Instructor Reflection – Maximus Waste

By Suzanne Blum Malley

The main goal of the First-year Seminar at Columbia College Chicago is to provide a foundational experience in questioning, exploring, evaluating, and communicating (QEEC) in a highly collaborative, “trans-disciplinary” learning environment. Overall, students are asked to integrate a number of different viewpoints and means of expression in considering questions, problems, and solutions in creative and critical ways.

As I was putting together the “Curious Columbia” assignment sequence that led to my students’ production of “Maximus Waste,” I was inspired by the radio and web-based follow-up segments of the “Curious City” program, a series produced by WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station. I knew that I wanted to find a way to very actively engage students with the overarching purpose of the First-year Seminar course, with the City of Chicago, and with their fellow students at Columbia College Chicago. To that end, we spent some time at the beginning of the semester exploring how to ask “juicy, robust” questions, looking at examples from the “Curious City” program, and considering how to use the affordances of digital, networked, multimodal communication to share “class projects” purposefully with a wider community.

Through the Curious Columbia projects, I hoped that the students would accomplish four key things:

• Work productively in collaborative, problem-solving teams;
• Explore a complex (robust) question or set of questions using relevant primary and
secondary source information;
• Evaluate and contextualize their ideas, their research, their production processes,
and their findings;
• Produce a multimodal, final work in digital, networked space that informs and/or
provokes thought for other students in the wider Columbia College Chicago
community

I asked all of the students to generate and pitch potential research questions for the semester-long work and vote for the three questions that would serve as team project frames for the semester. Following the vote, the students put themselves in teams based on their individual interests in/connections to the three possible framing questions. Then, each team went through a process of crafting a proposal (including collaboration and cooperation plan with team norms, a research plan, and a preliminary vision of the end product), conducting their research, producing necessary component pieces of the final product, completing an annotated bibliography, and creating the final digital, networked, interactive piece.

Overall, the Curious Columbia team project assignment helped the three teams in my Fall 2013 First-year Seminar Honors class meet the goals of the course and the learning objectives for the assignment. The “Maximus Waste” team, however, stood out from the rest. I believe they were exceptionally successful not only as a result of their obvious individual talents and their very thorough and adventurous research, but because they actively managed their team processes with very clear expectations, norms, and project plans. In other words, they attended to their collaborative process, not just to their end product. By managing the team while managing the project, they came together to produce the most cohesive, thoughtful, interesting, fun and provocative piece of the semester.