Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Community steps toward the Project Fair

On August 15, the faculty collaborators gathered together with community partners to essentially "learn by doing" a pseudo project fair. We only allowed ourselves about 30 minutes for the faculty to rotate to different tables in a kind of "speed dating format," with faculty asked to manage their own time.

We first describe to the community members that the SUSTAIN-SLO inititiave is really inside of a larger, 15 year effort of change. Through this effort, we have discovered that some types of projects are less suited to what we want to do.

We have found that projects can focus on the relationship between the community and the Cal Poly partners, or can focus on the transaction that needs to be completed.  In our experience, projects that have a focus on the transaction can lead to unintended consequences, such as students' and faculty members' attention on completing the project for a grade, rather than meeting the community agency's needs. This is what can often happen in traditional service learning.

We are seeking projects that focus on the long-term well-being of the relationship between participants. Some agencies have a simple need for arms and legs to get something done (a transaction) and these projects can be enabled by VolunteerSLO (http://slovolunteerworking.wordpress.com/ ) or other volunteer matching services.

After our pseudo project fair, we did an after action review and learned the following:

Community Partnerships
They called for a means to craft and scope projects that are the kind of relational projects that have a high overlap with our learning objectives. They also want to have a better understanding of the other agencies involved.

Faculty Partners
They recognized that the projects can serve as powerful learning tools for the material that the students are to lear. However, we need the time and space for faculty to understand the depth of projects enough to see into the layers of different disciplinary involvement. We expect this to be an iterative process of project scoping with potential community partners to tailor projects to meet the needs of all involved (students, community partners, faculty).

Suggestions: workshop with faculty and students; office hours with faculty to enable iterative project scoping; Pre-workshop communications; web-based information clearing house prior to project fair; making learning objectives clear.

Next steps: By September 1, the SUSTAIN group will send to the community members a project template that helps community members develop an appropriate project scope. The SUSTAIN folks will also create a means for all to see learning objectives and community agency "drafts" for the project fair. They will also identify and time and place for either a workshop or a kind of office hours for community members to iteratively and collaboratively scope their projects.

We will also set a date and venue for the project fair, which is likely to be ON CAMPUS and near the end of September.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Day 3 & Day 4: SOAR-discovering what we didn't account for

On days 3 and 4, we had no one come to the sessions. Nick and Nina heroically went out and found groups to talk to.  The good news is that roughly two of every three freshmen we speak with are interested in participating.  Of course, we don't know what this will translate into in terms of actuall "enrollment," but it seems that there is enough in the description that attracts students.

What we didn't account for was that we are not actually on the SOAR schedule for the students. Nick discovered that although students get a sheet of workshops, the formal SOAR agenda has every minutes "scheduled" for the students and the workshops are not actually on the schedule. The only way in which people show up to the workshop is if something went wrong in the timing of their formal schedule or if they are sufficiently bored by the formal activities that they abandon them and their SOAR leader happens to drag them to our workshop.

Also, of the 200 students who visit the campus each SOAR day, 100 are whisked away somewhere, so we only have a chance at the 100...again, only in the circumstances that something goes wrong in their formal schedule. 

Attempts at more visibility are turned down. Nick discovered that there is a morning "fair" where students learning about all the activities on campus. The SOAR people would not allow us to be there and set up an information booth. 

More to come.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Winter & Spring '12: Areas of opportunity & risk

Here is what we have in the way of commitments and partial commitments. The red areas represent uncertainty.  We can treat these as areas of opporutnity/risk.  Right now, a primary area of risk is that if we have 100 students, we may not be able to accommodate all course needs.  To compensate, we could:
1. Let go of the criteria that all courses be in the SUSTAIN "grouping".
consequences: Students are likely to be more and more fragmented in competing course formats. 
2. Create an elective 270/470 course that relates to the project.
consequences: There will be a handful of majors that do not have free electives, so will not be able to participate. 

Details of the Winter'12 and Spring'12 schedule

After meeting with the good folks in scheduling and registration, this is what we are looking at in terms of the winter and spring schedules for the SUSTAIN courses.

Notice the "Major orientation" listing.  This came about at Kathryn's suggestion. Many majors have freshmen courses that meet once per week and are 1-2 units.  This may not be needed for all majors, or may even be waived for some majors.

Day 2 of SOAR: Engineers!

New discoveries (for me):
SOAR is organized by college. Today we had about 30 engineers.

Today's group was markedly quieter and somehow exhausted at a visible level.  Groups continue to show up with absolutely no knowledge or context of what we are doing. 

Biggest challenge: communicating the message of what it is, answering questions, getting their input, debriefing their input in under 30 minutes.

Students' response: What would make the the experience worthwhile to them? 
potential to enhance employability; learning valuable skills in the "real world" (the most responses on this theme)
having fun, opportunity to travel
no lectures, meaningful projects
keeping on track to graduation

There seemed to be a high level of engagement from a subset
All students expressed intrigued when first hearing about it. There were several questions about the details. At the end, about 8-10 students remained interested and added their names our contact list. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Day 1 of SOAR

I'm happy to report that Day 1 "recruiting" gained us some new insights. Joy, Nick and I worked with a group of 15 students. 

The plan was to answer any questions for those who came, assuming that they came after reading about it. We were also going to use the time to do a "sticky wall" activity based on "What would make the 100-freshmen  learning initiative valuable to them?"

15 students came because their SOAR host "dragged them there."
We *thought* people would be self-selecting to come to our session based on the description we provided. We found instead that all students had been dragged there by their SOAR host, that none of them knew anything about SUSTAIN-SLO. 

All students were interested in the initiative after we described it
Each of the 15 students said they were interested in the 100-freshmen learning initiative when hearing a 2-minute description of what we are envisioning. 

Sticky wall results: What would make this a valuable experience?
relationships: The chance to make significant connections with students and professional connections
engaged learning: The opportunity for hands on learning and learning from others in the projects
meaningful activities:The potential to impact the disenfranchised
freedom from burdensome assessments: No tests. Some identified these as pressure inducing without yielding a real measure of what one knows

Suprise: Strong enthusiasm from upperclassmen 
The SOAR host spontaneously began advocating for the initiative, saying she felt this was an exciting way of learning and she thinks it will be a lot more engaging and meaningful than the "traditional" classes. 

What we learned and need to adjust (make it concrete; don't lose sight of sustainability):
1. Near the end, a student said "Is this real or just an idea?" When they discovered it was happening, and when it was happening, their questions were more focused.  We need to make clear that it is happening, when it is happening, when the application period is, how to get more information. 
2. The "sustainability" part keeps getting lost in the conversation.  We need to find a way to communicating this in non-politicizing language.