By Francisco Medina

1. When did you start the group? How long have you been working on it?

About 1 1/2 years ago.

2. Why did you start the group? In other words what motivated you? Was it because personal experience? Where did you get the idea?

The rationale was both theoretical and practical. Theoretically, I was inspired by the insight in sociocultural theory that learning and identity are bi-directionally related or mutually constitutive processes (one creates the conditions for the other to develop). This idea has been proposed by Anna Stetsenko with whom I have worked very closely and we co-authored a paper on this topic to be published in Human Development. Practically, from my experience as a teacher it was clear that students’ learning struggles were connected with their life activities, their pursuits, and future aspirations. I felt I need to work on both poles (learning and identity development) in order to be a successful teacher with successful students. However, what I could do in the classroom in terms of fostering identity development was very limited. Conversely, student services that address life issues typically do not tap into learning. Thus, the idea of a peer activist learning community where faculty and students could work collaboratively to promote synergistic connections between learning and identity development. My co-investigator, Naja Hougaard, and I conceived of this work as a type of participatory action research where students could be introduced to social science research as we collaboratively investigate our learning and development.

3. What’s the most challenging thing about the group?

There are many challenges. One is to have students commit to this work given their crazy schedules. This project functions on a volunteer basis. Hopefully we will be able to get grants in the near future to support student involvement. Another challenge is to find topics everyone is interested and have time to devote to learning materials (academic readings, news articles, etc.). This work also depends on developing trust and commitment, which is a serious issue for many people. There are other challenges but I will stop here for now.

4. Do you think that members have progressed? If so how?

Certainly. Those who become consistently involved in the group for a while (it takes at least a couple of months) expand both their knowledge of learning and identity (connecting academic theories with their own experience-based knowledge) and how they see themselves, their place in society, what they want from life. We have seen a few dramatic changes, although others have left the group or attended it inconsistently, making it hard to assess their development. We have barely begun our analysis in earnest, though. We still need to go over our data more systematically, and we need research assistants.

5. Has the original purpose of the group changed?

Not the purpose, but our method is constantly evolving. Not only are we refining our data collection methods but we are constantly reflecting on how best to engage members, how best to respond to their needs and concerns. We want group members to become actively involved in the curriculum of activities and in expanding the group.

6. Have you learn/gain something from the group?

I am gaining an invaluable experience as a researcher and scholar. This has helped me move forward with the Vygotskian insight that learning and development are intimately related, including this search for democratic and critical pedagogical practice that opens up developmental processes.

7. What has been [if any] the most surprising thing about the group?

Right now we are uncovering many intricate ways in which our cultural identity is implicated in how we connect learning with our lives.