Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Transformational learning in LIBS 201: Writing Social Justice


On the first day of class in September, students in Jan Bone’s Fall 2011 Writing Social Justice course in Schaumburg (Liberal Studies 201) did not know they had signed up for a course that could include transformational learning. However, more than two thirds of them opted to take part in the transformational project on domestic violence. The rest of the class studied an alternative curriculum on immigration issues. Those that chose to be a part of transformational learning were paired with contacts provided by Agnes Masnik, Illinois State Senator Matt Murphy’s district director and secretary of the Northwest Suburban Alliance on Domestic Violence, headquartered in Palatine and near the Roosevelt/Schamburg campus. The contacts Masnik provided to students were all members of the Alliance and are committed to promoting prevention of domestic violence.

Over the 2011 summer, Bone and Masnik met several times to coordinate how to make the partnership between Roosevelt University students and the Alliance work effectively for everyone involved. Together they hatched the idea of creating blog postings where student authors would write-up their interviews with participating members of the Alliance. Bone and Masnik both spoke highly of their experiences working together on the transformational learning portion of the course; each wanted to give the other lots of credit for her work.

The 16 students who chose to partner with an Alliance member or agency went through a process of choosing a partner, requesting an interview with them, interviewing them, preparing questions, and actually interviewing. Interview questions were prepped as a class assignment and reviewed by Bone before the students met their individual contacts.

Students learned a great deal about interviewing skills as well as skills geared toward writing up an acceptable short interview report for their blogs on the Alliance website. Bone talked with her students about audience and purpose and the need to consider both when interviewing and writing up the material. Each interview piece went through multiple revisions with the help of Bone and Masnik before being published on the blog. Besides the end goal of posting their work on the Alliance’s blog, the students also were working to finish their pieces as a promotional timed to run concurrently and shortly after the Domestic Violence awareness event co-sponsored by Roosevelt and the Alliance called “Break the Silence on Relationship Violence” held on October 27th at the Schaumburg campus.

The partnership between Bone’s students and the members of the Alliance was at times complicated, but it was also valuable. It took a lot of coordination between the students and their designated contacts to find a time where they could even talk about setting up a meeting, much less actually meet. Bone also reported that she liked the challenge and will run a similar transformational learning course in Spring 2012 with the help of a teaching assistant using a $2000 grant from the Mansfield Institute of Social Justice and Transformational Learning for the course. The $2000 scholarship will be applied to the student’s Spring 2012 tuition.

Masnik elaborated that in a time where nonprofits are struggling to provide a service, the organizations were able to have the students help spread their message of social justice. The students’ blog entries were a new medium whereby attention was being drawn to something that needed attention: the cycle of domestic violence. The students also got a lot out of the experiences in the class as well. Not only did they learn interviewing strategies and improve their writing skills, but also they had the chance to learn by experiencing and being able to work with someone in the field. They enjoyed seeing their bylines published with their blogs, as well as the credit line for Roosevelt’s Social Justice classes.

The students were able to go to the sources to learn -- taking their learning a step farther than a textbook is able. Transformational learning also made the students feel involved, powerful, and as if they were actually doing something meaningful. After all, how many college sophomores get to interview a mayor or police chief and have their work published?

Bone’s transformational learning course gave them those opportunities. Her Spring 2012 class in Writing Social Justice will work closely with staffers from CEDA Northwest Self-Help Center, a non-profit agency that works in partnership with 14 communities to achieve self-sufficiency and improve their quality of life. CEDA Northwest serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Bartlett, Buffalo Grove, Des Plaines, Elgin, Elk Grove Village, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Park Ridge, Prospect Heights, Schaumburg and Wheeling.

Check out the students' blog posting on the Northwest Suburban Alliance on Domestic Violence page at http://endallabuseblog.blogspot.com/.

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