Saturday, July 02, 2005

Education and Civic Engagement

I've developed a bit of an interest in civic engagement since I started reading the weblog of Prof. Peter Levine. His recent overview of the civic renewal movement describes some very important and exciting projects, from deliberative democracy and social software (like blogs and wikis) to education and "the engaged university". It's inspiring stuff. I was lucky enough to meet and talk with Christchurch Mayor Garry Moore yesterday, and he expressed some interest when I raised the latter idea, inviting me to send him some more information/resources on the topic. So I've spent today researching the matter. Here's what I came up with:

A good online resource is the Campus Compact Advanced Toolkit. It defines the engaged university thusly:
An engaged campus is one that is consciously committed to reinvigorating the democratic spirit and community engagement in all aspects of its campus life: students, faculty, staff and the institution itself... Community engagement includes service learning, which integrates community service into academic study, gives students an opportunity to improve their citizenship skills, and renews the faculty member's enthusiasm for teaching... The engaged campus is not just located within a community, it is intimately connected to the public purposes and aspirations of community life itself.

Another important entry page to the CCAT website looks at how to get a campus thinking about civic engagement:
A multi-dimensional approach is best because different members of the campus community will have different motivations or concerns about engagement or will respond to different kinds of incentives and rewards... it helps to understand what motivates people, faculty in particular, to involve themselves in scholarly work related to civic engagement...

The importance of campus engagement is highlighted here:
The Engaging Communities and Campuses program focuses on the ways that private colleges and universities engage with off-campus communities both to enhance student learning and (simultaneously) to assist community organizations and residents in meeting their own agendas. The overall project revolves around the following premise: To prepare students for a lifetime of contribution to society, colleges must enable students to connect with the world beyond the campus — and the interests of those communities — while still enrolled in an educational program.

The above program has released a concise yet comprehensive document [.PDF] which "presents our best present understanding of what should be addressed as institutions and communities engage more interdependently with each other." They also offer the Effective Practices Exchange:
a collection of brief descriptions of successful initiatives that promote student learning beyond the campus and also serve community interests. Included practices have been drawn from service-learning programs, internships, community-based research, and other forms of off-campus experiential learning, as well as partnerships with community organizations or businesses that support student learning.

Another document [.PDF] they offer looks at campus engagement from the perspective of community leaders. This one is perhaps the most relevant for local government representatives, especially pages 10-13 which examine the costs and benefits to community partners of engaging with universities. (I should note that their conclusions are not entirely positive.) In light of these findings, pages 16-17 look at seven "recommendations and implications for practice and policy".

Another document of interest is the Imagining Your State "Tool Kit for Building Regional Campus-Community Networks" [PDF]. I especially recommend pages 17-19, which look at "five areas absolutely central to the quality of local community life that cry out for assistance from an alliance between the arts community and the humanities community with an active role played by institutions of higher education", spanning from democratic participation to literacy and technology.

One site that explicitly targets local government is the International Association of Educating Cities, whose introductory brochure is available here: [.PDF]
Every city is a source of education. The city not only educates through its traditional educational institutions and cultural initiatives, but also through its town planning, environmental policies, media, productive fabric and private companies, etc.

The Educating City, aware of the educative impact at the core of so many of the activities taking place there, has acquired a stern commitment to fomenting, through its policies, information flows that are understandable to all its inhabitants, the participation of its diverse communities in city life, the peaceful coexistence amongst its inhabitants, as well as civic-minded attitudes, health, sustainability, etc. These are policies which, little by little, have been transforming the city into a better place for all its inhabitants, a place that is more democratic, socially integrating and caring.

The association appears to be especially well-represented in Europe. Adelaide is the only Australian member. It might be rather neat if Christchurch were to join our sister city as the first New Zealand member of the association.

Pages 7-8 look at some specific projects that member cities have engaged in. Adelaide's "Young Voices" programme, aimed at encouraging youth participation, sounds quite valuable. I'm also intrigued by the example from Tampere:
Within the framework of the Knowledge Society, Tampere (Finland, pop. 200,000) has been designing a programme for the development of, and accessibility to, new technologies. Thanks to this programme, a myriad of Internet access points have been set up throughout the city, offering support and training to persons who need it while promoting the social integration of community groups that are at risk of exclusion. At the same time, Tampere has included within this digital environment the possibility of bringing the city administration closer to the individual, making it more transparent by organising a solid, wideranging communications network and boosting citizen participation through the Internet.

This reminds me of city projects to construct city-wide WiFi networks to make high-speed internet freely (or cheaply) available to the public. The University of Pennsylvania business school has an excellent overview of the issue here:
At issue are the following questions: Are broadband services better handled by the public or private sector? Can a wireless broadband network, commonly known as Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), be used to help more low-income people gain online access, bridging what is commonly known as the digital divide? Will projects become caught up in politics? Should Internet access be viewed as city infrastructure, like telephone poles or city streets?

P.S. Getting back to the issue of campus engagement, I would point out that the Golden Key International Honour Society - which I have some involvement with - might serve as a suitable student liaison. Their mentoring programme is an excellent example of the worthwhile (and fun!) contributions that students can make in their communities. [Update: the Youth Forum sounds neat too.]


  1. Hmm Sounds interesting and yet I fear it is not the best way to approach such issues.

    ie it will just result in a few catch phrases and some "tacked on" ways of adressing problems.
    Either that or I'm just being moody.


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