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.

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