Brandy McDougall

A photo of Brandy McDougall

Title: Associate Professor
Department: American Studies
College/School: CALL
Showcase Course: AMST 220: Intro to Indigenous Studies

I foster a strong sense of community and reflection wherein students relate what we learn to their own lives, valuing their experiences, while also actively listening to and learning from others’ stories.

Click to read more about Brandy’s Teaching Philosophy

My teaching is guided through a collective sense of kuleana to our communities, families, ancestors, to Hawaiʻi, to ʻāina, and to the planet. Kuleana is grounded in mālama and aloha and requires that I guide students in examining and challenging how social and environmental justice issues are framed and approaching class discussion and group work with mutual empathy and respect. As such, I foster a strong sense of community and reflection wherein students relate what we learn to their own lives, valuing their experiences, while also actively listening to and learning from others’ stories. I also incorporate ways for students to relate class materials to their experiences in Hawaiʻi and elsewhere, and to learn from and meaningfully support various community organizations, especially those using ʻŌiwi knowledge to restore and heal ʻāina. Centering kuleana through discussion, reflection, and collaboration encourages all to be more empathetic, responsible, and community-engaged.

Learning via (Virtual) Huaka‘i

Showcase Video

Teaching Practice

A teaching practice I use in AMST 220, a large lecture-discussion class, is learning via huakaʻi, the ʻŌiwi practice of voyaging to an ʻāina, seeing land and water issues firsthand, and learning from that ʻāina and its kupa (people with an intimate connection to that ʻāina and the kuleana to care for that land). Adapting huakaʻi to being an online teaching practice amidst COVID-19 safety restrictions was challenging and required that I work with graduate assistants and ʻāina organizations to create “virtual huakaʻi” for students that could achieve some of the same goals of in-person huakaʻi. The following details the tools and series of scaffolded activities our teaching team used to best support students as they learned via virtual huakaʻi to complete their ʻĀina Group Project, a 5-pronged project that entailed researching 1) an ʻāina’s history/moʻolelo; 2) the history of an ʻāina organization; 3) social, cultural, and environmental issues; 4) an ʻāina organization’s restoration work; and creating 5) a makana mahalo for their assigned organization.

I outlined the project at the beginning of the semester, using slides to share information about the specific ʻāina and issues the 8 ʻāina organizations address. Students completed a hoʻolauna survey about their major(s), interests, volunteer experience with ʻāina, where they are from and live now; cultural identity; and their language proficiency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. We used the hoʻolauna survey to create 8 groups of 10 students; each group was comprised of students with a range of backgrounds, experience, and skills.

In Week 3, groups were assigned and students had their first group meeting to get acquainted and collectively determine roles and responsibilities for the first component of the project—the ʻāina’s history/moʻolelo. As kumu, we suggested subtopics (moʻolelo pertaining to the ʻāina, land divisions, land tenure following the Māhele, crops and water use, “ceded” (seized) lands, impact of plantations, militarization, etc.). Students selected a sub-topic and conducted online research, gathering maps, mele, historical photos, etc. to write their contribution. Students were given resource links to draw from, including the Kīpuka database, AVAkonohiki, and Ulukau. Each subtopic was also covered in reading assignments and lectures, so students had a general view of how these issues related to Hawaiʻi and other Indigenous lands at-large; however, through this project, they examined how these issues affected various ʻāina and their communities specifically.

In Weeks 3-14, we allotted class time for weekly ʻāina group meetings. In Week 5, after submitting the first project component, interviewed a member of their ʻāina organization. We planned for the historical research component to precede interviews so students could create and ask more engaged, informed questions. Students focused their interview questions to address the other 3 written components of the group project—the history of the ʻāina organization, social, cultural, and environmental issues of the ʻāina, and the nature of the ʻāina organization’s restoration work. As kumu, we arranged for ʻāina partners to spend 40 minutes in breakout rooms with student groups for their interviews on Week 6. We also arranged for groups to be given a live-streamed “huakaʻi tour” of each ʻāina led by our ʻāina partners on Week 8. This also enabled students to follow up with ʻāina partners with any further questions they had.

Using the interview, the live-streamed huakaʻi tour, and the organization’s website as primary sources, students signed up to research and write about sub-topics in their groups. They also conducted further online research for written contributions. Having completed these last 3 written components, editors in each group worked to integrate these with the previously written history/moʻolelo component and turned in a complete draft for feedback by Week 13. We gave feedback by Week 14, so they could revise and submit a final version by the end of Week 16.

The final component of the project was the Makana Mahalo, which required students to work closely with ʻāina partners to determine what they could do to support and promote the organizations. Makana Mahalo ranged from giving testimonies to the water commission board, creating ʻāina moʻolelo signs for a bike path, to creating brochures, infographics, and promotional videos. Though it was not required, several students visited their ʻāina site for tours and took photos and video footage. In the final 2 weeks of the semester, ʻāina organizations were invited to join our class as groups gave 10-minute presentations highlighting their research and makana mahalo. The presentations could be pre-recorded and presented as a video or presented live via google slides.

This practice is appropriate for undergraduates of all levels. The primary challenges are for teachers to collaborate and plan with ʻāina organizations prior to and during the semester, design assignments and activities, model ʻāina-based research, analytical, and communication skills using online resources and tools, and create spaces for regular group/community communication. Though the practice manifested in a group project, students contributed based on their individual interests and skills. They were also able to teach and learn from peers as huakaʻi is an open, adaptive practice that values varied perspectives and learning differences.


Assessment via rubrics showed that all but 1 of the 68 enrolled students (98.5%) earned a B+ or higher for the ʻĀina Group Project and earned an A for the presentation. That one student struggled with personal issues making her completion of the class difficult, so she was given an incomplete for the semester and an alternative research assignment she could complete individually. Nearly all students considered the course “good” or “excellent” (96%) and “agreed” or “strongly agreed” (93%) that the course challenged them intellectually. Despite noting the challenges of online classes in general, many students highlighted the ʻāina group project as the “most valuable” aspect of the course. One student shared “I especially enjoyed the group project because I found that being exposed to a more intimate and hands-on opportunity with Hawaiʻi was extremely interesting. I feel more involved with the land now.” Another wrote “My group was able to volunteer time and make a meaningful project for the organization we worked with, which was very fulfilling…”. Yet another shared that the project “encouraged us to get involved in the community and make a difference in the place we live, for us and others as well.” These results suggest employing the practice of virtual huakaʻi in a scaffolded ʻāina group project was engaging, effective, and meaningful for students and even encouraged connections with ʻāina and community within the online large lecture-discussion format.

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