Ellen Goldey

9 Steps to Designing a SENCER Model Course in About an Hour*

by Ellen Goldey, Associate Professor of Biology, Wofford College

This exercise is to help teams imagine and design courses, learning communities (LCs), and/or other curricular programs that foster civic engagement by teaching “through” multidisciplinary, complex, civic issues. Funded by the National Science Foundation, SENCER seeks to develop an active curiosity and deeper understanding of both the efficacy and limitations of science and mathematics in dealing with such issues.

  1. OVERVIEW (TIME: About 5 Minutes):
    The facilitator(s) will summarize the directions provided below.
  2. FORMING GROUPS (TIME: About 5 Minutes):
    “Sort” into interdisciplinary groups of 3 or 4 people. Please be willing to quickly move your chairs, etc. to form your group. CHOOSE a timekeeper who needs to start keeping track of time NOW. Each person should have a stack of sticky notes and a marker and each team should have a sheet or two of flip chart paper for your final poster.
  3. BRAINSTORM POSSIBLE THEMES (TIME: About 5-10 Minutes):
    Take some time to SILENTLY brainstorm in response to the following question: If you had the opportunity to teach about a capacious civic issue, which ISSUES might intrigue you AND your students? Put EACH of your ideas on a separate sticky note. Be sure to write large enough for others to read your note from a distance of a few feet. DON’T comment (verbally or non-verbally) on each other’s ideas now. Consider issues that you think are important for all students (i.e., citizens of this locale, region, nation, and/or planet) to understand and engage in, and try not to be constrained by your own expertise in identifying these themes.
  4. CHOOSE YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE AND ONE THEME TO DEVELOP (TIME: About 5 Minutes):
    As a group, decide on your target audience (e.g., first-year, developmental, non-science majors, seniors, etc.), and come to consensus on one theme/civic issue that you will develop as your group’s SENCER model. If your group members have widely divergent interests, simply take a leap of faith and settle on one of the themes.
  5. ESTABLISH YOUR DESIRED LEARNING OUTCOMES (TIME: About 10 Minutes):
    Given an imaginary quarter, semester or year in which your group was teaching around this theme, brainstorm and settle on 3-4 primary learning outcomes (each) for: a) your students to achieve, and b) you and your faculty colleagues to achieve. Try to move beyond “gaining broader content knowledge” as a learning outcome.
  6. IDENTIFY RESOURCES (TIME: About 5 Minutes):
    Will your team use a single course, LC, or other type of program to implement the theme? Brainstorm courses, disciplines, faculty members, staff members, undergraduate preceptors, external/internal experts, and community resources that might contribute expertise/passion to engaging in the theme, and write down your ideas.
  7. ENVISION THE PROCESS (TIME: About 10 Minutes):
    Brainstorm ideas for implementing your model. Think of field experiences, concepts, authors, literature (of various types), films, dramatic performances, research projects, and novel teaching methods that might ACTIVELY engage students in the theme (don’t let limited budgets constrain your ideas). Put EACH idea on a separate sticky note to later arrange them for the poster.
  8. MAKE A SUMMARY POSTER OF YOUR MODEL (TIME: About 10-15 Minutes):
    Use your markers and a sheet of flip chart paper to distill out and summarize some of the key ideas and/or activities in your design that might underpin a real opportunity for students. Make sure your poster includes at least some of the following: a title that portrays your theme, the target audience, learning outcomes, basic model structure (course, LC, or program?), embedded disciplines, resources, and proposed activities for implementation.
  9. SHARE YOUR POSTER WITH THE LARGER GROUP (TIME: About 2-3 Minutes!):
    Any member of your group is free to take your poster home.

*This exercise, modified for use at the SENCER pre-conference workshop of the Association for Integrative Studies conference in October 2004 (contact Ellen Goldey at goldeyes@wofford.edu), is modeled after the Designing a Learning Community in an Hour heuristic developed by Jean MacGregor and Barbara Smith.

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