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UBC Theses and Dissertations

SelfDesign : an inquiry into authentic learning and co-inspiration Cameron, Brent


This thesis is the story of an educator and the unfolding narrative of SelfDesign, a way of thinking about learning and education. It documents and examines the development of SelfDesign as an emerging learning process and outlines its integral principles. I started SelfDesign in 1983 responding to the request of my five-year-old daughter, who, after two weeks in kindergarten, wanted to quit school so that she could learn the things she wanted to learn. Modeled on my insights of my daughter learning how to speak naturally, I designed an integral learning program based on choice, conversation, mutual respect, curiosity, discovery and enthusiasm. Evolving beyond current assumptions about learning as an artifact of instruction, SelfDesign redefines learning as an ontological process of maturation and development, emerging through conversations and relationships. Based on twenty-five years of observing children learning in freedom beyond the paradigm of schooling, I realized that learning is an epistemological process integral to living and unfolding human potential as a learning organism. SelfDesign encourages introspective awareness and provides learners with methodologies, maps and models for designing their learning process. Every learner in SelfDesign creates an individual curriculum ensuring their right to design their own learning, and their learning arises from an innate sense of integrity. The program was called Wondertree (1983-2009 with a dozen young learners), then Virtual High (1993-1997 with 35 teenagers), and is now SelfDesign Learning Community (2002 - present with 1400 learners in a province-wide online program). This thesis, relying on data from the interviews of 27 randomly selected SelfDesign graduates (average age 27.5), identifies themes that SelfDesign encourages: freedom, self- responsibility, learning how to learn, becoming known and seen as an integral individual, feeling empowered as the author and authority of one’s life, experiencing the synergistic effect of respect and love in a community, discovering the praxis of learning as living in co-inspiration, and discovering one’s purpose. The graduates share a sense that SelfDesigning is a transformational experience and an empowering process that has inspired each of them to become enthusiastic, authentic lifelong learners.

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