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Curiosity, Collaboration, Community

Dear Faculty,

This article was written by Maggie Miller, a communication intern for The Wheel. Maggie Miller is a senior at UC Davis studying Human Development and Psychology. She is interested in emotions and is committed to supporting children and adolescents as they heal from trauma. She will graduate in the spring and take some time off to travel before pursuing a PhD in Clinical Child Psychology.

Maggie Miller, Communication Intern Maggie Miller, Communication Intern

Joe Horton, UWP and English lecturer at UC Davis, exemplifies for instructors across disciplines the power of collaboration for student learning. Collaboration is an anchor of the writing classes he teaches, where his UC Davis students work with students from Diné College on the Navajo nation in Tuba City, Arizona. Throughout the quarter, students from both colleges meet each other via teleconference to talk about writing and share their ideas and stories during regularly-scheduled class time. Six years ago, Mr. Horton and a faculty colleague from Diné College established the dialogue that prefaced their continuously evolving collaboration. Virtually and in person, Mr. Horton regularly visits the Navajo Nation’s largest community (a tiny town by Arizona’s standards), always strengthening the partnership between the two colleges.

For writing and non-writing professors alike, much is to be learned from Mr. Horton’s work. In an interview I had with Mr. Horton, he describes how using teleconferencing has supported his students’ growth as writers. Students who would likely not otherwise meet learn alongside each other and share perspectives and insights about their work. All participants are engaged in the same art and creative processes: this shared ground is why the Diné-Davis relationship thrives.  

 Established in 1968, Diné is the first tribally-controlled institution of higher learning in the country. Most students who attend are Native Americans from the Navajo nation. The college prioritizes learning about Navajo culture, language, and tradition, and serving the greater Navajo community. The title of Mr. Horton’s May 2020 DOLCE talk, “Thinking, Planning, Living, Assuring,” honors four of the main points of the Diné educational philosophy. 

Mr. Horton explains that these four terms, “Thinking, Planning, Living, Assuring,” represent how to progress through an assignment for work, school, or life in general. This progression is especially useful to navigate the writing process: you think about a topic, you plan out your piece, you live it by actually writing it, and then you assure yourself by going back to revise and become confident about what you have created. Incorporating the cornerstones of Navajo culture into Diné courses prepares students for the “modern” world, giving them the skills and experience they need, while never losing sight that they are a tribal college with deep roots in Navajo culture and history.

UC Davis student benefit from the cultural aspect involved in this work, Mr. Horton says, for UC Davis students don’t typically interact with people who live on native reservations. Their life and college experiences differ in profound ways, including challenges and circumstances that come along with being a resident of the Navajo nation that UC Davis students likely will never have come across. These differences do not inhibit or limit conversation, and students find plenty of stories to share and writing topics to discuss.

The best moments for him to witness, Mr. Horton comments, come when students recognize their camaraderie with other people engaged in the writing process as part of a greater writing community. “Reflecting on your own work and then hearing from other people is what is most helpful in writing,” Mr. Horton says. His students get the opportunity to look at what is working or not working in someone else’s writing process or life. As writing can be a lonely craft, this approach to collaborative learning reminds all participants that they are involved in a larger group. 

Mr. Horton’s perseverance to create connection and his genuine interest to come together with Diné provided a solid foundation from which the collaboration has grown and evolved over the years. With improvements in technology, such as more dependable networks, students in the distant classes can check in with each other more regularly. In future iterations, Mr. Horton will introduce more group projects between Davis and Diné classes. While his role as a writing instructor is Mr. Horton’s primary title, and one he loves, he also treasures opportunities to guide students to discover the benefits of practical and cultural collaboration.

The Diné-UC Davis writing collaboration demonstrates one way of using technologies to facilitate collaborations across distances. Faculty from all disciplines can use such technologies to provide their students opportunities to reflect on and revise their own work, while connecting  with new groups of peers. Horton’s work reminds us that, despite our differences, we each participate in the same whole and interconnected world.

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