Scholastic and fantastic

13 06 2012

“Scholastic and fantastic” sounds so incredibly nerdy and uncool, but I’m very excited because I have just registered for courses for at Amsterdam University College. I’ll be on exchange there for the fall semester, leaving August 18 and returning at the end of December. I’ve booked my flights, applied for my residence permit and submitted my housing form, so there’s no room to chicken out now.

Here are my course selections:

From Dada to Hell’s Kitchen
This one-off special course is a seminar for upper-level students which will be offered in the fall semester. Students become familiar with concepts of Performance Art through Futurism and Dadaism in Europe and follow a historical survey into the present. They examine various artistic schools of thought and philosophical manifestos, which influence multi-artists into the 21st century. Though this is a reading and writing intensive class, it also requires weekly impromptu public improvisations inspired by what is studied in the class during that particular week. Students are equipped with video cameras and they document their public performances and audience reactions through video- recordings. They write their own manifestos, and try to influence audiences to follow them. Through the use of language, sound and space in time, silence, visual stimulation and emotional manipulation, students imply new ways of artistic collaboration.”

Basic Research Methods & Stats
This course provides a general introduction into the methods of behavioural and social research. It covers four general fields: the foundations of behavioural and social sciences, research design, data collection and data analysis.

Community & Society in a Globalized World
It is nowadays commonplace to argue that ‘globalization’ affects people’s social lives. This argument is founded on the observation that social contact increasingly stretches beyond traditional community boundaries, dissolving old configurations while at the same time creating new ones. But how does this work in practice, and how do individual persons respond to the challenges that globalization presents them with? Key to the course is to equip students with approaches, (theoretical) ideas and skills to untangle the complexities of this. The course focuses on globalization from below, i.e. on local actors and their social practices. Hence the course is critical of ‘grand’ views stressing the universality and predictability of globalizing forces.

To unpack the complexities of people’s social lives under globalization, the course explores particular linkages between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’. In this exploration, a distinction is made between social, economic and cultural aspects of globalization. To make this more concrete, the course focuses on three broad themes: i) migration and transnational life, ii) global circulation of goods, iii) cultural globalization. During lectures, key ideas and thinkers in these themes are introduced, followed by empirical case studies wherein these are applied on particular actors, products and ideas. Central throughout is what this all means for common people, and how they respond to this in different ways.

History of National Civil Rights Movements
Starting with the American civil rights movement, this course will provide students with a comparative perspective on civil rights, protest, and other collective action movements within specific nations. One of the objectives of the course is to examine how civil rights discourse as it was developed in the United States became inflected and transformed as it was incorporated by these other movements for the purpose, however, of formulating of their own specific programs and goals. Focusing on cases from different countries and time periods, students will gain and on cases from different countries and time periods, students will gain an understanding of not only the history of these movements, but also the political forces that have shaped them. Questions addressed should include: Why did these movements arise? What are their strategies? Why do they succeed or fail? These discussions will provide a framework that allows the students to more fully understand current national and transnational movements such as environmentalism, anti-globalization and minority rights.

How have I done? Hopefully these courses will further inform my Question and my Keystone project. Then, in January, back to Quest for my final semester!?! I can’t believe it. It seems like yesterday when I was driving the wagon across Canada to start at Quest. Four years, just like lickety-split!

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Welcome to the Rock

6 05 2012

I’ve landed on the Rock, otherwise known as Salt Spring Island, and am quickly settling into island life. I arrived on Tuesday and have worked 3 days here at Foxglove Farm, run by Michael and Jeanne Marie Ableman. So far, I’m enjoying myself and learning a lot. I have been itching to get my hands into the dirt for quite some time now, so I’m glad to finally get to do so. I’ll be a farm apprentice here for the month of May.

At Quest, we complete at least one, but up to four, experiential learning blocks. This means learning outside the classroom. My farm apprenticeship will count as my first

experiential learning block. Back in April, I had to find a site supervisor (which is Michael in this case) and a faculty supervisor, and complete an experiential learning plan, identifying the context, activities, objectives, assessment and application. My learning objectives for my apprenticeship are:

  • To learn to grow food more successfully
  • To develop research methods to apply to my Question (particularly a process for measuring collaboration and social capital in a particular context)
  • To begin considering possible Keystone projects (like a thesis, which I will be completing next year, in my final year at Quest)
  • To gain a greater appreciation for the food I consume

In addition to my day-to-day farm duties, I will also conduct some interviews, maintain a journal, and continue to read one of my seminal works, E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, as well as a collection of

research papers.

As you may recall, my Question is “What is the role of collaboration in developing effective institutions?” I hope this experience informs answers to some of my sub-questions, such as: Why should we

collaborate? What circumstances do and do not benefit from collaboration? How can we facilitate collaboration? How can we measure collaboration? What does it mean to be “effective”? More specifically, in the context of the farm, I am thinking about:

What form(s) does collaboration take on the farm (both internally and with the local community)? What role does social capital play in facilitating these collaborations? Is the farm an effective institution? If so, what makes it effective? Do farmers’ markets serve as a social hub that facilitates collaboration and generates social capital? Obviously, I’d like to focus a bit more, but for now, this is the scope of my studies.

Now on to what I’ve actually learned! Although I cannot chronicle everything, here are some of the main things (most of these can be accredited to Michael):

  1. Observation is the most importantagricultural skill. Michael claims he doesn’t know anything about agriculture. He just knows what he sees, and tries to make connections and understand why certain things are happening. To hone our observation skills, we are supposed to walk around the farm twice a week (following the same route each time), recording our observations. I did my first observational farm tour on Thursday. (This kind of reminds me of an activity we did in ERM in high school where we visited our spot every week and and made observations.) Observation, along with a bit of common sense, is all you need.
  2. Cultivating (with a collinear hoe, the best tool ever!) beats hand weeding any day. Ideally, you never have to weed if you do this often.
  3. “It’s often not about the big ideas, but the millions of little details that make the difference.”
  4. Human waste is not managed effectively (Thanks to Chris for this insight). For example, why do we shit into good drinking water? Further, urine is nitrogen-rich and totally being under-utilized.
  5. It is difficult to do everything well, so grow what you like to eat. If you love it, it will usually work out for you.
  6. You need to know the context of the land. We are merely passing through. Ownership is overrated.
  7. Don’t be afraid to break all the rules and experiment. Find out what works for you. Give up everything you’ve been told. Don’t hold on to dogmas too tightly. We really have more ignorance than knowledge, so approach farming with a beginner’s mind. Take risks and innovate. (Planting spinach and eggplant together is our own example of this) A farm should be a manifestation of your own needs and personality.
  8. Don’t underestimate the aesthetic. Take a peak at our patchwork of kale for proof!
  9. Diversify your palate. It seems to be narrowing, so we can only really distinguish between salty and sweet. There are so many other flavours we are missing out on!
  10. It’s not about products, but systems.
  11. More people need to be farming. A few percent of the population is not enough!People write about food, work in food policy, etc. without actually doing it. It is hard, but gratifying work. Put the farmer out of business by growing your own food. It is more fun at a smaller scale anyway.
  12. Pleasure is a more effective motivator than doom and gloom. If for no other reason, grow food because it tastes good!
  13. A bit of a paradox emerges when you look at collaboration in small towns, generally speaking. On one hand, a small town is a very conducive climate because the sense of intimacy and community provides a common vision and facilitates networking. On the other hand, there is a deepsense of ownership and often stagnation that can prevent something from evolving and emerging.

Okay, so maybe that was more than a few, but learning is good, right?

Photo of trailer that I am living in at Foxglove Farm

My Little Abode, Foxglove Farm, Salt Spring Island





Self-portrait

12 02 2012

I love mind maps. My spiral-bound notebooks are filled with them, illustrating ideas, problems, solutions, or in this case my self. This mind map was created for my Identity and Perspective class as a self-portrait. I chose to present it as a video rather than the mind map itself because I think the video better represents my life as a process, a journey. Enjoy! (Sorry for the shaky camera skills…next time, I’ll go for tripod and whiteboard.)





Little boxes

20 04 2011

In the absence of time to properly reflect, here is a video that encapsulates my current mental and emotional state. Caroline, a friend, member of the first ever-graduating class and one of the first people I met at Quest, performed this a week or so ago on campus. Maybe it was just my overactive perceptions filter at play, but I found it very relevant. So here it is. And expect a backlog of reflections coming in over the summer, when I have time to properly synthesize my thoughts and ideas. As of late, my learning curve has been steeper than what I can keep up with. Another week or so and I’ll be able to relax, unwind, slow down and be the confused, spontaneous 19-year old that I really am. Until then, I’ll just listen to Pete Seeger and embrace the chaos of planning Dancing Bear Music Festival, finishing my Question plan, and above all, taking care of myself and the people who I love most. Talk about perspective! I wish I had this much clarity and rationality all the time!





Wisdom from Quest faculty and staff

16 03 2011

Thus far, I have met with many faculty and staff members to discuss and organize my ideas. In the two months prior to Question block, I spoke to many faculty members to varying degrees to organize my ideas as well as brainstorm potential directions. (Check out our faculty bios here..they are pretty spectacular!) In addition, I have also shared some of my preliminary ideas with a few former colleagues and personal contacts. I have deliberately cast this wide net in order to make sure I am gaining diverse perspectives from a range of academic fields as well as personal backgrounds. I feel very fortunate that the faculty is so accessible to students as these meetings (both formal and informal) have been incredibly helpful as I try to find an academic focus of my own.

Most recently, I scheduled meetings with Andre, Jim, Court, Steve as well as a second meeting with Eric. I went into this second round of meetings with much more focus than my preliminary sessions, and was even able to propose possible Questions, such as “How can we facilitate collaboration effectively?”

  1. Focus – What is an appropriate balance between breadth and depth? How can my Question be broad enough to encompass a wide range of curricular and co-curricular interests and to provide adequate flexibility and freedom during my Concentration years? However, my Question needs to be narrow enough to offer sufficient academic focus and direction?
  2. Integration – How can I acquire a well-rounded education that integrates concepts from different disciplines in a meaningful, multidisciplinary way? To what extent is it possible or even desirable to pursue both arts and sciences with equal rigour?

My goals for these meetings were to:

  • Gain perspective on the importance of focus and integration when forming a Question.
  • Receive constructive feedback on the wording of my Question
  • Identify some relevant sources of information that would aid further independent research, such as search words, topics, disciplines and possible readings

During these meetings, I gained a lot of insight about some possible areas that I would like to further explore as well as some specific courses that might be relevant to my anticipated academic journey. I was pleasantly surprised by the meaningful links I was able to identify between seemingly different fields, all occurring within the scope of my Question. For example, Court identified parallels between natural resource management and human resource management. Furthermore, population models used in the life sciences could inform human population models. On the other hand, Andre and Jim highlighted the importance of first defining the terms that I am using, such as management and collaboration, to make sure I mean what I am saying, after all definitions can be subjective. In addition, Andre suggested that I also define the anti-theses of these terms. Rather than strictly thinking about the motivations for collective action, he suggested it might also be useful to look at individualism.

Also, out of pure coincidence, I also began talking to Steve, our new international admission counselor. I described the nature of my Question, and then asked about his academic background. As it turns out, he has an Honours degree in Sociology, a discipline that Eric had directed me to during our meeting a day earlier. Sociology is defined as “the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society.” Steven has also worked in varying capacities within the field of institutional organization. According to Steven, I am destined for a career in human resources. I have fully processed that notion quite yet, but I’ve accepted it for now. Similarly, I learned that Vanessa, our university librarian, is currently undertaking graduate studies in leadership. She is currently writing a strategic plan for the library, which serves both her responsibilities for work as well as one of her courses. Coincidentally, I plan on writing a strategic plan for the Quest Students’ Representative Council (SRC) as experiential learning over the summer, so she will be an incredible resource. Melanie has also been extremely helpful in the past couple months as I attempt to integrate both my curricular and co-curricular activities. Once again, I am completely intrigued by the professional and personal backgrounds of the staff and faculty at Quest, and their willingness to take time out of their daily work to exchange ideas with students.

Also, Eric proposed a few more possible Questions: i) “What is the role of collaboration in political and social organization?”, or more broadly, ii) “How do institutions transform themselves?” Alternatively, in consideration of David’s suggestion, I could merge the two to read, “What is the role of collaboration in institutional transformation?” As you can tell, each of these versions has a slightly different focus. I’ll keep all three for now.

My next step is to start the next round of research, based on the keywords that I received. A long day in the library for me, but luckily, I am so interested and excited about my Question that it won’t even really feel like work. I was hesitant and overwhelmed at first, but I think I’m going to like this whole Question thing after all.





Mapping my mind

14 03 2011

From early on, I knew that at some point in my Question planning I would have to make some type of epic mind map. In fact, I was surprised that I’ve gotten this far along without making one. Now, the time has come and here it is. It was so useful that I made two (and I got carried away playing with cool mind mapping software).

The first mind map outlines my academic interests and the scope of my Question.

While the second map is an initial brainstorm for my Question plan.





Idea generator: “Learn to Love the Revolution”

14 03 2011

I’m proud to say that I came across my second “idea generator” without the use of the conventional Google search, or the internet at all. After a wet and snowy morning of skiing, I was ready for a warm bowl of soup. Also, about this time, I started to feel guilty about not starting my Question homework, so I stopped by the magazine racks on my way to the café. “How hard can it be to find an article that relates to my broad Question on collaboration?” As I suspected, it was pretty easy and after reading a handful of headlines, I found this one in TIME and it seemed to fit. This particular headline caught my eye because I have always had this obsession with the idea of revolution, from childhood tantrums to reading Animal Farm in grade 10 to listening to learning about the hippies of my parents’ generation to teenage rebellion to my present, slightly more sophistically political charge. And of course it relates to my Question. Isn’t revolution a form of collaboration? Although much different than Botsman’s exchange of goods and services, revolutions are another form of people coming together to address a common concern.

In this TIME article, the author identifies five persuasive reasons why the recent revolution in the Arab Middle East should not evoke international panic or concern. In summary:

  1. Inadequate provision is the common and justifiable motive for all revolutions.
  2. Despite this constant, the history of colonial rule, international relations and culture characterizes each revolution as unique, making generalizations very difficult to make.
  3. This complex interplay of factors takes time to study and understand, so patience becomes invaluable.
  4. A sense of “state power”, which often comes in the form of political institutions, is important because Twitter and Facebook cannot govern a country…yet.
  5. The West does not have the answers, nor should we impose our theoretical solutions. A revolution is a way for local people to respond to the eminent problems themselves.

TIME Magazine’s large colour photos and minimalist margins highly restricted my side notes while reading this article. Similar to Botsman’s talk, it uncovered a wide range of possible fields of study that I am deeply interested in, but I hadn’t previously been considered integrating into my Question plan, such as history and religious studies. Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised to draw parallels between this article and previous courses I’ve taken, such as Communities and Conservation and the Great Bear Rainforest. International conflict demonstrates the significance of multi-stakeholder collaboration as well as the ability to work across different levels and scales, from local to global.

Above all, I am naturally intrigued by the complexity of the situation and the opportunity to understand the political situation entices me. This level of complexity provokes an endless stream of questions, but to name a few:

a) Can we apply lessons across different scales and contexts? To what extent can we do so while being judicious about generalizations?

b) How can we practically and efficiently facilitate collaboration on this scale? What are the limits of informal mediums of collaboration, such as Twitter and Facebook? Do they offer more promise of peace and stability than nation states?