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Keynote Speakers

Dr. Nadia Abu-Zahra, Dr. Emily Regan Wills, and Shannon Labelle

Topic: The Blue Sky University

Description: The presentation covered: (1) Blue Sky Vision; (2) How and Why We Learn; (3) Learner-Designed Experiential Learning; (4) Doing Online Learning Differently; (5) Belonging; and (6) Support Groups. Parts 1 and 2 drew on personal experience as well as: Greg Macdougall’s concept of equitable (fair, just, personalized) education (drawing from within); Dean Spade’s notion of radical collective care as the basis and strategy for transformative social change; and Shawn Wilson’s and Michael Anthony Hart’s writings on relational accountability. The final four parts of the presentation drew on the four presenters’ experience in international, open, online, and inclusive education, from their various and diverse perspectives: opening university to distance learners through tuition waivers; expanding languages of resources to increase accessibility; co-creating learning resources in the spirit of all learning from one another; and maintaining communities to support one another and the work our communities do together.

Dr. Nadia Abu-Zahra holds the Joint Chair in Women’s Studies at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University and works with students, staff, and faculty as well as local and transnational organizations toward transforming the structures and contexts of learning. She co-facilitates with Emily Regan Wills the Community Mobilization in Crisis project, co-creating open educational resources with community mobilizers around the world. Previously based at the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre, Nadia is a member of the University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre, Centre for Research on Educational and Community Services, and Centre for International Policy Studies, and served on the Board and Reconciliation Committee of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences.  

Dr. Emily Regan Wills is an associate professor of comparative politics at the University of Ottawa.  She is the co-director of the Community Mobilization in Crisis project, which develops and implements innovative multilingual digital pedagogical tools for teaching community mobilization skills in the Middle East and elsewhere.  Her first book, Arab New York: Politics and Community in the Everyday Lives of Arab Americans was published by NYU Press in 2019.  Her articles have appeared in Contention, Journal of Borderlands Studies, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Constellation, and Middle East Journal, among others.  Her current work focuses on the effects of transnational linkages between the Middle East and North America on everyday politics in the Arab world, with a particular focus on Palestinian transnationalism. 

Shannon Labelle is a researcher in psychotherapy, inclusion, and pedagogies, and coined the title of this presentation, “Blue Sky University”. At the Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health, she facilitated trainings on engagement and inclusion practices. In her 25-year career, she spearheaded a number of social justice community initiatives. Shannon was the long-time program manager for Recovery Connections, an innovative peer-support model in Ottawa’s mental health inpatient units across the city. This experience resulted in invitations from across the province to support the implementation of peer support in community agencies and hospitals. Shannon brings a holistic approach to social change and caring, which informs her work on inclusion and learning.

Jess Mitchell

Topic: Theory to Practice to Practicing Evermore

Description: For the second keynote, we tied together the research, practices, and ideas we all explored together, culminating in a commitment to action. Participants focused on practical, actionable next steps to pursue following the Symposium. Those next steps included challenges and roadblocks that are specific to individual contexts. They were arrived at using an inclusive design thinking approach. With this perspective, all participants explored ways to make teaching/pedagogy and materials available and more inclusive.

Jess Mitchell is Senior Manager, Research + Design at the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University in Toronto. Which is a meaningless title that tells you virtually nothing about her. Here’s what you need to know: Jess is often a misfit, values a critical perspective, and appreciates the messy parts of human interaction. Jess has a background in Ethics, a fondness for things in 3s, and an inability to turn away from messy spaces.