You Can Bounce Back!

Today’s students are experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression at record levels, caused by everything from moving away from home (or country), to social expectations, to work pressures, to academic pressures. Without intervention, the weight of all this can be overwhelming leading to various mental health conditions that can negatively impact their academic performance.

On January 20, Rebecca Gagan, Founder and Director of the University of Victoria’s Bounce program, came to Douglas College to facilitate an interactive workshop to discuss her work and Douglas College’s opportunity to intervene at an early stage to help prevent crisis-level mental health issues. By changing the way we understand and talk to students about their struggles, we can create a community of support, helping students before they become overwhelmed by building positive coping skills that will change the course of their academic journey.

Rebecca Gagan, Founder and Director, UVic Bounce

The genesis of UVic Bounce

Rebecca’s work in this area started in 2015 after she received a scholarship in teaching and learning from UVic’s Learning and Teaching Support and Innovation (LTSI). She studied her first-year writing classes to understand how students could become more resilient through short in-class writing interventions. Her study in turn led to the creation of a website for the Faculty of Humanities for a video initiative called “UVic Bounce.”

Using videos in which alumni and faculty speak openly about their successes and failures during their university experiences, students will see that their own struggles and failures are an important part of their learning experience. By normalizing and de-stigmatizing the challenges that students face, UVic Bounce will make it easier for students to share their struggles and to seek the support that they need.

Cited from https://www.uvic.ca/humanities/student-resources/bounce/index.php

Some workshop A-ha! moments

Rebecca started the ball rolling by playing one of the videos in the Bounce project. A hush fell over the room as we watched and listened to the story playing out on screen. At times it was hard to watch, but by the end, my heart was full of optimism. Listening to the stories of senior professors and administrators talk about their own struggles while studying underlined that all of us (even truly successful people) can fail. On the flip side, those same people can rebound to success, when given the proper support and encouragement, which is exactly what happened with the video participants. You can bounce back.

Some rich discussion followed including having participants reflect on a time when they felt particularly troubled, alone, or anxious while at school. In other words, what did that feel like and how did they overcome that challenge.

Rebecca provided some concrete examples of ways staff, instructors, and administrators could be there for students by simply telling their own stories, thus becoming vulnerable, bridging the distance between them and their students.

But, enough from me. Here is the full workshop recording. Sit back, grab a cup of tea, and prepare to be amazed at our collective resiliency.

Our sincere thanks goes to the Douglas College-Wide Faculty Professional Development Committee and Academic Technology Services for funding this workshop.

Are you feeling emotionally safe?

Recently we held a workshop at Douglas College titled “Creating emotional safety in learning spaces,” which was facilitated by Leva Lee of BCcampus; Sandra Polushin, CFCS faculty; and Steven Bishop and Hope Miller from the Learning Designer team of Academic Technology Services.

And how did we land on this topic? Well, it started over a year ago when Ross Laird presented a two-day workshop titled “Storming the Ivory Tower.” As one plank of his 10-plank framework, emotional safety is a critical component of teaching the whole person.

Our goal in running this workshop was really to start a dialogue at Douglas College about what emotional safety means and how it impacts each of us in our various learning environments. None of the facilitators professed to being an expert in the field of emotional safety, but they were willing to guide the discussion around this important topic.

To that end, the facilitators used Liberating Structures activities to generate thoughts, ideas, challenges, and solutions, as well as to model how such topics could be tackled in learning environments. Two hours flew by as participants completed three activities–Impromptu Networking, Drawing Monsters, and 1-2-4-All–each activity building on the insights gleaned during group work.

I’m happy to report that feedback from participants was very positive. They liked the format and saw the benefits of using Liberating Structures to delve into topics such as emotional safety.

But, did we succeed in creating an emotionally safe space for participants to come together, share, tackle tough topics, and problem solve? Absolutely.

If, after reading this, you are interested in joining Douglas College’s Whole-Person Community of Practice, please contact either Steven Bishop or Hope Miller.  You can also consider joining the Vancouver Liberating Structures User Group.

Serendipity Strikes

Open-GroundHave you ever started going in a direction, and something completely unexpected, valuable and delightful popped up? This can be a transformative experience.

It started when a few faculty and staff were in a lively conversation about student interest (or lack of interest) in innovative learning environments. The discussion was mostly opinion, with some research references thrown in. We needed something more to sustain our inquiry into “what students want”.

And then we discovered an article that changed our direction. In What Learners Want , Ross Laird, Ph.D. writes about his experience spending a full day with 20 diverse university learners at different stages along their educational paths “…talking about the kinds of learning environments and experiences that work best for them. With great candor and enthusiasm, the learners worked together to craft their vision of a contemporary learning environment.”

We started meeting people who were familiar with his book Grain of Truth. We became more aware of his work with indigenous groups, addiction issues (including technology addiction), and the Amazon Field School. We learned about his interests, accomplishments, and educational contributions. A new direction took shape, and interest in bringing Ross to Douglas College grew.

Each time we’ve met with Ross, we have been inspired, entertained, and stimulated to hear more. With support from individual faculty members, the Learning Technology Steering Committee, Academic Technology Services, and funding from the College Wide Faculty Development fund, we’re thrilled that Ross facilitated a series of well-attended sessions at Douglas College. We’re excited about the emerging community of practice that has met several times since those sessions, around the educational themes Ross brought to us with his work, including:

  • Emotional safety
  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Character development
  • Facilitation skills
  • Mentorship

Related content: Storming the Ivory Tower: A Workshop on Transforming Post-Secondary Education (notes, slides and recordings from the Ross Laird sessions at Douglas College)

to be continued…