Teach, Learn, Engage: A Student’s Reflections

Below is an interview with Emily Petty Puckett, a second year master’s student from the University of Michigan iSchool, who will be a panelist for the wildcard session, “Teach, Learn, Engage: Reflections on Community Informatics Curriculum Development” which will take place from 10:30am-noon on February 6, 2010 at the iSchools Conference.

These are her thoughts on Community Informatics (CI) curriculum development.

What expectations did you have in regard to the coursework, extracurricular activities, research, and professional development that you would be involved with when you started the CI program?

I expected this program to provide a comprehensive mixture of experiential learning through extracurricular opportunities with the Community Information Corps (CIC), project-based courses and opportunities for engagement in the Southeast Michigan region. I expected professors teaching in this specialization to introduce students to a broad range of theories that have supported the community informatics professional field, be approachable for career advising, and provide a broad range of opportunities to develop skills in the various subfields of community informatics. I planned on being involved in the CIC as part of my professional development while at the School of Information (SI) and I expected the Kellogg endowed chair to be freely available for consultation and support within the administrative structure of SI. I have been able to participate in research with my adviser and several CI students are engaged in research with professors at our school.

What methods have worked in your experience, and what can be improved upon?

The professors in our specialization do represent a broad swath of professional and theoretical development in the field of CI, including international development, health, open access initiatives, e-governance and e-communities, and archives and information institutions. Our career development office provides a vast amount of support for professional development and supports the CIC’s service and local project partnerships.

Our CIC is currently very student-driven, with little continuity for projects, support, and institutional memory beyond the two year MSI academic term and this presents problems for sustained engagement with communities, partnerships and project opportunities. We currently do not have any mechanisms built in for CIC students to expect to be able to build long-term projects into their degree program that will support the momentum of their individual programs. We also do not have a core set of classes that introduce students to the CI specialization, instead relying heavily on the student group to recruit and manage students’ expectations and interests. We could benefit from a sustained faculty or staff member to “champion” the CIC, in effect, help the students to manage it.

Do you feel the coursework and activities in CI have helped you to learn about the particular needs of diverse communities and how to address them?

Yes. I have taken Information Use in Communities, which was a course that combined historical perspective of community technology centers, information centers, and public access to the internet through public libraries, theory of how to approach information needs in a variety of settings (our focus for the term was on immigrants and their information needs and uses), and case studies of particular experiences with developing information centers in a variety of settings. We developed models for engagement and conducted our own research into information services and specific populations through the course. I have also taken a digital government class that focused on e-governance development, standards, treatment and use in a variety of countries, both developed and developing, local and internationally implemented. Again, this course was a combination of context, theory and practice and students developed poster presentations of methods of information delivery in a civic context. Finally, I am currently enrolled in a course that specifically addresses developing countries and their information and information infrastructure and policy needs and opportunities. There are several other courses I have not been able to take that focus on other populations and activities.

How are you approaching this matter in the Community Informatics Corps Seminar?

Our CIC seminar, which is held every fall, provides further exposure to the variety of professionals working in our field or adjacent ones. The CIC seminar provides students with a brief introduction (through external speakers) of a variety of engagement opportunities and populations addressed through this field. Each year, we invite professionals from the field to talk with the students about their professional experiences and training, and the content of the CIC seminar changes with student interest and input (for example, at the end of the seminar students give feedback on what topics they would like to hear more about and give suggestions for additional topics to address in the next year’s seminar). Students are given the opportunity to join the speaker after the seminar to continue discussing the issues brought up in class and are also given time during the semester to discuss the course with their peers in class. We also occasionally introduce opportunities for engagement in the course, for example the Fall 2009 seminar included researching and developing policy recommendations for President Obama’s National Education Technology Plan in part of an effort to increase students’ experience with policy-making as well as to interact with a working committee that was simultaneously developing a policy for Obama that was presented in January 2010.

-Suzanne Im

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