more broadly in education.
They spoke about how the project helped them and others change the lens through which they view the process of learning and made their practice more responsive.
Practitioner-researchers spoke about how changing the lens helps educators change from being “gatekeepers” to people who help learners develop gateways for learning.
Learners spoke about how the tools help them change the way they think about learning. One person talked about how using the word “challenge” instead of “problem” helped her see barriers as something changeable and to approach making change with renewed vigour.
Another person spoke about how, because of her experiences, she found listening to some of the stories in the Student Kit emotional but how she stayed to the end and was glad that she did as she felt less alone.
As Horsman says, “When we feel stupid, there is nowhere to go. But when we shift to a new conversation, we can try a whole new set of approaches.”
The tools will soon be available on DVD for those who do not have access to the Internet. The project is looking for new partners in Canada and internationally to develop tools for learning in workplaces, schools, corrections and homes.
Visit http://www.learningandviolence.net/changing.htm to learn more.