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 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.

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