Thursday, February 3, 2011


I came to work on Monday plagued with unknowns.  Both of my classes have service learning projects at their core.  But because I prefer the projects to arise from student interests and talents, rather than selecting them for the class myself, I have had to wait to begin planning the projects until I could survey the students, compile the results, and do some collective brainstorming.

I don't like being in suspense about such major elements of my courses -- and of my workload for the semester.  But as bad as not knowing what projects we would be undertaking, was not knowing for sure how we would get from not knowing to knowing.  There's a magic moment that you have to hope happens -- a moment where the compiled survey results suggest a direction, and the direction suggests activities, and  then you're off.  My worry is that the magic won't happen, that the survey results will remain a jumble, that students won't see what I see, that the activities won't inspire or will be intractably difficult or depressingly minor.

Brainstorming happened in both my classes this week, and to my great relief, the magic happened.  My freshmen coalesced on a theme in class, then responded online to a summary of the discussion with concrete ideas.  I took some of those, did some Googling, and came across some nifty ideas that sparked my imagination.  Presenting those back to the class got a good reaction, and I posted them with some suggested details for further feedback online.  Whew -- from nothing to a potentially viable project in a couple of class meetings.

Today was brainstorming day for my seniors, all the way at the other end of the curriculum.  In 75 minutes, we went from a three-page summary of the survey results to a local cause for which we wanted to advocate, and a long list of resources we needed to find or generate to advocate effectively.  There are more students in this class, and while the enthusiasm for the cause was infectious and widespread, I spent a little time making sure we weren't running roughshod over any of the students who hadn't been as vocal during the brainstorming.  The best thing about the direction we ended up going is that we can build on portions of other projects done by other classes and groups; some of the UCA G.O.YA. report from last spring will be relevant, and we can use material that a couple of my colleagues developed for a summer program a couple of years ago.

It feels great to be on the other side of those decisions, with students facing in a common direction and trying to think of ways to bring their goals to life.  I've gone from complete uncertainty to two workable projects with a dozen students lined up to work on each one, all in the space of a week.  The projects have potential to create awareness, raise the profile of the causes for which we're advocating, and generate great publicity.  Best of all, I can see my way to the end of the semester without a big unknown blocking my way.  What a feeling!

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