Ruskin module: community organising and a Virtual Global Experience

Guest posts

Category: Anglia Learning & Teaching

16 September 2021

Julia Carr is a Course Leader in the School of Education and Social Care. She discusses developing a new Ruskin module to give students an understanding of how they can help to change their communities for the better.

At the time of writing, the long planning stage for ARU’s new and innovative Ruskin modules is rapidly drawing to a close and we are days away from turning this concept into reality with our first cohort of students.

This new suite of modules have, at their core, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through which 193 countries around the world, including the UK, have pledged to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges by 2030. Ruskin modules will bring together students from a range of disciplines and offer them the opportunity to work together in creative ways to understand these challenges and develop possible solutions. The challenges that the Ruskin modules are linked to cover a wide range of goals with a focus on issues of equality, health, accessibility and sustainability.

Ruskin module and community organising

At the same time that ARU was developing the concept of Ruskin modules, it was also developing a relationship with Citizens UK to become a partner in the newly founded Essex chapter of the organisation. Citizens UK is a community organising alliance of diverse local communities working together for the common good, with a mission to develop local leaders, strengthen local organisations and make change. Citizens Essex have a goal of building a fairer, safer, accessible, and welcoming Essex.

I was fortunate to work with both the development of Ruskin modules and with Citizens Essex and quickly saw the overlap in purpose in the two concepts. I took the opportunity to develop a Ruskin module which gives ARU students an understanding of what community organising is, how it works, how they, as part of the ARU community, could be involved in making change in their community, and developing their skills to put this into practice, both in their time at ARU and after they graduate.

The Ruskin module that developed from this, ‘Who me? Make a difference in my community?’ encourages students to understand community issues, linked to Sustainable Development Goals: 3) Good health and wellbeing, 7) Affordable and Clean Energy, and 10) Reduce Inequalities. Students will learn about community organising through the lens of power dynamics, asking who it is that has the power to make change in our communities, and how we can leverage and negotiate these dynamics to bring about the change we want to see in the world. Citizens Essex will be involved in delivering content to develop students’ understanding of the practices of community organising.

Ruskin module and Virtual Global Experience

This Ruskin module has a wider than expected interdisciplinary context as it has been chosen to be part of a Virtual Global Experience (VGE) hosted by the University of Maine Farmington (UMF). UMF received funding from the US Government to encourage student interaction with other individuals or groups who are geographically separated and/or from different cultural backgrounds. They have used this grant to develop VGEs with universities across the world, including Japan and Europe.

Students from UMF will participate in a very similar class to this Ruskin module, learning about community organising in their local community and focusing on the same three SDGs. Students from both universities will then come together to develop a group presentation focusing on how one of the chosen SDGs relates to their communities and to propose how they could use their newly-acquired knowledge of, and skills in, community organising to work with the community to make a positive change. This presentation constitutes half of the assessment for the module. The other assessment is a reflection on their experience and learning through their participation in the Ruskin module.

Successful completion of the Ruskin module will evidence the successful completion of the VGE. If students wish, they may complete a further short reflection on their experience of participating in the VGE. This will entitle them to receive a micro-credential from UMF. The micro-credential will be tangible evidence of the knowledge and transferable skills that they have developed through this Ruskin module: skills that will be relevant to their future careers.

Benefits to students, local community, and global development

It is hoped that by participating in this Ruskin module, ARU students will understand that interdisciplinary and global collaboration are needed if we are to tackle the issues highlighted by the SDGs, rather than the current, and ineffective, siloed and competitive ways of working. All students who complete the module will have had the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills that are transferable to a wide range of graduate careers. However, it is hoped that for some students a spark will have been lit; a desire to make a change for the better in their communities.

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