Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Two Streams of Advice ... into One River of Understanding: Co-Teaching

by Kai Chan

(Ed.: These thoughts were written November 20th, but they're equally applicable to today.)
Last night at 5:15pm, I sluggishly climbed the stairs to my office after another engaging but exhausting class, Toward Social-Ecological Systems (RMES 510), which I co-teach with Terre Satterfield. Despite having spent an hour talking, and more time writing, to harmonize our plans for this informal workshop-class, there were still moments of student confusion.
Two streams ... into one river. Creative Commons, via

Terre--an interdisciplinary anthropologist--and I (an ecologist with an infusion of ethics and ecological economics) both wandered around the room, providing guidance on the student final projects, which are tackling 'small' issues like the Northern Gateway (Oilsand) Pipeline, Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) in B.C., Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) in Nova Scotia. A few times, I gave advice, only to see a tell-tale wide-eyed look. "But- But, Terre said ....".

Truth is, Terre and I almost never really disagree. But in the context of advice on how to bound and target a massive topic into a useful contribution, sometimes it might seem that we do. And therein lies the learning.

All this pondering on a frigid ride home led to another exchange with Terre, and the below email to students:

Just a quick note to follow up on today's workshop: Terre and I certainly won't offer the same advice. We fully appreciate that it can be frustrating for you to receive advice that may pull you in different directions, so we do our best to iron out differences and provide a consistent and coherent message before class. But it will keep happening, and it's actually a reflection of very different ways of thinking about the same problem, or attention to different aspects/needs. And your real-time exposure to this is a very healthy tension that yields superb learning opportunities about this social-ecological space and diverse threads of academic inquiry into it, which you couldn't possibly get from one instructor alone.

All the best,
Kai (and Terre)

Long-live co-teaching, especially the interdisciplinary kind, and the learning it yields us all!

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