On Thursday the 21st of October, the seven participants of the VUB Learning Community gathered in the former factory buildings of Art Basics for Children, an organisation with a strong vision on curiosity-driven and interactive learning. This proved to be the perfect spot for our first Learning Circle of the year. Our participants come from very diverse disciplinary backgrounds: advanced material studies, social work, archeology & art history, sport sociology, labour market sociology, urban ecology and pedagogics. Some of them have yearlong experience with community engagement, others are curious and ambitious to learn everything about it.
We kicked of with an interactive drawing exercise. What happens when participants are asked to draw an animal together, one line at the time, in complete silence? Although unclear and slightly awkward in the beginning, there comes a certain point after a while where everyone sees “ah, of course, it’s a fish!” (or a catfish and rep fish, in our case). This exercise sparked interesting debates about how it is to participate with community partners in CERL projects: the importance of clear communication, having a shared understanding of the goals, how to deal with unexpected changes or frustrations, … and the satisfaction when the project succeeds.
In our group, we sensed a strong common desire to change certain outdated research and educational practices and co-create new ways of knowing and doing in the university from the inside out. To be able to navigate this ambitious project, we’ve brainstormed around 3 key concepts within CERL: (Re)imagination, relationships, participation. They will be used as key concepts in the following sessions. At the end of the session, we were taken on a very interesting guided tour through the ABC buildings, showing us how they put their educational vision into practice. Big thanks to our community partner EAT vzw to supply us with a delicious meal at the end of the session!
The second session of this semester took place on the 7th of December. The key first key concept we’ve explored together was Participation. Initially, we had planned for an interactive walk through the Brussels city centre, visiting some of our community partners in situ. De changing pandemic situation once again came around to ruin the party, unfortunately. The walk was postponed (not delayed, we promise!) and replaced by an interactive digital session. Thankfully, some of our community partners showed up non the less and shared some of their experiences with working with university partners.
Ciara and Lina from Urban Youth Games talked about how they promote inclusion through sports for children. How do children perceive inclusion? Where do they pick up certain racist stereotypes and how can these be countered through sports? University students can help to design exercises and playbooks that help to answer these questions. Tim from BRAL convincingly argued against a romantic approach to co-creation that aims to satisfy all the actors involved. He stressed that there needs to be framework of goals and values that that is non-negotiable and that specifies the limits of co-creation. Marion and Jean – Michel from ARAU talked about their organisations goal to use conflict as a way to improve public debate and reach more transparency in public decision making. They saw a great potential for collaboration with university actors to co-write project proposals, exchange about academic narratives on urban issues or organise certain public events.
During the second part of the session we touched upon the who, why and how of participation in CERL project. An interactive plotting exercise stimulated debate about similar concepts such as citizen science, co-create projects or living labs. Also, building upon the well-known model of the participation ladder, we highlighted that different levels of participation (such as informing, actively involving or even empowering) are likely to vary during different stages of a project. Once more a lot of enriching and engaged conversations during this session. We wish everyone a warm end of the year period and are looking forward to more CERL learning next year!
Learning is less a solitary act of individuals but rather is distributed among people, their tools, and communication media, history, and the artifacts they create. Knowledge exists not only in the heads of learners, but also in the conversations and social relations among collaborators. (Jonassen, Strobel, & Lee, 2006:144)