This week’s readings pushed me to think more concretely about how I will work with my students to engage with contexts outside the classroom. I had already planned to have my 101: Writing About Science and Medicine students produce a final project that would be shared beyond the classroom–something that would be targeted to a specific community for a specific purpose, not simply me and my grade book. Reading articles that gave a wide range of possibilities for what community engagement actually looks like in the classroom led me to realize that, if I want my students to successfully engage with communities, I need to build in that sort of experience in throughout the semester. So, I’ve come up with a new course requirement in order to develop these skills.
Each student will need to identify a community organization or volunteer opportunity that they can engage with, and spend a certain amount of time with the organization–say, 5 “sessions” or 20 hours, or something like that (I need to spend more time thinking through that piece). They can choose their service by going through Volunteer Emory, which offers a lot of opportunities for weekly engagement, service trips over fall and spring breaks, social justice conversations, and so on. They’re also welcome to pursue something else if they clear it with me first. I’ll ask that they choose something coherent with the aims of the class–so, something related to health or medicine, or, broadly, “science”–so sustainability, food issues, or anything else they can make a case for. I’ll ask them to participate in these service communities and to write a series of response papers asking them to apply their work to course themes, analyze the social context and power dynamics of their work, and propose concrete ways that they could use writing to aid or enhance the mission of their community partners. I may also ask them to produce these helpful documents, promotional materials, blog posts, what have you. My hope is that their research papers and final projects will grow out of this engagement, though I won’t require it.
By integrating involvement beyond the classroom community, I’m hoping students will get practice in a variety of genres by imagining real audiences and purposes, not just ones that I’ve fabricated. I’m hoping that they’ll begin to see how research and academic work can be activism, and can be used to concrete ends in the community. Considering that my students will be first year college students, many far from home, I also hope that this requirement will help them make the transition to a new community and to build confidence in their skills.