Sunday, April 29, 2012

Community-based Team Project Reflections: Introduction

Darcy Lear and me at a recent conference. Whenever I think of teamwork I think of  the ways in which Darcy and I work together--officially and unofficially--on co-authored articles, curriculum design and program management. The process is not always pleasant, but the outcomes are always better than what either one of us would have achieved on our own. That's what teamwork is all about.
by Ann Abbott

I am often asked what the difference is between my "Spanish in the Community" course (SPAN 232) and my "Spanish and Social Entrepreneurship" (SPAN 332) course. Here is the answer:

SPAN 232 “Spanish in the Community”
SPAN 332 “Spanish & Social Entrepreneurship”
CSL work
28 hours
28 hours
Course content
General introduction to CSL, immigration issues, and working in professional contexts
Introduction to social entrepreneurship with focus on linguistically and culturally appropriate programming
On-line listening comprehension quizzes
On-line quizzes based on textbook content
Reflective essays
Reflective essays
Two in-class exams
Two take-home exams
Team project

Community-based team project

As you can see, structurally, the two courses are very similar. However the content differs as well as how it is treated. "Spanish in the Community" covers a very broad range of topics; with that breadth, there can only be so much depth. In "Spanish and Social Entrepreneurship" we narrow the focus to one topic--social entrepreneurship--and go deeper into subtopics--income generation, linguistically and culturally appropriate programming, etc.--using many different case studies. Furthermore, the expectations increase in "Spanish & Social Entrepreneurship." Students should have a deeper understanding of the local Latino immigrant community through their second semester of CSL work, and that should be evident in their critical analysis skills.

One totally new course element is added to "Spanish & Social Entrepreneurship": community-based team projects.

Through their regular 28 hours of CSL work, students are continuously meeting community-identified needs. The community-based team project, however, allows them to tackle a different community-identified need and/or in a different way. It also is an opportunity for students to develop their teamwork skills and take on leadership roles.

Here is an outline of how the process works in my course:

  1. Identify project-sized community-identified needs. I solicit project ideas from my community partners and combine those with project opportunities that I identify. For example, I know that every spring, one of our community partners (ECIRMAC) hosts a fundraising dinner that requires a lot of coordination, a lot of legwork and a lot of communication. So every spring, that dinner becomes one of the team projects. In that example, I identified a way to help a community partner. Other projects are ones that will help me better meet our community partners' needs. For example, forming a team that helps market our Spanish CSL courses helps me ensure that we have a large source of students--and the right kind of students--to work with our community partners. Project ideas are all around!
  2. Teach about team projects and teamwork. I dedicate one class period toward the beginning of the semester to teach students about the benefits (and bothers!) of team projects. It is a fun class in which they actually do small-scale teamwork projects. (This class is based on the ideas of Cheelan Bolin from our Center for Teaching Excellence.) At the end of the class, students vote for how they want to form their teams, and I form one "team" that analyzes the votes and communicates the results to the other students and me. (The majority always wants to form their own teams.)
  3. Allow teams to select their projects. Once students form their own teams, they then read the list of team projects I list on our course wiki and sign up for the project they choose. They can propose their own project if they want.
  4. Dedicate class time to team projects. Throughout the semester, I used some time during class for teams to sit together, talk to each other and plan. Sometimes I told them to post on our Facebook page about what they had accomplished and what they still needed to accomplish. Students need both time and accountability.
  5. Celebrate teams' work. Whenever a team completes their project, or a part of it, I post something on our Facebook page if I can and invite them to the front of the classroom to talk about their experiences and outcomes. 
  6. Grade the teams. Each team member will grade his/herself and their other team members using a common rubric. They will also upload all their finished materials (if any were produced) to our course management site. I am almost always very satisfied with students' work, even if there were some failures along the way, so the grading is usually not difficult. 
  7. Reflect on the team's process and products. During class last week I asked students to reflect critically upon their community-based team project. We used the same framework as usual: What? So what? and Now what? The team members divvied up the work and wrote for fifteen minutes on their section of the reflection essay. They submitted their individual paragraphs. Now I will compile those paragraphs into a series of reflections for this blog. I hope that the reflection process was helpful for the students who wrote them, but I also hope that they will help other Spanish CSL instructors think about the role of teamwork and projects in their own courses.

No comments:

Post a Comment