Love and Surveys

Monday, November 08, 2010

Okay so you didn’t hear this from me but I may have gotten in over my head. You see I am working on this project with Eric Crighton, a prof over in the Geography and Environmental Studies. Actually we have been working together for the past four years on this project. The objective of our project is very simple. Use first year students to change the way that our school work is conducted to basically save the world.

Please allow me to put together a couple of concepts that have crossed my path recently.

1- There is this concept called the Living Laboratory. It is pretty simple; use the campus as a huge on-going experiment so that every day events can become teachable moments. So a building gets built – engineering students study how this happens. A new marketing campaign is launched – communications students evaluate its success. A jogging club is formed – health science students help create an optimum training schedule. And so on and so on.

2- Course Work Ecology – why is it that we are always examining the exact same question? There is a train in Toronto leaving at 4pm heading towards Ottawa and travelling at 80km per hour. At the same time there is a train leaving from Montreal at 4:45 headed towards Ottawa travelling at 75km per hour. How long will it take for the Toronto train and the Montreal train to completely bore you and insult your intelligence? Here is a better idea, if everything in nature is recycled (and I am thinking of the mighty dung beetle here) how come the same can’t be done with our homework? How about assignments that actually mean something and can be used by others to help solve some of society’s problems?

3- Experiential Learning – okay you got me… this isn’t really a concept so much as it is an actual program. But the principles are worth mentioning again. You do some volunteer work with an organization in need and the University recognizes this work so that you can get course credit. This is a really good idea because you can do volunteer work without having to sacrifice any academic time.

So let’s bring these all together and determine why I am a little in over my head. I work with Eric Crighton on an experiential learning program with his first year global environmental issues course. What we have done is created a series of surveys about environmental issues on campus for the students to administer to the campus. We will then have the students interpret the results so that they can make recommendations about how to make the campus a more sustainable place.

It doesn’t stop here. The raw data from the results will be given to other services on campus so that they too can see how to improve their environmental performance. For example, one of the surveys deals with cycling and the barriers to cycling on campus. This information with be shared with Parking and Sustainable Transportation Services and Physical Resources Service so that we can make the campus more bikeable. Then the information will be kicked off to some upper level statistic courses so that they can interpret real data instead of fake sample sets. And finally the information will be shared with some Masters students in Psychology so that they can study some of the decision mechanisms behind making more environmental choices.

So I am sitting at my office trying to pull all the survey information together. There are over 300 students in the class and each student is conducting 10 surveys. The surveys all have at least 13 questions to tabulate so that means 39,000 answers that need to be input into an Excel file. I have been calling on everyone in my team to help bring this thing together (Amina, Vedrana, and Brigitte) and things are moving slowly. But I know that it’s worth it because I truly do believe that love and SURVEYS will help save the world.


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