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Archive for the ‘Community Based Learning’ Category

On April 3rd, the corners of the DCAL conference room were buzzing with conversations between community organization partners and Dartmouth College faculty and staff.  Tucker Foundation hosted this session attended by representatives from eight community organizations and over 20 faculty and staff from undergraduate and graduate studies.

The eventual goal is to create a list of mutually beneficial partnerships, this session was an opportunity to begin the conversation between Dartmouth College and community based organizations about what is out there, what are the interests, and where are the matches.  Helen Damon-Moore of Tucker Foundation laid out the groundwork for what makes a good community based learning partnership:

  • Mutually beneficial.

Needs to provide a true benefit to the community and provide the students with a learning opportunity.  Otherwise it is a burden to the community and the students.

  • Asset-based model.

We (Dartmouth) are not out to fix the community.  It is important to educate the students on this concept.  Students instinctively have a “save the world/community” attitude and they need to understand this.

  • Academic rigor.

Assignments need to be on par with college class work. Professors can grade based on effort but grading needs to be objective and evaluated in the same way any other course would be graded – heart alone doesn’t count.

The facilitation method used for this session was as interesting and innovative as the topic of community based partnerships.  Open Space Technology is a facilitation method that allows the participants to drive the agenda and conversations.  Tracy Dustin-Eichler from Tucker Foundation introduced Open Space Technology:

Law of two feet:

You (participants) are responsible for proposing agenda items,  joining conversations and leaving the conversations when you are done.  Start. Join. Leave.

Principles.

  1. Whoever comes are the right people to be there.
  2. Whatever happens is the right thing that could have happened.  Focus on now.
  3. When it starts is the right time (freedom to come and go).
  4. When it is over, it is over.  When it feels like it is done, ask “is it done”? and if the answer is yes, then it is done.

With the concept of Open Space Technology explained, conversation topics were proposed by participants:

  1. Government. entities in community
  2. Well Communities
  3. Links to careers/ post grad options
  4. What can students really do?
  5. Engineering/Architecture needs.
  6. Project Implementation

The conversation initiators found a space to host their conversation and the work began.  Groups of varying sizes formed, people voted with their feet by leaving conversations and joining others.  New conversation topics were added to the list as participants were inspired. This lasted for approximately 45 minutes and then the participants was brought back together again for a brief report out on the outcomes of the discussions.

A week later an email was sent to all the participants with notes from each conversation topic, a list of participants with contact information and an offer of assistance from Tucker Foundation for participants who “need help finding the right partnership, planning a partnership, or have questions about where to start”.

-by Jen Schiffman

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Gregory Sharrow, Director of Education and Folklorist for the Vermont Folklife Center, has been collecting stories all of his life. As a child, Sharrow took long drives with his family through familiar Midwestern landscapes, marveling at how each place they passed evoked a story. As an adult, Sharrow took his interest in place-driven stories and developed it into a Place-Based Education curriculum for K-12 teachers (though the curriculum’s methods and lessons are appropriate to college instruction as well). This curriculum is founded on a simple but too-often ignored principle: take students into the places that they inhabit, and use these places to teach important lessons in every subject. Sharrow’s own focus is history and cultural studies: he brings students into intimate knowledge of place in order to present them with lessons both “vertical” (historical) and “horizontal” (cultural).

Sharrow’s assignments are intriguing. With a group of elementary school students, Sharrow collected old town maps that included forgotten roads, and that named the former inhabitants of every house. Students used these maps in a variety of ways—for instance, to learn more about the homes they now occupied. They also walked abandoned roads, spotting patches where lilac and rhubarb were growing, evidence of gardens long forgotten. Students engaged in these real-life experiences will inevitably come to question why a particular road or farm might have been abandoned. This question would lead to research, which would eventually yield a story. Through these stories, students can create valuable connections between their academic and civic lives.

The means by which Sharrow’s students demonstrate their Place-Based Learning is digital media—both audio and video. Sharrow shared with us audiotapes from a variety of assignments, including interviews in which eighth graders asked high school students, “What do you wish your parents understood about you?” He also shared tapes from a Youth Radio Project, in which students created audio essays addressing the question, “What is culture?” In both cases, the assignments worked to move students outside the classroom, and to connect them to their community in interesting and exciting ways.

Indeed, the assignments of the Place-Based curriculum are rooted in an idea that John Dewey expressed in From School and Society:

From the standpoint of the child, the great waste in the school comes from his inability to utilize the experiences he gets outside the school in any complete and free way within the school itself; while on the other hand, he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning in school. That is the isolation of the school–its isolation from life (75).

Place-based curriculum works to tear down the wall between life and school. In doing so, it adheres not only to Dewey’s philosophy but also to the principles of active learning. Place-Based Curriculum requires students first to actively explore the phenomena around them as the basis of critical inquiry. In working with phenomena first-hand, students become the creators rather than the consumers of knowledge. As students explore their world, they are driven by their concerns rather than their teacher’s—instead, the teacher is a friendly and knowledgeable guide, helping students to make connections between what’s happening inside the classroom and what’s happening outside. In the end, the divide between the school and the community is eliminated. Students are not only active learners, but active members of the “place” in which they live.

All good reasons for faculty to consider how Place-Based Curriculum can serve their courses.

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On November 5, DCAL hosted a presentation on community-based learning (CBL) at Dartmouth led by Helen Damon-Moore, Director of Service and Educational Programs at the Tucker Foundation. Sean Smith, Associate Professor of Computer Science, described his department’s EPICS course—Engineering Projects in Community Service—a culminating experience option for CS majors. Sara Kobylenski, executive director of The Haven, the Upper Valley’s shelter and support service for homeless people, shared her perspectives as one of Dartmouth’s CBL clients. Finally we listened to a student’s perspective from John Williamson who completed the EPICS course over two terms during his senior year, 2008-2009. Of the faculty members attending, some are just beginning to think about designing CBL components in their courses and several others, including Ivy Schweitzer (Women and Gender Studies) and Matissa Hollister (Sociology), have been teaching CBL courses and course components for several years.

Williamson’s 2008-2009 EPICS course helped to build a useful database for the Upper Valley Humane Society, allowing them to match reports of lost animals with reports of those found. His group turned a mountain of loose-leaf binders into a registry of pets and owners that saved time and money for the UVHS. This year, Professor Smith’s students are helping the Haven repair and upgrade its client database. Williamson and Smith expressed agreement on the following valuable features of CBL courses:

  • The work has a real-world authenticity not usually present in other course assignments.
  • The project requires collaboration among students and between students and the community client.
  • Students learn more about effective communication than they do in most CS courses.
  • As is usual in the real world, projects begun by one group sometimes must be finished by another, so students learn the importance of documenting their work, and how to inherit work begun by others.
  • Students learn by a process of discovery, a process they share with their community client.
  • Students rise to a level of responsibility rarely demanded by other courses.
  • CBL courses prepare students for life-long learning as few other courses can.

Damon-Moore helps faculty find community partners for CBL courses and offers consulting in course design, implementation and evaluation. The Tucker Foundation also offers grants of up to $2000 to defray the various costs associated with CBL courses—transportation, communication, special materials and the like. DCAL also stands ready to help faculty in course and assessment design; we also have a small library that includes helpful literature on collaborative work, grading and course management for CBL courses.

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