Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Reaching the Summit: Explorations in Meaningful Learning through Community Engagement International Higher Education Teaching and Learning (HETL) - Scholarship of Teaching and Engagement (SoTE) Conference, Utah Valley University, Orem UT, 20-22 January 2015

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Reaching the Summit: Explorations in Meaningful Learning through Community Engagement International Higher Education Teaching and Learning (HETL) - Scholarship of Teaching and Engagement (SoTE) Conference, Utah Valley University, Orem UT, 20-22 January 2015

Article excerpt

Reporting from a conference on higher education teaching and learning for a planning journal is perhaps uncommon. However, the 3rd International HETL conference co-organised with the annual Scholarship of Teaching and Engagement meeting at Utah Valley University (UVU) addressed an issue of ever increasing importance for universities of the 21st century: learning through community engagement. Which or what communities, who is learning and what kind of engagement was left open, which allowed for multiple perspectives to be addressed.

Universities have traditionally engaged with society and community for purposes of research, knowledge exchange and dissemination. In fact, Bourner (2008, 26) suggested that western universities are defined by a tripartite mission consisting of 'the higher education of students, the advancement of knowledge [through research] and service to those outside the walls of the university'. Community-based, engaged learning in the form of, for example, service-learning, internships or live projects is mainly associated with the educational and external service elements of this overarching mission. Students tend to enjoy the experiential and authentic learning experiences provided through such engagements, which allow them to apply curricula based knowledge to real world problems. Community-based engaged learning is pedagogically valuable and can also provide benefits to the communities in which it is situated.

Community engagement and community-based, engaged learning occurs across all subjects and disciplines - although it is undoubtedly more prevalent in some, including planning. Indeed, planning academics frequently engage in a variety of communities for research or to provide expert support, while a significant number of course curricula include forms of community engaged learning. In the UK a typical pedagogy in this context are live projects, for which students conduct research and consultancy type work for a charity, community group or local authority, for example. Such activities are ideal to prepare students for future employment as well as to introduce the concept of collaborative planning. Yet, while community engagement in teaching and learning is practiced, there are few occasions to share experiences aside from the occasional session on co-learning, community participation activities in curricula or democratisation of planning in traditional planning conferences. Thus, this conference provided a unique opportunity for sharing practices across disciplines as well as for deeper discussions around emerging approaches and thinking in community engagement and learning not only amongst educators, but also between educators and university leaders.

The conference's thought-provoking premise was that in the globalised, highly interconnected and simultaneously fragmented world in which we live in, educators will have to rethink how to prepare students to lead meaningful lives, economically, personally and socially. Invoking Hoy and Johnson's (2013) vision of an emerging future for higher education institutions which challenges students to be more engaged and self-directed in all aspects of their learning and development and institutions to become more engaged with the wider community in which they exist - delegates were invited to explore how to foster community engagement to be transformative, integrated and beneficial for all.

The conference was book-ended with plenary sessions by high profile speakers who underscored the breadth of the conference theme '...meaningful learning through community engagement' with different interpretations. For example, Milton Cox (Miami University, Oxford, OH, USA) focused on communities within the university among teaching staff - or rather - the general lack of community in academic culture suggesting that this sets a poor precedent for students. Nevertheless if learning communities (also labelled as 'communities of practice') among teaching staff are formed they were found to be useful and contributing to the enhancement of teaching, learning and research as well as organisational development. …

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