Meet a teacher - English's Rebecca Gagan

Meet teacher Rebecca Gagan

The English department’s Rebecca Gagan, in collaboration with the Humanities Dean’s Office and Humanities co-op, won a Community-Engaged Teaching Grant to launch HUMA 495, The Humanities in Action. This hands-on course will pair students with community organizations; students will get a chance to test-drive their Humanities skills for the benefit of the local community. Associate Dean Academic Lisa Surridge spoke to Gagan, an assistant teaching professor, about community-engaged learning and why it’s important for students to take this course.

What is community-engaged learning?

Community-engaged learning (CEL) is a form of experiential learning and community-engaged scholarship that combines collaborations with community partners, and specific course curriculum. Collaborations in community-engaged learning can take many forms, including course-based community projects and research, field-schools and practicums. UVic has a thriving CEL community with many CEL courses across the disciplines. I’m thrilled to be working with this community and deepening my knowledge of CEL.

Why are you inspired by CEL?

As a teacher, I’m always looking for opportunities to enrich the learning experience for my students. CEL offers students the chance to engage with key ideas with others in a community setting. While learning is always already taking place outside of the classroom, a CEL course formalizes this process by having students engage with community partners to build and shape knowledge together. Moreover, CEL courses throw into relief the idea that the university (and all that happens within its walls) is constituted by and constitutive of the community. I’m continually inspired by the possibilities of making the work of the humanities more public by bringing the community and students together in ways that further our shared commitments, skills, and interests.

Why is it important for Humanities students to take such a course?

There is no better way to embrace the vision and mission of the Humanities at UVic than participating in a community-engaged learning course. By participating in a CEL course, Humanities students have the opportunity to reflect on and to question what it means to be human, to engage with multiple voices and contexts, to experiment with creative forms of expression, to think critically, and to inspire and to be inspired. Students will have the chance to apply and to deepen their Humanities’ education through engagement with their community. Humanities students are often in the position of having to defend their degree to others who might doubt its value and practicality. By bringing students and the community together to work on mutually agreed upon projects, HUMA 495 (The Humanities in Action) will make visible the intrinsic value of the Humanities not only to community partners, but also to Humanities students themselves. Moreover, because students are placed with community partners that are in their areas of interest, they are also exploring and developing potential career connections.

Do the teaching skills that are required by such a course differ from those required by your other classes?

Community-engaged learning is a pedagogical field all of its own and there is a lot to learn! I’m very lucky to be part of a strong CEL community here at UVic with many experts from whom I can learn. Rhianna Nagel, Community-Engaged Learning Coordinator in the Division of Learning and Teaching Support and Innovation, continues to be an invaluable resource for me as I navigate this new area of teaching. As is the case with any new course, there is a lot of learning and experimenting that goes on! I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn and to grow in this course right alongside my students.

Who would be the ideal student in such a course?

First and foremost, this course is ideal for a student who is community-minded and who has an interest in putting their Humanities education into “action” in innovative ways outside of the classroom. Students in HUMA 495 will work with their respective community partners on a mutually agreed upon project. As such, this course is a great fit for students who are professional, self-initiating, curious, and who thrive in an educational environment that exceeds the classroom. HUMA 495 is a combination of shared activities with and in the community and in-class seminars in which students will learn about the philosophy of CEL through readings and guest speakers, explore and reflect upon the skills and competencies of Humanities students, share their CEL experience through written reflections and presentations, and engage in other skill-building activities that will deepen their participation in HUMA 495.

In two sentences or less, tell me why this course matters?

HUMA 495: The Humanities in Action matters because the university and the community have much to learn from each other and it is only through the kinds of collaborations afforded by CEL courses such as this that we can come together and discover new and innovative ways of approaching the questions and issues that matter most to all us and that are at the forefront of a Humanities education. Together, we can share and shape knowledge as we engage in humanistic inquiry in mutually supportive and generative ways.