Academic journal article International Forum of Teaching and Studies

Engaging Adult Learners through the Arts: InterACTIVE Cancer Education

Academic journal article International Forum of Teaching and Studies

Engaging Adult Learners through the Arts: InterACTIVE Cancer Education

Article excerpt


Arts in cancer education builds community, promotes a wholistic way of learning and supports fun as described by Alaska's Community Health Aides/Practitioners (CHA/Ps) on a written survey in which 86% (224/261) of respondents felt integrating arts in education supported their learning. Interactive arts-based activities were woven into a week-long cancer education course for CHA/Ps. Written evaluations from 11 courses completed by CHA/Ps emphasized that arts-based learning engendered fun, decreased stress and increased memory retention. Arts in adult education respectfully honors diverse ways of knowing with the potential to connect with people as biopsychosocial beings actively engaged in their learning process.

[Keywords] Alaska Native, Indigenous learning, adult education, cancer education, arts in education

Learning is enhanced when art is intrinsically woven into the fabric of education. Arts in education engage people's hearts and minds, creating fresh insight and understanding. Currently cancer is the leading cause of death for Alaska Native people, a drastic change from the first half of the 20 century when infectious disease, not cancer, was the main cause of death among Alaska Native people (Lanier et al, 2006). Community Health Aides and Community Health Practitioners (CHA/Ps), village-based primary providers of health care in Alaska, have become increasingly concerned over the high rates of cancer among people in their communities. The phrase 'Alaska Native' is inclusive of the many distinct cultural groups including the Yup ik, Cupik, Siberian Yupik, Inupiaq, Athabascan, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Alutiiq and Aleut peoples. Over twenty distinct languages traditionally spoken by Alaska Native people are still commonly used in rural Alaska. CHA/Ps may speak their traditional Alaska Native dialect and language in addition to English, an important asset in bridging cross cultural health care. As Lawrence (2005) noted, "Art appeals universally to us all and has the capacity to bridge cultural differences" (P-I).

CHA/Ps requested cancer education that includes information about cancer risk factors, early detection of cancer, diagnosis and treatment, pain management and palliative care. Compassionate caring frames health care providers' approach to teaching and learning. To learn is to heal. To heal is to become whole. Each breathes energy into the other. A basic cancer education course, 'Path to Understanding Cancer', was developed for Community Health Aides/Practitioners, along with a manual for the course. This cancer education course was designed and developed to honor the traditional and blended ways of knowing, knowledge and experience of Alaska Native people and Community Health Aides/Practitioners. Alaska Native traditional values emphasize community, respect for others and cooperation. Culturally respectful elements of the course included teaching/learning practices that invite sharing of cancer stories and experiences, welcoming interested community members to participate in the course, and gathering Alaska Native elders' stories in order to share elders' knowledge and wisdom.

The five day course incorporates many interactive learning tools, including artistic design of multimedia resources, games and art activities. Art energizes cancer education for CHA/Ps, creating community and respecting diverse ways of knowing and learning. Artistic design has been an important element in developing cancer education resources for Community Health Aides/Practitioners. Resources that have been developed include movies addressing breast health and breast cancer screening, colorectal cancer and cancer screening, and men's health, as Alaska Native men share their stories of living with cancer, encouraging people in their communities to have cancer screening. Interactive CD-ROMs provide continuing medical education for CHA/Ps. 'Winds of Hope' addresses basic cancer information about cancer disease, cancer screening and healthy lifestyle choices, and 'Weaving Breast Health into Our Lives' engages participants in learning about breast health, breast cancer screening and blended and traditional ways of staying healthy. …

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