Community Learning Network Draws on Temple’s Strengths
— Eli Goldblatt, Professor of English, CLA
Eli Goldblatt ,
Professor of English, CLA
For years, faculty, staff and students at Temple have been developing projects with partner organizations in the North Philadelphia community and elsewhere in the region. Barbara Ferman in Political Science built the University Community Collaborative of Philadelphia into a vibrant leadership program for youth in partnership with organizations focused on revitalizing neighborhoods. Lori Pompa of Criminal Justice grew Inside/Out into a nationally recognized program that brings college students and incarcerated adults together in local prisons to study the American penal system and other crucial issues. Tyler’s Billy Yalowitz directed college and high school students in the North Star dance and theater presentations at the Church of the Advocate in collaboration with the group Art Sanctuary. His colleague Pepon Osorio paired Temple students with families in North and South Philadelphia to create art works steeped in family histories and displayed in the participants’ own homes. Fred (Ali) Snead on the maintenance staff has long worked with the Honors Program to support after school tutoring and other activities at the Police Athletic League (PAL) center in his neighborhood at 17th and Brown. The Health Science campus harbors a number of research and service projects engaged with communities throughout Philadelphia.
Too often, however, the surrounding neighborhood regards Temple as aloof and uncaring in our isolated enclave. We have never before pooled our efforts, as we are beginning to do now under Provost Lisa Staiano-Coico and President Ann Hart, to make Metro Engagement a recognized element of our campus culture.
The Community Learning Network is a university-wide initiative of the Faculty Senate Committee on Community-Based Learning and Collaboration. The Network is supported by funds from the Provost’s office as well as the General Education Curriculum. It will oversee the development of coursework at three levels of community engagement (see graphic) and will facilitate partnerships to place students at sites where they can pursue meaningful projects that help them understand academic material in concrete ways. Along with the Teaching and Learning Center, we will help faculty connect their course objectives with the resources and challenges in the city or countryside around our campuses. The Network will also work closely with programs like Leadership Development in Student Affairs and other non-academics units to see that interested students can flow in a variety of pathways among co-curricular activities, courses, internships and research projects at senior centers, schools, arts organizations, neighborhood gardens, museums, churches, nature centers and other exciting sites.
We call our work “community-based learning” because we do not follow the “service” model that grew popular in the ‘90s. Clearly many of our projects will aim to help disenfranchised people or foster economic development or promote healthier conditions in stressed areas. And yet our emphasis is on reciprocity, on mutual benefit, on learning through principled action. Our goal is to support study and work that bring advantages to both university and community partners, encourage productive dialogue among all the populations that share our geographic home, and promote research that draws on multiple disciplines to identify and address pressing challenges for the people and ecology of the Delaware Valley or wherever a Temple program is located.
We call ourselves a “network” because Temple already has so many independent projects that it didn’t make sense to identify a single “center.” Nearly every week we find another person or group at Temple doing an interesting project in the surrounding area, or we find a non-profit that would like to develop a relationship with a unit on our campus. The organization needed to be nodal; autonomous units and intense alliances have developed into a web of connected concentrations of activity over the last twenty years or more. Inventiveness among the faculty is driving the creation of the Network, and the energy generated from university/community collaborations will sustain it.
Watch for the website we are developing at
Questions from the Herald:
HERALD: What exactly is “community-based learning” and how are you going to help faculty design and implement CBL courses?
EG: A CBL course involves students both in academic study and practical interaction with people and organizations applying the concepts students encounter in the classroom. Traditionally such courses involve people in under-resourced neighborhoods or programs with a social justice agenda. However, especially in the first two levels of CBL we have defined, the emphasis is on making connections and discovering possibilities in the world outside the campus, and so we encourage cooperative projects with historically significant churches such as St. George’s Methodist or Mother Bethel AME. A CBL course:
• connects scholarship to engagement with the needs of people and communities
• arises from genuine partnerships with local organizations
• requires fieldwork based on projects rather than concepts, and inquiry rather than pre-determined agendas
Students must be evaluated not only on the knowledge they acquire but also on the quality and care of their reflections about experience. In many ways CBL reflects a Deweyan approach to education.
The Teaching and Learning Center has been working closely with us to support faculty development in this pedagogy. We are still recruiting for a teaching circle of faculty that will meet 5-6 times next semester to develop CBL courses they can teach next year. Each participant will receive a $500 stipend and an additional $500 to offer one community partner with whom they intend to collaborate (please see attached description and application). Beyond this, our Partnership and Placement Coordinator Rachel Howe will be working with faculty on finding the right site for their students to work. Mike Norton, our graduate assistant who has a great deal of experience with service learning programs, will also be advising faculty. Of course I will be available as much as possible to help people think through the details and see the larger vision of what some call “engaged scholarship.”
HERALD: What if I teach about places far away, or times long past, or arts not easily or amply collected in area museums, or scientific theories best shown on a blackboard or in a lab. Let's say the topic of the day is Robert Boyle and the air pump, string theory, or medieval as opposed to modern church architecture. How does community-based learning enhance my courses, or even apply to what I do?
CBL isn’t for everyone, but you might be surprised. For example, not 4 blocks away from campus is the Wagner Free Institute of Science (www.wagnerfreeinstitute.org), an incredible museum that hasn’t changed appreciably since its establishment in the late nineteenth century. The Wagner is devoted to presenting the material case for Darwin’s idea of evolution, but it is often the first—and sometimes the only—museum that kids in North Central Philadelphia ever visit. What if we could develop a project in which students from a biology class give tours to local school groups about the collection? We haven’t worked anything like that out with the museum yet because no one in the life sciences has come forward with such an idea, and maybe the Wagner doesn’t expect much from its big old neighbor down the street. I do know at least two graduate students and a faculty member in English working on projects about 19th century discourse of science at the Wagner. As a part of Gen Ed’s Philadelphia Experience, faculty from Intellectual Heritage/Mosaic take their students to the Wagner regularly. We could teach the rhetoric of sermons in collaboration with local ministers, or body mechanics in cooperation with a sports teams at one of the 17 PAL centers in the city. I imagine the Franklin Institute has a couple of air pumps that college students could study and then use to develop a lesson on oxygen for 5th graders, but it would have to start with a partnership with the Franklin Institute and a need they have in serving their constituency. This is what I mean by inventiveness and mutual benefit.
HERALD: Why should we need to get our students out of the classroom to learn when we have such notorious attendance problems? Doesn't this send the wrong message?
Why would we have an attendance problem, a plagiarism problem, or a classroom behavior problem in college? Do we have a problem with students investing in their studies? Perhaps the wrong message we’re sending is that the world parses neatly into departments of knowledge. Do you know any problem—academic or practical—that can be understood these days from the standpoint of a single traditional discipline alone? In my field of literacy studies, or in Writing Across the Curriculum, the walls have begun to come down about what we study INSIDE and what we encounter OUTSIDE, whose language should be standard or primary, which discourse counts as “academic.” This is something more than the ‘60’s call for “relevance,” but the impulse is the same even if the scale is larger. Whether you teach in a big lecture hall or the cinderblock rec center of a housing project, students are asking the same questions. How does knowledge connect to action? How are events shaped by history? Where is your science in my neighborhood, on my street, or in my soup? As faculty, we value our studies implicitly, but students want to experience the context we keep referring to but seldom show, except in video clips or lab demonstrations. I’m not asking us to tear down Gladfelter or Ritter Halls, but we may be pleased by what we learn when we open the windows and doors and let air flow in and out of our campuses.
Voters and state legislators throughout the country have become less willing to fund universities they increasingly do not understand. Our scholarship no longer automatically earns respect simply because professors garner awards, pile up publication lists, or attract grant money. In this climate, we need to show that our courses and research have meaningful connections to the people we live among, but this need not be a bad turn of events. I am not talking about mere public relations, and I am not mounting an anti-intellectual attack on specialized study. We simply need to be better at articulating the function of knowledge creation and conservation within this economic and cultural moment. Granted we are one of Philadelphia’s largest employers, but how does Temple enrich the lives of Philadelphians or Pennsylvanians? I can think of a hundred ways we could answer that question, but do we value our “service” publically or within our academic culture? We need to help each other understand and, I hope, act on the “Metro Engagement” we have officially embraced.
Information about the Community-Based Learning Teaching Circle
The teaching circle is a joint program of Temple's Community Learning Network and Teaching and Learning Center.
Application deadline: Submit proposal by Tuesday, January 19, 2010.
Submit proposal to: Carol Philips, firstname.lastname@example.org
Associate Director TLC, Circle Facilitator
Funding for participants: Participating faculty members will receive a $1000 stipend; five hundred dollars will be awarded to faculty members and the other $500 will be awarded to their community partners.
The Teaching Circle will convene regularly over the spring semester 2010 on the following six Friday mornings from 10:00-11:30:
February 12 & 26
April 9 & 30.
At meetings, faculty will learn more about course design and best teaching practices while developing their own courses with support from each other, the facilitator, and the Network staff. In addition, group members will meet regularly with their community partners and with student advisors who will contribute their own ideas and feedback to the course design.
By the end of the circle, participants will have designed a course that could be launched in fall 2010 or spring 2011. They will have the opportunity to present their syllabi and to offer guidance to interested members of the Temple community.
Require students to spend a minimum of either 10 (for an integrative designation) or 20 (for a collaborative one) hours outside the classroom working on a community based project or program;
Respond to a need articulated by the community;
Provide benefits to both students and community partners;
Include community partners and student advisors in the course design process.
Please contact the TLC for further information