Group Town Hall Project

Author

Ellen Riek

Department of English

Arizona Western College

Citation

Riek, E. (2015). Group Town Hall Project. Arizona Western College.

Description

This community-based group project is based on the Future Leaders Town Hall, a forum held twice per year that engages Arizona college students in discussions to address issues – and solutions – of local relevance. For this project, students take part in the Town Hall event and then spend several weeks working in groups to research and write about aspects of the Town Hall topic, and potential solutions for the issues raised, all within the context of their local community. The final component is the development of group websites to make their writing public, as well as a formal final presentation to practice public speaking skills.

Background and Context

The project was developed for composition courses in San Luis, Arizona, a largely Mexican/Mexican-American community that is 1 mile from a major U.S./Mexico border crossing. For most students, Spanish is the primary (and sometimes only) language spoken in the home and throughout the local community, and many of the students are first-generation college students. As the culminating course assignment, which takes place over the final 6 weeks of the course, the project is designed to engage all of the course learning outcomes.

With the construction of the website as the final medium, the project also addresses our Writing Program and General Education outcomes for Digital Literacy. As a group project, it aligns with the DQP Applied and Collaborative Learning Proficiency. Finally, our General Education curriculum also includes a focus on Civic Discourse, and seeks to actively engage students in various service learning and community-based projects. This aligns with the DQP Civic and Global Learning proficiency.

Alignment and Scaffolding

This project is the final major assignment for the course and spans 6 weeks, from participation in the Town Hall forum to the final group project presentation. The purpose is multi-fold, but ideally it allows students to a) see their writing within a public context, and b) connect them with their community to develop their identities as current and future citizens.

Reflections

When I initially participated in the March 2015 Charrette, I knew the project was incredibly engaging and had already yielded results I hadn’t expected in terms of creative thinking, commitment to the project and the community, and innovative solutions to real-world local problems.

The challenge, as I identified it then, was not with the students; some groups worked harder than others, of course, but for the most part this seemed to be a dynamic project that yielded excellent results and final presentations. The greatest challenge was getting it delivered to someone who might take action. Recall that the results are sent to our state legislature on behalf of the Town Hall group, but even when I have personally sent it on to contacts in the legislature we received little to no feedback or support, which proved discouraging.

The change we made this Fall, however, made all the difference. Our Town Hall topic was Water Resources, clearly important nationally but particularly for Arizona. The students decided that rather than create websites on their water issues/solutions for the legislature, they would make their audience Local San Luis residents and the websites would address important water resource facts and suggestions for conservation within our own community. This included agriculture since our county is the winter vegetable capital of the world and many of the students’ parents work in all aspects of that industry, from picking vegetables to owning farms. We decided we would send along the completed websites to the City and request that they consider linking one or more of the websites to their own.

The exciting result is that within 3 hours of the email with some explanation of the project and the website links, we received an enthusiastic response from several on the City Council and in the City Manager’s office and one of the groups is going to present their website project, which includes and English/Spanish component, to the City Council at their meeting on January 13, 2016: http://chechell1.wix.com/wtrptrl 

Note: The other area that was sincerely lacking in my project was the rubric. While I am still not happy with the version here, I incorporated several components from the VALUE rubric from Civic Engagement, which has made it better.


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