By Lucy Juneau

This isn’t your ordinary university course. There isn’t even a textbook.

Community Engaged Sociology, a team-based course looking to take book learning and translate it into action, partners students with local organizations to address issues in Ottawa.

Students apply sociological knowledge by developing projects and videos to advance the goals of organizations.

“As a sociology class, we’re interested in giving them experience on social issues,” said Prof. Deborah Conners. “I think it gives students excitement to see their work and accomplishments actually in use and how their work can be effective in society.”

Non-profits rarely can afford to make videos or have the time or resources to do so. The organizations give students a sense of what they’re looking for – whether it’s recruitment, educational or promotional content.

“I think this course has a really positive and thought-provoking impact on the students and the organizations,” said teaching assistant Warren Clarke. “The ones I’ve worked with have learned a lot on how to apply knowledge and interact with their community on current issues.”

This year, the class is collaborating with A Way Home Ottawa, The Criminalization and Punishment Project and the Ottawa Men’s Refuge to provide practical recommendations for local concerns.

“Students say they become empowered to work on issues. Some come in never having worked with a non-profit before, yet this course becomes their favourite in their entire undergrad,” said Conners.

For the first time, the course will be offered in both fall and winter semesters, allowing students to sign up for one or both.  Some have already signed on for the winter course since joining the fall session.

“It’s an indicator of success when you generate that kind of interest,” said Conners. “It’s also a marketable skill students can use and take out into the workplace.”

Conners considers herself more of an orchestra conductor than a professor since she’s bringing people together and co-ordinating as opposed to lecturing.

“Students get to take learning into their own hands and decide who they want to talk to and which direction they want to take,” said teaching assistant Sarah Fiander. “They take a lot more away from these experiences than they do in a traditional setting and I do too (as) opposed to marking papers that will just be thrown away.”

Clarke and his group of students developed a panel discussion on youth homelessness for A Way Home Ottawa, leaving the organization wanting to work with Carleton again. The educational panel broke stigmas surrounding youth exiting homelessness.

“It was a really thoughtful discussion on the challenges of youth homelessness,” said Kaite Burkholder Harris, a project manager at A Way Home Ottawa. “It helped facilitate some space for conversation that has become quite politically charged lately and I hope that we inserted some bridge-building into that.”

Watch these videos to see what kind of work the students contributed to.

Friday, December 22, 2017 in
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