My visualization of what shared power looks like is a scale that works by balancing the masses on two platforms. This is a metaphor I’m fond of and use often in my teaching. It’s appropriate here because, in order to balance the scale, mass may be added or taken away from either platform. I would compare this functioning to consensus-building in the design of effective community-engaged research. The community partner, on one side, brings certain ideas and expectations to the table, as does the researcher on the other side. Both need to be flexible and add or take away mass on their respective platform so that the project balances out. Also keep in mind that mass—here representing power—equals volume times density. The community partner and researcher bring different materials to place on their platforms, reflecting the diversity of their investments in the collaboration, yet power can remain equal.
Twitterpation (Twitter + participation * twitterpated)
This past week I participated in the VCU Institute for Inclusive Teaching, and so my engagement on Twitter for the Collaborative Curiosity course took a backseat. It was insightful to compare my real-time participation on Twitter during the institute, which used the hashtag #VCUIIT15, with the catching up I did with the #CuriousCoLab conversations. I’m especially grateful for the Storify summaries of the discussions I was absent for. (Thanks, team!) What a fantastic tool for archiving snapshots of exchanges on Twitter. During the institute I was retweeting and favoriting to create within my profile the same kind of account that was produced retrospectively using Storify. I like how tweets build up a record that I and others can refer to later; they become communal reflections that supplement the individual notes I take. I retweet and favorite to bring in insights voiced by others to stand beside my own ideas. This week I realized that this active curation can be performed or appreciated even from a temporal remove. That is an important understanding, since I’ve been frustrated before when I feel like I’ve fallen behind on Twitter. Now that I know I can yield control and still reap benefits, maybe I will be more comfortable dropping in and out of Twitter conversations. With that, I believe I can better take advantage of Twitter as a tool for emergent discussions, when in the past I have used it primarily for posting links.
Community-Engaged Research in an Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Curriculum?
I also wanted to take this opportunity to describe two questions that have come out of following the course so far. Answering them, I expect, will be my ongoing investigation in the weeks ahead, in lieu of a project-centered research proposal that those taking the course for credit will craft. Both questions are important because they will help me build a bridge from my existing community-engaged pedagogy to community-engaged research. I’m interested in my service-learning course opening on to research opportunities, rather than designing a research proposal from the ground up.
My first question is what does community-engaged research look like as an interdisciplinary practice? Thus far it appears that most CEnR leverages disciplinary or field-specific knowledge in collaborations with community partners. I explore a broad topic, namely technology and design, in my partnerships with a variety of community organizations. I don’t see myself as bringing specialized research methodologies, and for me investigating the needs of the community takes precedence over outcome-driven objectives.
Second, what are the benefits of introducing undergraduates to community-engaged research, and how is it best to do so? My students design an inquiry whereby their service experience serves as evidence alongside their research from traditional sources. Are there relatively simple concepts relating to CEnR that would help these undergraduates focus their projects? I’m working within an already demanding shared curriculum and must be sure that this addition has a clear payoff, even when students begin developing their inquiries before they thoroughly get to know their partners and the populations they serve.
This post is the first of hopefully many as a participant in the “Collaborative Curiosity: Designing Community-Engaged Research” online connective learning course sponsored by the Division of Community Engagement at VCU. (I will affix the same category—CuriousCoLab—to subsequent posts for the course. The #CuriousCoLab tag is also being used in Twitter conversations among participants.)
When I came across the fascinating documentation of “Lego infills” done by Jan Vormann, I didn’t immediately see these images as a representation of community. I remembered them, though, when trying to come up with a visual metaphor for the term, knowing that I wanted to emphasize community as a construction. It may be tempting to think of the way we organize ourselves as the result of a natural, organic process. But community is as much something that we consciously build in order to satisfy mutual needs (here I mean the walls to be associated with shelter and structure, not segregation).
The Lego infills illustrate that what we collectively construct we often need to repair. These plastic bricks are crude yet creative and colorful ways of completing intentions that suffered some loss along the way. So often we know what sustaining structures we want in place but struggle to maintain that unity. (The tiny plastic bricks, as opposed to uniform brick and mortar, appear more adept at filling the gaps that might develop over time. Both are necessary and reinforce one another.)
Significantly, these Lego infills don’t restore an original but instead preserve historical traces and mark the present conversing with the past. I believe it’s important to recognize the additions to existing and previous community structures to understand what is possible in the future. Communities aren’t seamless, so why not acknowledge their composite nature?