A follow-up post about the mechanical aspects of civic engagement projects, based on my experiences over previous semester:
- If students are working in teams, each team should start with at least four students. Five is even better. In a team of three people, two often pair off for decision making and the third person becomes passive. Or one of the three drops the class, and the remaining two are invariably weak students who pull down each other’s performance.
- The necessity of forming teams of adequate size means that certain classes might be too small for this kind of project, especially if you want teams to compete against each other. You will also need to scaffold team output around individually-completed assignments to prevent free riders. Both kinds of student work will need to be assessed transparently.
- If you have a sufficient enrollment in the class for multiple teams, a team of four or more people might be too large for some potential community partners. Will the partner’s operations be negatively affected by the physical presence of a gaggle of college students?
- University curricula still get designed around the increasingly fictional notions that learning occurs only on physical campuses and those campuses are inhabited solely by full-time, traditionally-aged residential students. Students’ off-campus engagement with a community partner can interfere with other university-imposed commitments — especially if the project requires students to be off campus for significant amounts of time during normal business hours. And how will students interact with a community partner if there is no public or university-sponsored transportation to move students from and to campus?
- Learning from civic engagement is maximized when students deliver concrete outcomes that are beneficial to community partners. Handing over a few dozen multi-page reflection essays on “What I learned from civic engagement” at the end of the semester doesn’t cut it. The more you can scaffold course assignments around a defined end product that meets partner needs, the better.