Innovative Learning Week – Teaching Matters

So community engagement is where students can do work of benefit to the community as part of their degrees, for credit within their degrees. And experiential learning is where they bring together skills and knowledge, so essentially they are learning through doing. Innovative learning week is this wonderful space within the curriculum which allows students and staff to be innovative and imaginative and work together collaboratively on joint ventures. It gives this space for creativity. Well this is a very exciting event for us here at the Centre for Research Collections in Edinburgh University main library. It’s the first of its kind that we’ve ever run, and it’s a chance for us to offer the opportunity to students here at the University to get their hands on some of the amazing, rare and unique collections that we have here, be inspired by them, in order to create some resources for children who are in hospital, in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children, which is just over the way from us, over the Meadows, so we can see the venue for our resources that we’ll be producing today. I’m particularly interested in this event because it does allow us to engage with our wider community. These are not our normal audiences, for the rare and unique collections here, and I’m hoping that access to these facsimiles of them, while they’re in hospital, will help inspire and interest the children in the collections that we have here. And you never know, maybe one or two of them might turn out to be our undergraduates and postgraduates of the future. The great benefit for students in terms of community engagement and experiential learning, is that they have an opportunity to put their knowledge into practice, and through that it brings together knowledge and skills. But the most important thing for me is about this thing called mindset. It’s about emotional intelligence, it’s about resilience, it’s about genuinely, collaboratively working together to solve complex problems. These are things, skills, that students really do need as they go off into the wider world, and this is one way in which we can actually help students deliver them and develop them. This is the Concrete Sculpture Challenge done by the civil engineering society and we opened in the house for students, and in collaboration with Concrete Scotland we were able to get aggregates, gravel and cement in order to make concrete sculptures. So we’re hoping that the participants of our workshop will think differently about concrete and not only see it as a very grey and ugly and unsustainable material, but that they now know that they can use it within art and they can use it to present something beautiful and more elegant. And also we hope that our participants learned about, having a great experience with teamwork and that they learned that although you’re not that comfortable working within a discipline, you can still listen to other people, learn from their ideas, and maybe learn from your faults and still have great results. So the aspirations that I would have for community engagement and experiential learning is that all students should have the opportunity to undertake work of benefit to the community for credit as part of their degree experience. The second aspiration I have, is you often hear that degrees, a degree, is not enough. But I want the Edinburgh University degree to be enough, that the kinds of experiences that students have through their degree, that they are then genuinely global citizens. This is the Preston Street Primary School community clean-up day. And what we’ve got is students from the University of Edinburgh, and Preston Street Primary School parents and children helping tidy up their playground. I think for the students it’s that link again to being a child, so they’re both being involved in tidying up and sort of developing the playground, but they’re also having to engage with the parents as well as the children and get some idea of what it’s like to be a child nowadays. I mean they’re still quite young compared to me, but there’s that link that might be forgotten. So, I think for them, they get a real sense of being, contributing to part of the community, and particularly children’s lives, which has to be a good thing. Community engagement’s really important because it brings staff and students together to work collaboratively together on problems. And this actually makes us all feel part of a genuine community, collaborative enterprise. And that’s what I think the University should be about. It’s about a sense of belonging to something is actually making a difference.

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