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Guidelines for Professors

Professors who are members of CAN can have students contribute to the NORA Knowledge Base as major assignments in relevant courses. Such an exercise is not only a valuable learning experience for students, similar to other assignments that they might do for a class, but it also contributes to a real live website that can be read by users of the Internet anywhere, and can thus be very meaningful to the students as authors. The experience of contributing to an edited wiki will give students a taste of this kind of collaborative work, which is of increasing importance in professional as well as other contexts. Thus, contributing to NORA has some similarities with an internship or service learning, although it is still largely an individual project and can be evaluated and graded in a similar way as a term paper.

 

What kinds of courses are relevant?

Upper level courses in a bachelor’s degree program that deal with economic, social, or environmental issues and involve a substantial writing or independent study component will generally be most suitable for this purpose. In the American system, “upper level” usually means courses with numbers of 300 or above; more internationally, they would typically be courses that students take in their third or fourth year of study toward a BA or BS/BSc degree. Students going into this project should be familiar with how to do research in the library and on the Internet, know how to write a well-organized paper, and have some substantive knowledge in the discipline of the class. They need not have previous experience in writing on the Internet (blogs, wikis, etc.), although both professors and students should be aware that they will have to deal with some technical issues when doing this and should therefore allow sufficient time to “learn the ropes.”

Examples of the kinds of courses that might be relevant include:

  • Environmental studies/science courses that deal with natural resource management, environmental justice, or related topics;
  • Business courses that address environmental and social entrepreneurship, or the management of cooperatives, credit unions, mutual insurance companies, natural resource commons, public utilities, and the like;
  • Economics courses that study the social and solidarity economy, the commons, feminist economics, labor economics, Georgist economics, green economics, ecological economics, from an approach that is not based on the assumption of scarcity;
  • Courses in the social sciences focusing on making the economy more sustainable or socially just;
  • Agricultural science courses focusing on sustainable agricultural methods adapted to local environments;
  • Engineering, architecture and design courses focused on energy and resource-efficient technologies or design, or on open source ecology.

 

Preparation before the semester begins

If you are considering making NORA contributions either a required course assignment in a class you teach, or an optional one (with other options available such as a traditional term paper or a local service-learning project), it is best to get prepared well before the semester begins.

To begin with, please register with CAN yourself, read some of the existing NORA pages in order to get an understanding of how they are structured, and contact Wolfgang Hoeschele to signal your intention of having students write NORA pages. It is best to remain in touch with him throughout the process.

Next, it is best to write at least one page for NORA in order to be sure that you understand the logic of the site, as well as the format guidelines, and the technicalities of writing in the wiki. Get your pages reviewed by Wolfgang Hoeschele and other active contributors.

Decide on a focus for your class – which areas of the wiki are of most relevance to the course you are teaching? For example, a course on sustainable agriculture might focus on the “need” for food (plus potentially other needs such as clothing and energy) and the “resources” of land and water. Check the “approaches toward creating greater abundance” sections within the general pages in the areas you selected, to make sure that there are enough categories in these areas for students to have a reasonably wide choice of topics to work on. You may also find that more “approaches” should be listed, in which case you can add to the lists (existing lists are just a beginning, they are indicative and not exhaustive). Three pages on the website also give an overview of which pages have already been written, and which ones are envisioned to be written:

Create a timeline with several due dates for different stages of work, with sufficient time for evaluation and feedback between due dates. Create grading rubrics. Below you will find one example of how this can be done, as a source of ideas rather than as a model to follow.

You can also create a group for your class, which can enhance communication regarding work on the NORA database among you and your students. To do this, go to the "Groups" page (accessible from the "Activities" menu on the header bar of the website) and create a group; you can create a forum for your group as well, and upload documents that are of specific relevance to the group (these can be set to be visible only to group members).

 

Example project: Economic Geography

This example is modified (and improved) from the term project for a class taught by Wolfgang Hoeschele in Spring 2013, Geography 417: Economic Geography, at Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri. The class met for 28 sessions of 75 minutes each in 15 weeks of classes, on Tuesdays and Thursdays; due dates indicated need to be understood in this context.

Term Project

            The term project will consist of a contribution to “NORA” (Needs, Organizational forms, and Resources for Abundance) a wiki with the purpose of providing a reference tool for people searching for economic paths toward environmental sustainability as well as individual freedom and social equity. It is part of a larger social networking site for learning, collaboration and innovation for a sustainable economy called “CAN” (Commons Abundance Network, http://commonsabundance.net).   

            The term project will focus on one or two “approaches toward creating greater abundance” that satisfy specific needs while using resources sustainably, following guidelines provided on the website. In the context of this economic geography class, I especially encourage you to focus on an “organizational form,” because economic study focuses on how we organize our economic activities. Among the many examples of organizational forms that are yet to be featured on the website are worker cooperatives, food cooperatives, customer-owned utilities, community land trusts, complementary currencies, and employee stock ownership plans.

The project will be broken up into stages:

Project proposal

Due Thursday, week 3 of semester. 5% of course grade.  Select the one or more approaches to creating greater abundance on which you intend to concentrate. Explain in one paragraph how you think the selected approach may help to generate greater abundance (read some existing NORA pages to get ideas). List at least two scholarly references and at least two websites which provide useful information for your project. After receiving feedback from me on the proposal, you should begin uploading content onto the website (this will require registration with the CAN website; while no special computer skills are required, it is best to allow a day or two for registration in case you bump into any unforeseen obstacles).

Project Review I

Due Tuesday, week 8.  A substantial part of your contribution should now be on the website; refer to the Guidelines for NORA Contributors (http://commonsabundance.net/wiki/guidelines-for-nora-contributors/) and the grading rubric (below) to make sure that the format and content of your work conforms to expectations.. At this time, I will use the grading rubric to review what you have done so far, and suggest revisions and improvements. If the scope of your planned efforts is too narrow or too ambitious (i.e., there is either too little or too much material to incorporate), this stage also provides the opportunity to revise the scope of your project.

In addition to the material that you have submitted to NORA, submit a work report (counting for 3% of course grade) of two to four pages in which you review the work done so far, including a review of any websites that you chose not to link to NORA, of decisions about things you decided not to do, and of how you responded to feedback from your professor, or other contributors to NORA (note that, as a wiki open to the general public, other registered users may also make changes to your contributions). Also, assess the NORA structure, and whether you think it is developing in a way that would be useful to people in search of answers (as a “guide to the perplexed”). You can also raise questions in your project review to help you in the next stage of work.

Project Review II

Due Thursday, week 11. This provides a second opportunity to assess progress so far, similar to the first project review. As before, submit a work report of two to four pages similar to the previous one, focusing on the work done in the meantime (again counting for 3% of course grade).

Peer Review

Due Thursday, week 13. 6% of course grade. Review the work of two of your fellow students (sign-ups will be done to ensure that every student’s work is reviewed by two other students). Assess to what degree it fulfills the stated requirements, and suggest improvements, using the grading rubric as a guide.

Final Project

Due Thursday, week 15 (last session of the course). 25% of course grade (with the grade depending in part on the timeliness of submissions of drafts). Your submissions to NORA should now be in a form that, while still subject to revision, can withstand considerable scrutiny, and can be of real service to people looking for solutions. As before, submit a work report of two to four pages similar to the previous ones, focusing on the work done in the last part of the semester (again counting for 3% of course grade).

Oral Presentations

Last two weeks of classes. Students give presentations about their term projects to the class; three presentations per 75-minute class period. 5% of course grade. The presentation, accounting for 5% of the final grade, should resemble a presentation in a conference.  Presentations should take 15-20 minutes, allowing time for questions. Presentation of graphic material (e.g., content that you have put online on the wiki, maps, photographs, and diagrams) is recommended. The presentation should discuss 1) why the topic of your term project is relevant to the larger aims of the wiki, 2) what you learned as a result of working on this project, for example the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed solutions to environmental/social problems that you studied, and which groups in which places are most successful in applying those solutions, and 3) how you made what you learned available to others on the wiki.

 

Recap of grade percentages

Proposal                                  5%

Three work reports                 9%

Two peer reviews                   6%

Oral presentation                   5%

Page(s) written for NORA       25%

            The purpose of the term project is to collaborate in the building of a website designed to help people find solutions to environmental and social problems, according to the framework of “abundance” as defined on the website (http://commonsabundance.net/wiki/abundance/). This work will provide you with experience that should be very valuable for any collaborative web-based projects in which you may be involved in the future. It will also provide you with the opportunity to investigate in some depth a selected approach to solving environmental/social problems, and to assess which sources of information both online and in print are the most useful for people in related practical projects.

            The structured method of doing the project in stages, with feedback after each stage, ensures that you will be able to improve both your writing skills and the depth of your analysis, conforming to the objectives of Writing Enhanced courses at Truman State University. 

            Finally, please note that it is essential that your work follows guidelines of academic integrity.  You can check the Truman site on this topic at http://conduct.truman.edu/docs/AcademicIntegrity.pdf

           

Rubric for evaluation of NORA submissions

Process

  • Was a first draft submitted on time?
  • Was a second draft submitted on time?
  • Was the final paper submitted on time?

Final product

  • Is the context within NORA appropriately explained?
  • Are there good descriptions and explanations for patterns of abundance and scarcity relevant to the topic?
  • Does the page give a good and reasoned sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the approach(es) toward abundance covered?
  • Are there links to informative sites that would help somebody start a similar project, and learn where and by whom it has been done successfully?
  • Are sufficient other information sources and references provided?
  • Have format guidelines been followed (see http://commonsabundance.net/wiki/guidelines-for-nora-contributors/)?

 

Rubric for evaluation of oral presentation

Organization

  • Were major sections clearly articulated?
  • Were the important points within each section made clear?
  • Were transitions between sections and subsections handled effectively?
  • Was there a concise conclusion?

Content

  • Was the relevance of the topic clearly articulated?
  • Was there a reasoned assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the methods that were studied?
  • Was there a good sense of who is making substantial contributions to solving this problem, and where promising initiatives are to be found?

Graphics

  • Were graphics effectively used to reinforce major points in the argument?
  • Were the graphics legible?  If portions were not legible, were they adequately explained?

Time management

  • Was the length of the presentation close to the time limit?

Response to questions

  • Were questions answered succinctly?

 

Examples of Student Projects on NORA

The first three projects featured here, on rooftop gardening, complete streets, and large-scale wind power, were written by students in an Environmental Geography class in Fall 2012, before the CAN website existed and the format guidelines were fully worked out. They were uploaded onto the website and brought into closer conformance with the guidelines by Woflgang Hoeschele in early 2013.

The next three projects, on seed saving, the Barefoot College, and land for nature preservation (including the linked page on US government-designated nature reserves) were written by Economic Geography students in Spring 2013. The students themselves uploaded these papers onto the site, and they were subsequently edited both by the students and by Wolfgang Hoeschele; clicking on the "History" tab gets a sense of this process.

 

Final remarks

Class assignments concerning NORA can potentially be structured in substantially different ways than in the example provided; the posting of additional examples developed by other professors will be greatly appreciated. In particular, it will be useful to explore modes of work that involve more collaboration among students. Further, the peer review system in this example assumes that students review the work of their classmates. If two or more classes (at different universities) contribute content to NORA at the same time, it will be possible to establish peer review or collaborations among students at different institutions. Also, it will be possible to ask CAN members with relevant experience/expertise to provide feedback about student contributions, particularly as CAN membership grows.

 

 

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