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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

the illusion of "working"

Our learning experiment began at our institution in a rather unintentionally high-profile way. So I am not surprised when I run into people on campus and they ask me how it is going.

It is going a lot like that Zen story about the farmer. The story is that a farmer's horse runs away. His neighbors say "Oh, bad luck." He says, "Maybe." The horse then returns, bringing with it another horse.  His neighbors say, "Oh, good luck!"  He says, "Maybe." The farmer's son decides to tame the new horse and in the course of doing so, he is thrown from the horse and breaks his leg. His neighbor's say, "Oh, bad luck!" He says, "Maybe." Then a war begins and all eligible young men are taken off to fight in the war. His son is not taken because he has a broken leg. The neighbors say, "Oh, good luck!"...anyway, it goes on like this,  what looks good can be bad and vice versa. Or perhaps it is false to separate into good and bad because everything is intimately related and thus neither good or bad (or both).

Anyway, I say this because I really can't tell how it is going.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Community Projects - a trial baloon

I have three groups of five students working with community organizations on three separate projects. Two groups are working with the food bank in Oceano. One of these groups is looking for ways to help them become more efficient. The other is helping to design a brand new facility that might serve as the first iteration in the process of developing a new food bank. The third student team is working with a grass roots community group to develop a supply chain distribution system for gleaning in the county. The two groups that are working with the food bank are moving ahead beautifully. The director of the food bank, Rob, has embraced the students and they have all spent many hours already helping sort food and talking with the volunteers. During our weekly team meetings, the students repeatedly tell me the value they see in actually doing the work. They also really enjoy the senior volunteers. The two food bank projects couldn’t be going better. The Gleaning project is another thing altogether. There isn’t anyone in charge in the traditional sense. There is no individual to ask questions of, but a whole cadre of people who have been thinking about this for a while. The students feel overwhelmed with the amount of work that seems to be needed. In addition, the students are constantly worried that the project wont fulfill the requirements of the class. This project is a bit unusual, but the students are learning much. I do want to make sure I am covering the learning objectives of the course, but beyond those, the learning can be of many types. I am seeing how changing the traditional form of the project makes students nervous. It is funny how expectations influence our perceptions.