As the Chair in Teaching and Learning for Grenfell Campus, Dr. Rie Croll has made it her mission to contribute to excellence in teaching and learning through a number of initiatives.
Whether it is about diversity, culture or inclusion in the university environment, she is working to engage students, faculty and staff in critical conversations.
Over the past year, Dr. Croll, with support and input from a group of student facilitators, has successfully rolled out the OPEN Grenfell project. The name and acronym, OPEN, represents the goals of the initiative, which are to overcome, probe, enlighten, and negotiate ideological differences and potential areas of dissent, while also fostering inclusiveness, student retention and cultural enlightenment.
The project began with activities aimed at creating and expanding awareness around diversity and its place in the teaching and learning environment at Grenfell Campus, and fostering the core values—the standards to which all teachers and learners aspire—identified in the Teaching and Learning Framework: collegiality, inclusiveness, responsiveness, integrity, respect and accountability.
‘Culture of mutual respect’
“OPEN supports the basic premise that learning is both ongoing and ideologically challenging,” said Dr. Croll. “In this learning environment, different or competing views need to be engaged. Through direct discussion, guest speakers, focus groups, forums, workshops, talking circles, poetry slams, reflection panels, and symposiums, OPEN has become active in probing teaching and learning related issues and promoting a culture of mutual respect wherein critical thinking and academic freedom exist as desired and valued components of higher education. Rather than censoring debate about issues that affect the teaching and learning environment, the OPEN objective is to respectfully foster diversity within the Grenfell community.”
“Rather than censoring debate about issues that affect the teaching and learning environment, the OPEN objective is to respectfully foster diversity within the Grenfell community.”
During the 2015-16 academic year, OPEN Grenfell organizers hosted a variety of public events, reaching out to the Grenfell community in pursuit of a reflexive dialogue about diverse cultural experiences. The events attracted crowds that exceeded organizers’ expectations and included community stakeholders of all types.
OPEN was officially launched in late fall 2015 with a campus conversation event titled Suck It Up Sweetheart: Microagressions, Trigger Warnings and the Academy. During the session, reflection panellists, consisting of faculty, students and staff, talked among themselves about their experiences with and perspectives on microagressions and trigger warnings, especially in relation to academic freedom and classroom safety.
“By working together to confront and dismantle challenges to our cohesiveness, we demonstrate the premise that we live and work in communities, not in isolation.”
The panel discussion paved the way for a larger group conversation and open forum which allowed for students, staff, faculty and administration to freely share specialized knowledge from their disciplines and experiences that were relevant to the topic, thus creating an unconventional and exciting teaching and learning space.
The inaugural events were intended to facilitate teaching and learning, provide community outreach and help those involved with OPEN gain a better understanding of the Grenfell community’s diverse needs. OPEN’s outreach initiatives involved collaboration and engagement with various campus groups, such as the student union’s caucuses, Grenfell’s Teaching and Learning Cluster, Ferriss Hodgett Library and Student Services, including Indigenous and international student services representatives.
Talk by Hiromi Goto
Two other events that took place as part of OPEN Grenfell 2015-16 included an experiential talk by renowned author Hiromi Goto and a talk during Grenfell’s Indigenous Peoples Week based on the personal narrative of a two-spirited, transgender Cree person named Jack Saddleback. President of the student union at the University of Saskatchewan, Mr. Saddleback is known for the campaign he led advocating for Indigenous content to be mandatory across the university’s curriculum.
“One benefit of this innovative approach to inclusiveness and institutional accountability, we hope, will be an increase in student, staff and faculty attraction to Grenfell campus, as well as the increased retention of these groups,” said Dr. Croll. “By working together to confront and dismantle challenges to our cohesiveness, we demonstrate the premise that we live and work in communities, not in isolation.”
Planning for the next series of events for OPEN Grenfell is underway. In the fall, Grenfell Student Services and OPEN will collaboratively host a reflecting panel on the challenges of accessibility and access at Grenfell. This panel, together with the larger Grenfell community, will probe the meaning of accessibility and ask what is already working at Grenfell and what needs to be developed, better understood, or fixed.
Students, staff and faculty have also begun preparations for a second OPEN interdisciplinary undergraduate spring conference–PERIPHERIES 2–which will approach the theme of accessibility and access from a wide range of interpretations. More events will be announced once the fall semester gets underway.
Dr. Croll, a former counsellor, is an award-winning teacher and associate professor of sociology at Grenfell Campus where she established the Grenfell Campus Learning Centre. Her teaching and learning philosophy focuses on the importance of co-creation and awareness in creating an effective, collaborative learning environment for students and educators alike. Her first priorities are to get to know students as people and offer them the opportunity to unveil their potential.
To learn more about this initiative, visit the OPEN Grenfell Facebook page.