Dr. Leslie Jeffrey

Dr. Leslie Jeffrey
University Professor / Researcher

AMS2022 Learning Session

Maintaining Presence in Online Learning: A Contemplative Perspective

When the pandemic forced a sudden shift towards emergency remote teaching and transition into the online space, several long-standing issues and advantages of online learning were illuminated. These included the ongoing debate about the implications of online education for university teaching; systemic barriers of class, race, disability and access to technology faced by students; deepening feelings of disconnection and “attention deficit” among students in an increasingly technical and isolated world; and growing levels of anxiety and stress among students and faculty. Our rapidly changing and crisis-filled world seems to be crying out for new ways of thinking and being…as well as teaching. For contemplative scholars, the current juncture only heightens the need for contemplative practices in education, including those strategies that promote learners’ holistic PRESENCE. If contemplative pedagogy is about challenging disconnection, the online world seems to run counter to its mandate. How does a seemingly “disruptive technology” fit into this approach that seeks awareness and attention? If contemplative learning is about coming into community and communion with each other, then how does being “remote” affect that? How can we achieve presence in the online space, in synchronous and asynchronous digital spaces?

Our panel discussion tackles these questions. Four university professors of diverse disciplines share their perspectives on integrating learning design and mindfulness practices that promote PRESENCE in online learning. Our brief presentations exemplifying contemplative pedagogical approaches are followed by an interactive discussion further inquiring:

• What is considered presence in online learning (contemplative perspective)?

• If presence is about authenticity and openness, holding space to connect with others, moving past distraction so that we can “be present” fully, then how do we establish and maintain that presence when technological setup fractures our attention and divides our teaching (and learning) selves?

• How does one create and maintain presence in the online classroom through mindfulness-based practice?

• How does one create that space in a virtual classroom that allows students to reflect, to become aware, to sit in silence and process when we can’t physically be there to create and hold that space?

Dr. Leslie Jeffrey

Dr Leslie Jeffrey has been a professor for political science at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John for the last 20 years. Her teaching has focussed on global social justice issues including North/South relations; global food politics, human rights, and gender politics. Her research has been on Canadian and international sex-work policy. After taking up a contemplative Buddhist practice several years ago, she began to see the need for and benefit of contemplative practices as a way to deepen student engagement with social justice issues. She now incorporates a number of contemplative practices in her classes from Introduction to International Relations to Human Rights and the Politics of Prostitution as a way both to engage students more fully and as a way to begin to transverse the self/other divide so prevalent in the power dynamics of politics.