By Greg Hodges

The importance and value of collaborative, civic discourse has been pronounced in many of the organizations to which I have belonged. In this past year, one marked by changes and challenges, the conversations inspired by the Touchstones Discussion Project provided essential avenues for connection. Trinity College School (TCS) has benefited from a successful partnership with Touchstones by having students at various levels and across grade cohorts use several different texts, ranging from Touchpebbles to Mapping the Future.

Including Touchstones in a school located in a small town on the shore of Lake Ontario has its own difficulties and rewards. Working within a highly structured, provincially moderated curricular program, the project itself can shine, in part, due to its focus on the cultivation of skills. Liberty, to a degree, is the product of collective and collaborative conversation. Some of the students that I have been working with are wearied, showing signs of fatigue and frustrated expectation. Touchstones gives students a reason to turn on the camera and engage through technology.

Our circles may have changed, but the rules and the promise of the Touchstones curriculum remain the same. There is a chance for our classes to convene for a reason beyond curricular expectation. Online platforms provide new avenues along which participants might venture to continue critical discussions. Analog models of discourse need not be thought of as having been supplanted by technological modes of engagement. Instead, students have the opportunity to reflect meaningfully upon the time that they will spend learning together. It is important for us to be aware of the increased emphasis upon what it means to be seen, to be heard, and to feel that there is a relational space.

The efforts made by the team at Touchstones have helped new participants find ways to connect and converse through digital media. Thanks to the work being applied to integrate virtual meetings and to render the volumes both as digital and interactive, Touchstones is opening its circle all the more.