Background on the Theme

For additional background on the IARSLCE conference theme, Connected Knowing, read our first post from KerryAnn O'Meara, the 2012 conference program chair

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dwight E. Giles, Jr. PhD., NERCHE, UMass-Boston

Dwight is a Professor of Higher Education Administration and a Senior Associate at the New England Resource Center for Higher Education (NERCHE) at UMASS Boston. He is also the 2009 recipient of the IARSLCE Distinguished Research Award.

Connected Knowing has been a central element of service-learning research efforts from the beginning. As a co-author of the first national service-learning research agenda that was developed by the National Society for Internships and Experiential Education, our primary purpose for furthering service-learning research was to inform and improve our practice (Giles, Honnet & Migliore, 1991). For me, IARSLCE continues that tradition as a research organization that strives to be ‘practitioner friendly’. 

Given the split in the academy between research and practice, theory and applied knowledge, there are few forums where these two can come together and inform each other. Our field and research questions have evolved over the last two decades from the ‘simple’ question of Where’s the Learning in Service-Learning?” to much broader questions encompassing all aspects of community engagement including impacts and roles of community partners, the development and understanding of engaged scholarship and institutional engagement.  I look forward to the 2102 conference to further the connections between knowing and doing, to push the boundaries of our field beyond our current understandings of what types of scholarship count, and how to connect with additional ways of knowing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cecilia M. Orphan, Ph.D. Student, Higher Education, UPenn

Cecilia M. Orphan, Ph.D. Student, Higher Education, University of Pennsylvania
Twitter: @CeciliaOrphan

When I was a student at Portland State University (PSU), I served as a teaching assistant for University Studies (UNST), the interdisciplinary general education program at PSU. The UNST program explores the following four goals in its courses: Communication, Critical Thinking, Social Justice and Diversity. In this role I assisted students in the creation of online portfolios that demonstrated their learning. This was before there were ‘plug and play’ portfolio platforms and my students had to build their own websites. Through this process of web design, they made virtual connections in the form of weblinks between the assignments they had completed and the four UNST goals, and then they reflected on their learning with one another. I quickly discovered how powerful this mode of teaching can be for producing robust learning outcomes for students. This was my first experience with connected knowing.

For the last two years I have worked with the New England Resource Center for Higher Education (NERCHE)’s Next Generation Engagement Project (NGE). The Director of the project, John Saltmarsh, challenges NGErs - a group of engaged scholars and practitioners, early career faculty, and graduate students - to expand traditional academic notions of expertise to include the knowledge of students and community members, and to incorporate online tools to aid in the production of engaged scholarship. We use web 2.0 tools to connect with one another when we are not able to meet in person and these tools create a constant conversation in which multiple voices are heard. We participate in connected knowing.

The theme of this year’s IARSCLE conference, “Connected Knowing,” describes what I believe will be the future of American higher education. No one can deny that the academy is changing. Our students are becoming more diverse. Tenured faculty members are decreasing in number and non-tenured, adjunct faculty are being hired to replace them. Each year online, for-profit education is claiming larger shares of our student body. Public support and funding is rapidly disappearing. And the civic engagement movement is gaining momentum and transforming the way universities and colleges interact with their communities. Confronting these challenges is the premise of AASCU’s Red Balloon Project that seeks to “redesign undergraduate education for the 21st century.” The leaders of Red Balloon are using networked knowledge generation because they believe that the best way to confront these challenges is to use technology to work collaboratively, share expertise and devise solutions. 

Of course the idea of crisis in American higher education is not new. The history of the academy has witnessed scores of people predicting crises, and despite this history, higher education remains intact. We will survive this current crisis as well. But there are a number of important questions that we will need to answer as we progress. How should students be treated and viewed? Are they clients and customers buying a product, or are they co-creators of an academic environment? I would argue that when students are engaged as co-creators, they learn and grow much more than when they are treated like customers. How should we interact with the communities surrounding our universities? Despite all of the calls for reciprocity in community/university relationships, you will be hard pressed to find universities that equitably engage their communities and allow neighborhood leaders not only to participate in university projects but also to design and assess these initiatives. The next phase of the civic engagement movement must reckon with these power imbalances so that community members are invited to oversee university engagement. How will we treat adjunct faculty who have very little if any say in university operations and yet at many public universities now outnumber tenured faculty? Despite the important questions raised by the growing presence of adjunct faculty about academic freedom and governance, I don’t believe that it is realistic to think that they will disappear. In fact, if current trends are any indication, their numbers will only continue to grow. So in the interest of creating democratic institutions, I firmly believe that this group must be considered vital contributors to connected learning.

With all of these complex changes taking place, we have the opportunity to model and engage in a process of connected knowing as we advance toward a more democratic, inclusive and educative culture in higher education. When I think back to my days at PSU, I still remember the way my students’ learning came alive when they were able to reinforce the mental and virtual pathways and connections between their assignments and their understanding of the course goals. This process of connecting and co-creation is of benefit to us all especially as we consider how we will survive the current crisis in higher education while better serving democracy and our students.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Alan Bloomgarden, Mount Holyoke College

Alan H. Bloomgarden, Ed.D.
Mount Holyoke College

I am very excited at the ways in which the language describing this year’s conference theme, “Connected Knowing,” draws us to think not only about the (usual, for us!) connections between learning and experience, but also about the different places knowledge resides, and about the intersections and crossroads in our communities where it is generated.  In particular, I look forward to continuing to explore of the dynamics of campus-community partnership in the metropolitan setting.  I hope that the 2012 conference in Baltimore will offer some new research and thinking about this form of connectedness.

As the Coordinator of a robust Community-Based Learning Program at Mount Holyoke College, I have the great fortune of working not only in rich and sustained campus-community partnerships with agency and program staff, educators and activists in surrounding towns and nearby cities of Holyoke, Springfield and Northampton.  As a member of the Five College Community Based Learning Committee (FCCBL), I get to spend a lot of time working toward sustainable, reciprocal engagement in the context of multi-institutional collaboration.  I and my staff work very closely with colleagues at Amherst, Smith and Hampshire Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst in developing and implementing various forms of collaboration.  We also frequently engage partners at nearby Holyoke Community College, and in our community partnership work especially in the city of Holyoke, we sometimes refer to our efforts as “six college collaboration.”

In the early 2000s, some of us from that group undertook intensive consideration of relationships among community-based learning and community engagement agendas via the “Holyoke Planning Network.” HPN was a campus-community coalition which sought to examine the engagement relationships driven and defined by campus constituencies, and aimed to enable and empower partners to articulate community development priorities and define productive, reciprocal, and ultimately sustainable practices.  The effort to explore these practices centered upon our joint hosting of a “Planners Network” conference thanks to the suggestion and inspiration of Ken Reardon, who helped bring this process to us.  This is a story discussed at length in our joint paper, “Building Sustainable Community/University Partnerships in a Metropolitan Setting,” in which we concluded:

The challenge for CBL faculty and staff in working with community partners is  to develop ways to adequately measure and articulate the benefits of community-based learning for both students and faculty and also to determine the true costs [and benefits] to a community organization that is accommodating CBL opportunities. On both sides, a fair accounting of the total resources required to create true community-based learning opportunities is a necessary prerequisite for equitable partnerships… As representatives of academic institutions, we must recognize that our fate is intrinsically tied to that of our neighboring communities and that we share a responsibility for each other. Talk of social justice and social change is meaningless unless we work hard to overcome the barriers to justice and change in our own institutional settings, while at the same time striving to ensure the well-being and sustainability of our community partners.[1]

There are a number of rich research questions emerging from that paper.  How do we measure the resources our community partners invest in the learning aims of our students, and how can we represent those accurately in our accounting to them, to campus constituencies, to funders, etc.? How are community partners impacted when enlisted as partners, placement sites, resources, etc. by multiple higher institutions often at the same times and for similar purposes?  What do the intersections of our often competing, conflicting, or concurrent needs mean for the communities and the community partners we work with?

These questions provide a different and perhaps distinctive prism through which I am looking at the concept of “connected knowing,” one which has me asking: what is happening in communities where multiple institutions of higher education explore varied forms of engaged learning and scholarship, in modes and with policies and practices that are both complimentary and conflicting?  Are the flows of traffic carrying students, faculty, administrators through and about the communities that host multiple colleges, universities made rewarding or even comprehensible?  I hope to see and hear some responses to these and related questions in Baltimore.

[1] Bloomgarden, A., Bombardier, M, Breitbart, M., Nagel, K., & Smith, P.  (2006). Building Sustainable College/Community Partnerships in a Metropolitan Setting.  In Forrant, R. & Silka, L. Inside and Out: Universities and Education for Sustainable Development, Amityville, NY: Baywood 105-117.

Scott J. Peters, Cornell University

Scott J. Peters is an associate professor of education at Cornell University, and an associate editor of the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement

When I learned that the theme of the IARSLCE Conference this year would be “connected knowing,” I immediately thought of a story I heard last year.  A tenured professor from a land-grant college of agriculture (I’ll call her “Sarah”) told it during a conversation about public engagement I facilitated with a group of faculty members.  Here’s her story, quoted verbatim from the transcript, with my voice and that of another faculty member (“Tom”) also included:

Sarah:                         Yesterday I was in a meeting and I asked somebody high up in the administration in our college a point blank question.  The question was, “In your interaction with our stakeholders, what do they want from us?”  And the response was the same as always.  And that I don’t buy.

Me:                              Same as always being what?  What was the response?

Tom:                           The best scientific knowledge on X? (This was said in a sarcastic voice.)

Sarah:                         No.  The response was, “Somebody on the other end of the phone line that tells them what to do.”  My experience is so opposite of that, that I was floored by that response.  I work with dairy farmers.  And what farmers want from us is not an answer.  They want us to partner with them to find solutions.  There is certainly a fraction of the farming community that wants to pick up the phone, ask me a question, get an answer and implement it.  But the ones that are progressive, the ones that we should be working with to move forward are the ones that say, “What do you think of this?  Can we put something in place to get some answers?”  They’re working towards networks of on-farm research.  They want us to be partners in finding answers.  They don’t want us to give them the answer.

I relate this story here for two of the truths it reveals.

First, it reveals and communicates an experiential truth about the wants of a specific group of stakeholders of a land-grant college of agriculture: they yearn to be partners in the work of connected knowing—knowing that happens in and through face-to-face conversations and close, on-going relationships.  Knowing that’s grounded in specific situations and contexts.  Knowing that’s collaborative and multidimensional, that pools different kinds of knowledge and interweaves different ways of knowing.  And, given all this, knowing that’s both political and personal.

The second truth Sarah’s story reveals and communicates has to do with the way the yearning for connected knowing is situated.  It’s situated up against a view of higher education’s public engagement work that positions external stakeholders as the customers and consumers of academic knowledge and advice.  And this view reflects an embrace of a conception of knowing that’s heroic and individualistic, disconnected and decontextualized.

These truths are both inspiring and troubling.  It’s inspiring to learn of a desire for connected knowing among, of all people, dairy farmers.  (I doubt many people would think of them as yearning for connected knowing!)  And it’s inspiring to learn of a faculty member in a highly technical agricultural field who sees farmers as partners in the work of knowing, instead of just the consumers of its products.  But it’s troubling to hear the minimalist judgment the administrator in the story has of the wants of his or her college’s stakeholders.  And it’s troubling to see and feel the ways that such a judgment, paraphrasing KerryAnn O’Meara’s description of the IARSLCE Conference theme, obscures who besides a spotlighted individual contributes to the process and work of knowing, where it happens, and what ends it serves.

Sarah’s story is just one story, from one particular kind of college.  But I’m willing to bet that other faculty members from different kinds of colleges (and staff and students as well) have similar stories to tell that reveal the same basic truths.  We should make an effort to invite such stories to be told and documented, and then work to see what we might learn from them about connected knowing: what it looks like and involves, why it matters, and how it might be strengthened and supported.

I look forward to pursuing this with others at the 2012 IARSLCE conference, and beyond!