Make the world your classroom: Public Engagement Network
By Briony Fleming, on 15 May 2018
On the 25th April, together with the Arena Centre, the Public Engagement Unit hosted their most recent network meeting. The event was focussed on Public Engagement in the curriculum and we heard from a range of speakers outlining their experiences of trying to embed engagement work in their teaching.
Gemma Moore presented her experiences designing and delivering a completely new engagement-centred core module as part of the Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings. She spoke of being influenced by Colin Ward’s 1973 work ‘Streetwork: the exploding school’ which explored teaching beyond the classroom and looking at the urban environment around us as a perfect location for learning in and from. Gemma’s module worked with students on a project measuring noise-pollution in communities around Heathrow. Supporting them to undertake work with local communities to inform their approaches, she noted the need for there to be departmental support and a recognition of the time it takes to embed engagement in the curriculum in this way, but highlighted why this approach matters to students and the positive impact it will have on their post-university careers.
We also heard from Thomas Kador, senior teaching fellow in UCL Culture, who spoke on co-producing public facing modules. He highlighted how his student struggled with the idea of a ‘notional’ audience and then his approach to give them a real one to work with (and the wider practical and ethical issues this raises). Whilst highlighting the clear benefit to students in this type of work he raised the issue of how the public audience benefit and the ‘real-world’ value of what is created. How do we ensure it is not a ‘rent-a-crowd’ approach but rather how engagement in the curriculum can build in reciprocity, and noting the additional time and resources this takes?
Manni Bhatti also highlighted the appeal to students of working on something that has explicit ‘real-world’ impact, speaking of her experience working on integrated engineering challenges which connected students in the UK and Chile to solve issues resulting from the earthquake there. Students, she feels, become quickly forgetful of public impact if not working directly with the public. Like Thomas, she noted the connected curriculum as a way of engagement work taking place, but stressed the need for top-down buy in to make this happen departmentally.
Finally we heard from Nick Grindle from Arena, who told us about the approach in the USA of service learning ‘Capstone’ projects and his feeling that this approach was likely to grow in the UK. He said “raw Public Engagement at a university level, is really rare” but acknowledged the ways in which it supported good practice in teaching. He highlighted a key issue with engagement in the curriculum being that it is not measured; that it would always ‘fall off the list’ compared to other elements of teaching that departments are measured on.
The discussion that followed covered issues from generating departmental buy-in, to ensuring that engagement work is not tokenistic. We asked what would help embed engagement in the curriculum and had a range responses, from creating a searchable database of who to approach for support, to creating a map on where to go and what to do. We love to hear your opinions on what would help and so if you have any ideas please drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also apply for our Beacon Bursary funding to help get things started.
UCL Public Engagement Network sessions bring together all kinds of people who are interested in public engagement: whether you’re an old hand or a complete novice please bring your experience and questions to what we hope will be lively, thought-provoking and participatory sessions.