Collaborative learning — The Big Race as a teachable moment

This semester, I pitched a little school-wide contest intended to encourage students to collaborate with others outside of their home programs. To get the event off the ground, I approached an emerging group that was more formally working with faculty member extraordinaire Donna Lindell toward building collaborative projects with outside ‘clients’. They had adopted public transit as their core topic of concern but were looking for ideas for projects. I had a wee bit of funding from a Social Action Fund grant intended to generate a student ‘culture jam’-type competitive event.

We met. We married ideas. A concept for a competition was born:

Social justice + transit. Make them work. Create a solution. Do it in 10 days. Pitch a dragon’s den of “real stakeholders”.

May the best idea win.

The 10.10.10 event promised a prize of some seed money to execute. I had no idea (or expectation) it would grow into something much larger. The judges (representatives from Metrolinx, Civic Action, and Centennial’s Institute for Global Citizenship and Equity) were very enthusiastic and supportive of all the creative ideas presented. They could award only one winner and went for one that could absorb many of the other great ideas. Kudos all around.

Not only did the judges select The Big Race, Metrolinx decided to back the project — a webisode series that follows three contestants through their efforts to get across the city by deadline using the transit system in Toronto. The first teaser premieres at Civic Action’s major transit forum this week.

Thinking about all the work that’s been done (and all the work ahead), I can’t be anything but proud of the students who found other students to formulate plans, do the filming, line up all the media and otherwise do their best to meet their deliverables. The Big Race propelled the goal of the original seed into something much bigger and better — a truly student-driven, collaborative effort across programs.

From the chair’s perch, it was even more amazing to watch the collaboration that flowed so beautifully between so many faculty and staff within the school, the wider college and our industry partners to support the students in their work.

The competition, and its adoption by a ‘real world client’ in Metrolinx, was a great example of everything we want to stand for — experiential, collaborative and relevant learning. But it wasn’t in a curriculum or course, wasn’t part of the plan, wasn’t part of anyone’s job description. It took an open mind, a sharing spirit and a willingness to see students succeed. The college community here delivered, and then some.

Upon reflection, this was one of the most significant ‘teachable moments’ I’ve seen in my career. It certainly fits the definition:

a teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity that arises in the classroom where a teacher has an ideal chance to offer insight to his or her students.

A teachable moment is not something that you can plan for; rather, it is a fleeting opportunity that must be sensed and seized by the teacher. Often it will require a brief digression that temporarily sidetracks the original lesson plan so that the teacher can explain a concept that has inadvertently captured the students’ collective interest.

Taking this tangent is worthwhile because it is organically timed to maximize impact on the students. Ultimately, the teachable moment could evolve into a full-blown lesson plan or unit of instruction.

Ultimately, a teachable moment requires us to stop directing the moment and go with the flow. See where it goes. Tweak, if necessary. Celebrate constantly. Let the adrenalin run.

The result, for the students who engaged in producing The Big Race, has been huge media attention.

Once The Big Race crosses the finish line, I think we’ll all be able to reflect upon how great (and exhilarating) it was to follow a teachable moment through to maximum effect, how we might replicate it in future and what it took, from a faculty and staff perspective, to ensure the opportunity flowed smoothly.

For now, I know the students and their supporters are in for a lot more work and a lot more deadline pressure.

I know they’ll be amazing and I’m so very thrilled to have been on the ride with them.

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Filed under administratiion, admirations, Inspirations

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