This site is connected to a community development (CD) course offered through the University of Queensland in Brisbane. The course is called SWSP7123 “Community Planning, Engagement and Governance” and I am lucky enough to be the course coordinator again in 2010. This page aims to explain the project and why this blog has been developed. The rationale for the course I teach is that as citizens and practitioners interested in creating positive changes in our community, we are often required to engage with a range of systems, such as political systems, economic systems, cultural and social systems – even family systems. Without a way of working with and in such complexity the result can be a sense of powerlessness, and resignation. In this subject students explore the nature of systems, and develop analysis, processes and practices for navigating systems, including strategies such as planning, partnership, engagement, lobbying, and community advocacy. Alongside the theoretical content, students are also required to participate in a community development (CD) project and to reflect upon their learning.  So far, this all sounds pretty straightforward. Not so fast!

Imagine a project.
Now imagine a project about that project.

Now gently scoop up the whole lot and place that inside another project.

Then, as a final touch, put all of that within an overarching project.

Welcome to the Process in Practice Project.

 If we imagine each project as nested inside each other it might look like this:  

 P1: So in the diagram of nested circles above, the first small blue circle is the CD project that students will be  undertaking. This is the first layer of process. For example, a student could be keen to join with others to set up up a local organic food initiative. As soon as she enters this territory she is engaging with farming systems and food production systems. Alternatively if a student is hoping to make international students feel more welcome in Brisbane, then he may need to engage with education systems, immigration systems, maybe even the local council systems. Students in the past have explored projects as varied as revitalisation of a local craft market in a Brisbane suburb, a clean water initiative in Vietnam, and the enriching of a religious order. 

P2: The purple layer represents the student’s second layer of processes that surround that project. This is  HOW students work on the P1 level.  It is the guts of the course, the content they will be engaging in as they plan, initiate and reflect on their project. The aim is for students to develop skills in thinking about how to engage with structures  and how to undertake CD in the context of complex systems. For example, in developing a project to encourage more public transport use in the University, a student would need to think through the strategies to be undertaken and argue for their appropriateness – do they run information campaigns, lobby the public transport system, and/or run consultations with students? They will need to map and analyse the systems and engage stakeholders and identify what risks are present and how these will be managed.  This is what will be assessed and where, hopefully, deep learning will occur. The content of the project is interesting – but it is the content of their learning that I am most interested in. It is entirely possible for a project, or the engagement strategies, to be a dismal failure (for example, they hold a rally and no one attends, or they conduct an information strategy in which no one is any the wiser for their efforts), yet for their learning to be incredibly rich and successful. 

P3: Now, in order to execute their projects well, much depends on the way in which the learning occurs: how well theory is taught and how well students engage with this and integrate it into their other knowledge systems. It depends upon how well students are supported through this process and what resources they have as they participate and demonstrate their actions. This is meta-meta-process and as teacher, this is where I sit.  I want to know how I can improve this course to create deeper and richer learning for students, to bring their projects to life and help them create and present something real and meaningful. More importantly, I want them to be deeply engaged as they do so: engaged with the work, engaged with the ideas and most of all, engaged with each other. So my project this semester is to think about new ways of encouraging students to connect with each other to deepen learning and support each other in the process. This is the green layer and the focus of my blogging efforts. My dream is that I can convince a few other teachers to come alongside me so that we may share our reflections on the usefulness or otherwise of the interventions we try.  

P4: The red layer is the layer that I’m hoping the team at the CEIT (UQ’s Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology) might be willing to engage in. This is meta-meta-meta-process. If I understand their half of our conversation, CEIT  is  keen to trial new technologies that enhance the educational process. They are keen to understand the potential and usefulness of technologies, their effectiveness and also their limitations. And they are keen to understand the effect upon the learning process and environment, the student experience and the teaching experience. I will also be keen to understand what supports are available to me as I learn and experiment.  

We’re working in meta-meta-meta-process land (and as a process princess I confess that this is the stuff that makes me all tingly with excitement).

Each project will be a project spiral of action learning, which is where I’m hoping technology will be particularly helpful. For example, I can use technology to map student online interaction. If I find it is a very limited network then this is immediate feedback that tells me I need to rethink my engagement strategies. And if that results in a change in teaching practices and/or student behaviours, then that becomes important data for CEIT.  

Rather than waiting for the end of semester to suddenly produce miraculously deep and profound thoughts, we can simply log our insights, at all four levels, as we go and as both we, and our projects, grow. So this is where ‘ll be logging all my learning at the third green level of the PiP project.     

Or, at least that’s the plan…

8 Responses to “About the Project”

  1. Phillip Long Says:

    Terrific idea Lynda and for first blog site all I can say is “well done”! Action Research is the flip side of ‘action teaching’ – where a major goal is to close the gap between the practice of the profession and learning to practice the profession by shaped, directed and experientially scaffolded activities that the professional does, orchestrated to build the bridge from novice to expert. It’s what John Seely Brown refers to as “learning to be”. In fact in a well known study from Richard Light at Harvard University the single most predictive success factor for undergraduate learning is the ability of students to form or join a study group.

    If you extrapolate that to how do you form and/or join a ‘work group’ – let’s say an action research group – then it seems there is much to be learned about this process as it is clearly hugely important to the subsequent success or failure of learners.

    I look forward to more posts!

  2. gail Says:

    I’m coming at this from the perspective of not knowing a thing – so here’s my feedback. I wonder if it would be clearer if it started with stuff about … This is a unit/ project/ in the xxx course in which students will… blah blah. And then… image a project, within a project and take it from there?

    When I first read it I was very unsure what I reading. Apart from that I enjoyed reading it and wondered if I could enrol.


  3. OOh good thought. I’ll play around with this come more. That’s really helpful. Thank you.

  4. Alex Daw Says:

    Dear Linda

    This all sounds fabulous!! I can only speak from the perspective of a student….my last course was an on-line course in Arts Management through the Uni of SA eight years ago. We were using their, at that stage, very clunky online course management software so there were some hiccups but…it was a tremendous breakthrough in learning for me. My previous learning experiences had been limited to submitting assignments and attending tutorials. Now I had to post stuff up to the web for all to read and then comment back to other students on their stuff. It was unbelievably confronting for me. I was used to having the old fashioned “arm around my work on the school desk” routine….Imagine…people might find out how dumb I really was !!! But it was fabulous!! I got to see how clever other students were…I learnt from them….they learnt a few things from me too I hasten to add. I think online learning is not just for people who are geographically a long way from the centre of learning but produces different learning outcomes than traditional teaching methods….not sure if this is relevant luvvie but thought I’d mention it…


    • Thanks ‘luvvie’- this is highly relevant and I’m delighted to hear that was your experience. That’s certainly one of the aims here. One of the things I find disturbing about many modern learning enviornments is that in the highly competitive individualistic structure we can lose the fun and exploration side of learning. There are no safe spaces to throw ideas around. You can have an idea – but you’ll then be assessed on whether it met appropriate standards. That’s why for one assessment item students won’t get assessed on what they say. Instead 30%o ftheir grade will be based solely on whether they have bothered to say anything substantial at all! I’ll be assessing students on whether they have written anything, whether they have responded to someone else, and whether what they have written as been inspiring, provactive or interesting enough to warrant attention from someone else. Given that this course is about networks and development, this seems an important skill for students to be exhibiting. Sure…they can all cheat and do deals: I’ll respond to your comment if you respond to mine….but there’s two things that will help here. Firstly by communicating in this small way they are still connecting and meeting the requirements of the course. Secondly, I plan to use a piece of software that actually maps interactions. So I can see if Fred Nerk and Jo Bloggs only ever respond to each other, or if Fred and Jo are the kind of ecclectic learners that jump all over the place making connections and seeing patterns. I loved your comments about the learning process. What I’ve already discovered in writing for a public – albeit anonymous – audience is that it has already made me a little more careful about what i write. I find I sit on things a little longer and think about what it means to respond rather than to react. Thanks for the good news and encouragement – most heartening.


  5. Linda,
    Do you have a skype address? If not, I’ll be using skype anyway to phone you at 6pm ET (about 90 minutes from now.) March 7, 2010
    Steve Gilbert
    PS: pls visit http://bit.ly/TLTG-Bookmarks2009


  6. Wow what an amazing interactive adventure in learning, teaching and technology.

    I look forward to seeing how it all plays out. Please keep me posted. I hope you and your fellow collaborators will write about the experiment! Yikes would that take it to a P5 level?

    It sounds and looks very exciting … and frankly kind of mind altering … in a good way.

    Enjoy the adventure :-).

    Warmly

    Jason


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