Tag - service-learning

Course Theme Dissemination [#CuriousCoLab]
Open Scholarship: Accessible to Whom? [#CuriousCoLab]
Twitterpation; Community-Engaged Research in an Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Curriculum? [#CuriousCoLab]
Seamless Service-Learning

Course Theme Dissemination [#CuriousCoLab]

I’m sharing with my Collaborative Curiosity colleagues the revised description of my UNIV 200 course theme, destined for the syllabus. In my last #CuriousCoLab post, I described wanting to make participatory research and design essential concepts in my service-learning section. I hope that in the statement below—with major revisions and additions appearing in bold text—I included just the right amount of detail to stress these priorities at the outset. (To be sure, the syllabus is a peculiar mode of dissemination because it has a dual purpose: an institutional document that is also meant as a reference to students. I’m also working on a web page about the theme and my community partners that should be more inviting to students and the larger community.) Participatory research and design will be explored further in the first unit, as students develop their research questions. I’m in the process of revising the unit to include collaborative blogging on the VCU RamPages platform, which I will use to have students discuss the participatory intent behind their research projects. I’m not entirely sure how I will encourage students to take up questions of design in their blogs—that will depend on the readings I choose. But I have been keeping a list of different design approaches (e.g., universal design, participatory design, systems design, design thinking, etc., many of which overlap) with the idea of having students research them online and interpret how these practices have shaped the technologies they chose to study. Your feedback is welcome!



The course will explore three nuanced ways to discuss the past, present, and future of designed technologies. Technology will be broadly defined as a process or object whereby knowledge is applied to achieve a goal or solve problems, and designed taken to mean having an intended purpose, implying designers who plan the process or object and users who take advantage of the resulting technology.

  • “Technology” is a socially and historically relative term: new technologies are most likely viewed as innovative or disruptive; established technologies are often so integrated in our daily lives that we take little notice of them; and outmoded technologies we tend to discount because they seem effectively replaced by newer technologies.
  • Access to technologies differs by social group, due to lack of knowledge or lack of resources, which can reflect existing inequalities and create further disadvantages. But there might be some consolation in this: access shapes different life experiences, seeing how exposure to technology revises the meaning of work, leisure, and community.
  • The design of technology favors particular outcomes and certain users. This is to say that behind any technology resides a particular intention that is subject to real situational limitations. Nonetheless, designs may be inclusive and invite user participation, to the extent that the intention and available resources allow.
In your research and writing, you will approach the subject of your choice as a designed technology and use these considerations to enrich and deepen your exploration.

Your service may take the form of helping your community partner or those it serves use certain designed technologies to meet their needs. For example, you could help elderly residents use software such as Skype to place video calls to family members. Or, with your community partner you might design a technology to achieve a particular goal that benefits the community. You could, for instance, assist your community partner with organizing its social media campaigns which in turn increase the organization’s reach. Alternatively, you will have the opportunity examine the designed technologies a group actually uses and explore how or why they use them. If you are, say, tutoring elementary school students, you could investigate why your community partner might privilege face-to-face tutoring sessions or practice math with objects or pen and paper rather than a computer.

As a service-learner, you will have opportunities to shape your contributions to the community—what you do, how you do it, and for what purpose. In that sense, you and your community partner are designers and your users are the larger community you serve. These positions will become complicated in many ways, however: service-learners are also participants in the community and thus both users and designers. You will design along with members of the community, who aren’t simply the passive recipients of your contributions.


Open Scholarship: Accessible to Whom? [#CuriousCoLab]

George Veletsianos and Royce Kimmons’s article “Assumptions and Challenges of Open Scholarship” provides an excellent overview of the ways that open scholarship is poised to transform academic research. Yet it doesn’t really consider open scholarship from a community partner’s point of view. This was something I had to consider when teaching a service-learning course and having students blog about their experiences. There are obvious arguments against having raw reflection publicly available, though on the other hand there are benefits to sharing one’s working thoughts with others and collaborating online. Should there be—or can there be—limits on whom the preliminary work reaches? While incremental open scholarship upholds transparency, community partners may have qualms about discussing in a public forum difficulties their clients face and the difficulties of addressing those needs. So in some cases, it may be better to hold off until there are final outcomes from CEnR so that everyone involved can weigh in on how those results might be presented. It would be important, too, that these outcomes are not expressed only in discipline-specific or academic discourse. Open scholarship demands that large audiences be able appreciate the value of the work.

Here’s where we also need to consider dissemination venues. One assumption Veletsianos and Kimmons discuss is the role of Internet technologies in open scholarship, which is thought to be “an emergent scholarly phenomenon that is co-evolutionary with technological advancements in the larger culture.” But is access to the technologies we’re using for open scholarship limited for the underprivileged communities and less established organizations that may be involved in our CEnR? For example, my service-learning students last semester at first thought social media would be the perfect way to get the word out about an initiative, only to realize that the community didn’t use the web as much or in the same ways as they did. Veletsianos and Kimmons note that “scholars need to develop an understanding of the affordance of the participatory web for scholarship and consider the implications of online identity and digital participation.” For CEnR, I argue that this requires thinking about how the community you collaborate with actually engages with these technologies (or what alternative technologies it prefers to use). Otherwise, what difference is there between a blog post and an article in a small journal if the post doesn’t reach and engage the community it is speaking about?

Twitterpation; Community-Engaged Research in an Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Curriculum? [#CuriousCoLab]

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.

Seamless Service-Learning

Last week I co-facilitated a Department of Focused Inquiry faculty symposium with my colleagues in the Service-Learning FLC. We titled our event “Seamless Service-Learning” and focused on how to make service-learning an integral part of the shared curriculum for UNIV 111, 112, and 200.

The first half of our presentation described the wide range of service-learning options by citing examples from our own courses. Here we emphasized the possibilities for indirect as well as direct service, and compared individual volunteering to project-based service. I described how I place students in groups based on common availability and have them consider all community partners paired with the course before deciding on one. For each partner the groups brainstorm ideas for individual and group service contributions that draw on their talents and meet the partners’ needs.

For the second half of the symposium, we discussed practical strategies for integrating service-learning into our courses. We offered suggestions on matters of course design, including adapting Focused Inquiry assignments for service-learning sections, and how to handle logistics. I spoke of the course email address shared by my teaching assistants and me. We have students and partners carbon-copy this address on all correspondence to keep everyone in the loop and to document indirect service in the form of advance planning over email. I also shared the Google Spreadsheets my students use to map out their service across the term and keep track of their hours.

We were happy that the symposium attracted instructors who hadn’t yet taught a service-learning course. Hopefully we inspired them to give the possibility more thought in advance of the VCU Service-Learning Institute scheduled for early May.

There was some discussion that the FLC should follow up this event with another that centers on working through particular challenges for different courses in the Focused Inquiry curriculum—something like a course design workshop. (I think this is a great idea! I’ll keep you posted.)

Copyright © 2014 Matthew James Vechinski. Created by Meks. Powered by WordPress.