Communication/College of Humanities
Exploring Food Justice Through Collaborative Teaching and Community Engaged Learning
Faculty Mentor: Ann Darling - Communication/College of Humanities
Community engagement has become a buzzword across higher education; many colleges and universities now include special designations for these kinds of courses in general education curricula. Basic courses within communication, with their emphasis on skills-building, topical content, as well as introductions to core disciplinary concepts offer great opportunities for students and instructors to connect with community partners in an effort to apply classroom knowledge to address community needs. I am specifically interested in issues of food justice, and seek to integrate these in nearly every course I teach. Through programs like the Social Soup Lecture & Discussion Series and the Bennion Center’s Hunger Banquet, the University of Utah has great opportunities for students to connect with community partners working for food justice. Collaborative teaching can be a beneficial way for instructors to work together when looking to introduce community-engaged learning into their classes. This approach helps new instructors develop new teaching skills in a supportive environment where they can share resources, exchange best practices, and collaborate as they build innovative course offerings.
For my TA Scholars project, I would like to utilize a new approach to collaborative teaching in an effort to connect more students to food justice on and off campus. Rather than collaborating with another instructor to teach a singular class, I will be working with another TA Scholar, Melinda Krakow to foster collaboration between a journalism course and a social justice course, each taught by one of us. This newnew approach to collaborative teaching will be done by incorporating community engagement as a core objective in two basic communication courses. We will be collaborating in redesigning and planning each course to foster connections among students between the two courses, as they work together on food justice projects.
Specifically, we are working to develop complementary course syllabi and teaching materials, and designing class projects around the principles of community engaged learning, with food justice as a central issue. We both feel strong about this topic, and feel that it invites students to explore issues of food quality and access, nutrition, and hunger through the specific content for each course, while simultaneously connecting them to the other course.
We are organizing each class to mimic the activities of an applied setting; the social justice course was organized as an advocacy group and the journalism course was organized as a newsroom. This structure invited students to envision themselves as real participants in the promotion and reporting of food justice issues throughout the semester, and allowed them to connect with students from the other course. Throughout the Fall 2012 semester, both classes are attending food-related social justice events on campus (including 3 Social Soup events, as well as the Hunger Banquet held annually by the Bennion Center). Together, our students will be building a collaborative blog featuring their work and commentary. Journalism students in Melinda’s class will compose various types of news stories covering the events, while social justice students in my class will compose blog-style event reviews. Students from the opposite course provided commentary on other students’ work, allowing each to experience giving and receiving real-time feedback in a public forum.
In the Spring 2013 semester, Melinda and I will be working on analysis of student course feedback and other reflections, as well as our teaching notes. We will use this data to develop several research projects, as well as a handbook of best practices for collaborative teaching and community engaged learning in the communication discipline. We would like to distribute our handbook in the Communication department as well as throughout the campus through the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence. The handbook will include information regarding the pedagogical background that informs our project, as well as practical steps and resources for instructors wishing to develop similar teaching approaches in any discipline or department. We will also develop the handbook into a conference presentation, in order to share our experiences with members of the teaching community more generally.
Collaborative teaching and community engaged learning go hand-in-hand, and may not require two instructors working in the same classroom. I believe collaborating between groups of students in separate courses (course that are rarely, if ever, connected to one another), benefits both sets of students as well as the instructors.
For students, this project has several benefits. Studies show that students’ retention of course material, as well as personal connection to content improves in a traditional collaborative teaching environment. As I am trying to connect separate courses through collaborative learning objectives related to food justice, there should be a greater retention and connection to content between the two courses. That is, journalism students should gain insight into social justice, and vice versa. Furthermore, students benefit from getting to know and working with those in the other course, as well as our community partners. As both sets of students are contributing to a blog that appears live on the Internet, they also benefit from real-time interaction with the public, as well as work that could be used in portfolios when they seek jobs.
For instructors, benefits are consonant with those indicated for traditional forms of collaborative teaching: shared resources, shared time in planning/teaching, etc. However, there is also the added benefit of exposure to one another’s teaching style, area(s) of expertise as well as content from the other course. On a larger scale, beyond the Department of Communication, a second aim of the project is to provide an example of this teaching approach for instructors from other courses and disciplines at the university who are interested in bringing community engaged learning to their own classrooms. For this reason, this project provides practical instructions and resources for those seeking to develop a course in this manner. Our handbook will walk instructors through the process of setting up a class and provide suggestions for how to pair up with fellow instructors when teaching a community engaged course for the first time.