A paper co-authored by University of Kentucky College of Social Work Assistant Professor Laneshia Conner, Ph.D., describes a participatory approach undertaken to guide learners through an exercise to co-create syllabus content in a graduate social work course. The article was published in the Spring 2023 issue of the Journal of Empowering Teaching Excellence.
The basis of the paper is a six-week graduate-level social work practice course taught by Dr. Conner. It sought to disrupt the traditional system of instructors creating a syllabus with no input from students. Learners were provided the opportunity to contribute ideas through an exercise guided by the participatory learning framework.
“I feel that we have an important task, as faculty, to address our students as adult learners. Involving them in the learning process and co-creating materials is one way to do that,” says Dr. Conner. “There is no single way to connect and engage with learners, yet collaboration seems to be key in sustaining any relationship, and since we share ourselves, our lived experiences, and questions about what we are learning, it is a good way to increase knowledge.”
During the first class, a traditional syllabus was shared with the class, outlining course objectives, meeting dates, textbook details, and the grading scale. What was not included were any assignments, as the intention was to facilitate a conversation between learners and instructor on the themes of the course and how to achieve knowledge of those themes. Through syllabus cloud activities and active class discussions, learners were given the opportunity to shift from being consumers of education to co-creators.
“When I taught this course, I saw quiet students become engaged and active students working with their peers to figure out what was important for them to learn during the course,” Dr. Conner said. “Textbooks and PowerPoints are not the end-all of learning, and when we are being intentional in trying to celebrate diversity in thought and practice, activities such as this can help facilitate that process. We are much more visual and kinesthetic in our learning, and I believe that if students can be helped to see what we are trying to teach them, they will be more invested. I would love to see this process replicated and gather feedback from students on how it worked for them.”
Co-authors of the paper are V. Nikki Jones, DSW, and assistant professor, Spalding University, and Jason P. Johnston, Ph.D., Director of Online Learning & Course Production, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.