Eric R.R. Weaver
This Narrative will describe a specific circumstance involving "experiential project based learning." As a Engineering College freshman Mr. Weaver explored the development of a private patent. At the time the Engineering Dean required faculty to support student projects that would be shared during the Annual Engineering Expo. Thus, he proposed to share patent work through the Engineering Expo whereby he would find a new course each term where this applied "Project for Credit" was supported by faculty. His continuous effort here resulted in peer-students from High School in NJ supporting the development of Students Taking an Active Role in Society (STARS USA Inc.) as a USF Student Organization to encourage "Project for Credit." Here he discovered the process known now as "experiential project based learning" which resulted in him mentoring the development of many student based educational projects as the STARS Project Director.
His favorite project was for the Educational Research Center for Child Development (ERCCD), where he invited high school volunteers to the site and presented the opportunity to build a computer network for the children. The Colleges of Education and Architecture donated SE/30 Macintosh computers and they were stacked in a storage room at the center. During the first brainstorming session, the volunteer students offered their skills and discussed interests to create a suitable network. Through the conversation together, they defined different processes necessary to utilize all the student volunteer skills and donated equipment. This was done through a round-table discussion encouraging everyone to share and explore the available options. Mr. Weaver's priority was to empower everyone to contribute, and to utilize all their skills and resources to the fullest. Success was measured by each volunteer demonstrating their skills and exploring their interests to learn and experience. The working computer network was a side effect created to allow ERCCD teachers to use computers with the children.
Mr. Weaver was able to bring in the ERCCD center staff to express their preferred scenario. Each volunteer student was able to contribute and offer his or her skills to enhance the utilization of all the Mac equipment. Individual skills were encouraged, by participating as necessary in each situation, asking others to participate in synergistic collaborations, or by helping a specific volunteer student find a means of their personal expression to support the project. This project evolved through open listening to each other and cooperating to include individual tasks like:
- Get extra network lines from father's office (student 1, due next week)
- Bring screw drivers and tools (student 2, 3 & 4, tomorrow)
- Find and download firewall and protection programs (student 3 & 4)
- Obtain suitable software from College Preview Center (student 2, within month)
- Meet with class teachers about suitable lessons plans
- Test software with child center age group
- Find more donated equipment
- Move and test hardware components until systems functioned
- Setup network, wire classrooms
As the work on the computer network progressed, Mr. Weaver brought home one Mac setup with the reading and writing programs that the project team had selected for the school network. Several team members were concerned that teachers had no experience with the computers, and they were not able to provide direct personal instructions to help them. Mr. Weaver's son volunteered to learn the educational software, so he was able to help the teachers and students in his class to use the networked systems. Therefore, his son was reading and writing in pre-school.
Mr. Weaver's son had a direct personal benefit from this project experience, which inspired them both. He enjoyed the respect and position of authority so much in the school environment that when he began in elementary school he wanted to bring the Macs there as well. This interest and passion to progress opened more opportunities and additional projects developed at his Elementary School. Several students that became leaders with the other student volunteers at ERCCD were able to supervise with the new summer shop at Lewis Elementary.
This shop experience was created by the students themselves, initiated by Mr. Weaver's son who enjoyed completing the tasks as supported by the older students. They began with the setup of the child center network, and had left-over equipment, so they explored the opportunity for using the hardware further. They were open and honest with Mr. Weaver's son and involving him allowed them to all benefit by exploring more of their own personal interests. The honest expression of personal interests, led to a stronger shared understanding and further commitment to priorities allowing each new opportunity.
Thus, the summer shop allowed team members to learn how to repair computers. Multiple computers of similar types were taken apart so pieces could be moved around until they were able to make additional computers work. One student totally disassembled a dead floppy drive, just to see how many pieces were involved. Another student cut apart all of the extra dead motherboards to provide multi-media elements for an art teacher's class projects. Another student had his parent help him pick up a dead machine to blow apart with fireworks (at home). Each student was able to learn and benefit, while another six machines were made operational for a new student lab at Lewis Elementary School. The careful listening of shared priorities allowed achieving multiple goals not even considered in the beginning.
The volunteer experience as Project Director of STARS resulted in the critical values for engaging students and inspiring them to better express their personal passions through their own school work. This experience was later reflected in his work as a TA for graduate courses at USF. Mr. Weaver's employment responsibility involved the evaluating of all the required writing assignments for online students. This employment required developing written project assignments, clear grading rubrics, and exacting writing requirements (examples linked) to inspire and encourage students.
All course interactions focused on writing, and improving this communication to academic publishing standards. The teaching goal was the very exact writing, clear expression, and referenced work required by all academic journals. Fulfillment was most successful when students received prompt detailed reviews where direct improvements to their work were identified. Each student assignment demonstrated these improved techniques, while simultaneously requiring more work. These written projects further exemplify the benefits of experience based learning where each assignment provided directions to improve skills for the delivery of the next assignment. Linking this writing work with project-based-learning brought the inspiration for the Flipped Service-learning model, which Mr. Weaver prefers to use now.