The Making of a Community Engagement MOOC

Amy Homkes-Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate


What happens when a multidisciplinary team of University of Michigan staff, faculty, and graduate students come together to create a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on community engagement featuring at least a dozen voices? A deep and wide learning experience that traverses all major aspects of how to do effective community engagement in higher education is born. Community Engagement: Collaborating for Change recently launched on EdX. This unique learning experience commenced when a group of staff from the Center for Socially Engaged Design- College of Engineering, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Edward Ginsberg Center- Student Life, Global Engagement Team- Office of the Provost, School of Information, and the School of Social Work decided to use the MOOC structure to create and deliver a robust curriculum on how to enter, navigate, and exit communities in engaged learning experiences. As Jen Vetter, Office of Academic Innovation Design Manager said of the project, “At any time during development, we had more than a dozen voices contributing to what this course would look and feel like.”


Working with a Large and Multidisciplinary Team

How does the Office of Academic Innovation work with a team this size? As you can imagine, it could present challenges when many stakeholders are involved in making content and design decisions. Jen says To take advantage of all our expertise and voices, and also to help streamline what needed to be done, we planned and implemented a full-day design retreat – a first for the Office of Academic Innovation – early in the partnership that helped to set the tone and feel of the course.” Rather than look at the size of the team as a barrier to the design and implementation process everyone embraced the benefits that come from employing a larger group, including the diversity of voices aiding design decisions. As Carrie Luke, Program Manager in the Provost’s Office, indicates when talking about the consensus based decision-making approach the team employed “Community engagement work requires a collaborative leadership approach in order to be successful — one that focuses on relationship-building, robust discussion and the ability to talk through conflicting ideas, and strong consensus-building skills. To live into this principle ourselves, we leveraged that collaborative, horizontal model for our work on the course, with no one having more authority over anyone else on the team. Speaking honestly, there were moments when having a “chair” might have made decision-making faster and easier, but we were convinced that rigorous discussion and consensus-building would lead to a better product in the end. All of us on the course development team happen to be women, and horizontal leadership models are deeply rooted in feminist practice and social justice work — so it’s a point of pride for us that we were able to leverage these approaches in our own work and promote them for other teams to try, too.”


Centering Community Partners Voices

While the sheer size of the team working to produce this MOOC was unusual, the way in which the team incorporated voices is also of note. Kelly Kowatch, Director of Engaged Learning Programs in the School of Information said in a recent University of Michigan Record article written by Nitya Gupta  We also intentionally sought out significant input from student users and community members who are experts on these topics.” It’s true that not only does this MOOC showcase the scholarship of faculty who partner with communities in their teaching and learning, it also amply incorporates students who have had community engagement experiences and could share their lessons learned with future learners. Importantly, it also features community partners themselves presenting their necessary views on topics such as understanding the necessity of and value in community context and expertise, working within a collaborative team communicating effectively, resolving conflicts and managing community engagement projects. Carrie Luke expresses, “It was very important to us to include a wide range of voices and perspectives in the course. We felt that doing so would help the course content speak to a wider and more diverse audience, and it would be more representative of community engagement work itself, where working with and learning from people who are different from you is par for the course.” It is the care and attention the team played to issues of representation that really matters. As the project’s Learning Experience Designer, Rebecca Quintana, PhD said, “The design team was totally committed to their work and it was clear that they cared deeply about the project. The final design reflects their dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”


Creating Something for University of Michigan Students and Global Learners

Danyelle Reynolds, Assistant Director for Student Learning and Leadership in the Edward Ginsberg Center expressed in the Record article about the creation of this learning experience, “We know that properly preparing the thousands of students who have community engagement experiences each year maximizes learning outcomes and community benefit.” Indeed what is compelling about this learning experience is that is designed for both residential and global learners. As Carrie Luke says, “…we realized that the content we were developing had universal qualities that could benefit anyone trying to work with communities beyond their own. We were also deeply committed to the idea that the learning experience should be flexible and personalizable, since learners come to community engagement work from so many contexts and with such varying levels of preparation. The MOOC enabled the broadest accessibility and most flexibility of any format we considered — as well as the additional benefit of global reach thanks to our partnership with the Office of Academic Innovation, EdX, and Michigan Online.” In fact, in the first week of launch, over 1,000 learners from across the world enrolled in the course, while faculty at the University of Michigan reported using it in their classes. As Rebecca Quintana posits, “The Office of Academic Innovation is proud to have this course as part of our portfolio, and we are confident that this course will be a valuable resource for U-M students and others who are engaged in work within various communities, both locally and globally.”

The Community Engagement: Collaborating for Change MOOC proves a large team of professionals with different roles, responsibilities, and situated in different parts of the University of Michigan, can come together to create unique learning experiences on issues and topics that supercede any one department to the benefit of both residential and global learners. This project demonstrates strong cooperation, smart design process, and aspirational goals can be met to deliver a rich learning experience.

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