The value of failed research: Civic Pedagogy TV

It was the late American architect, Louis Kahn who said, “A good question is always greater than the most brilliant answer.” Within our research enquiry however, we felt that a good question should not only consider what to ask but also who to ask. Subsequently, if our aim is to imagine what a civically-informed curricula for Higher Education might look like, then we need to involve more than academics and students in the process of establishing a meaningful definition.

Taking a playfully engaging, human-inhabited, neon-painted Civic Pedagogy TV (CPTV) camera onto the streets adjacent to University campuses in New York, London and Oxford, we filmed members of the public responding to questions about about how Universities – and specifically their programs – might make a difference to the communities in which they’re located. Opportunities for community situated learning already exist across various University programs such as architecture and nursing. So the question isn’t whether Universities should offer more of these opportunities, since this is already happening. Instead, we asked the public to consider in what way these programs could benefit not only the student learner but the community too.

Yet what this article reveals is how some of the data volunteered by the respondents revealed the limitations and even failures in our original question framing.

For example, many respondents felt that the question was less about how students might learn in community placements, but instead how the community might access the University. In general, respondents perceived the Universities as holding great resources that are otherwise inaccessible to the non-academic community. In their view, making Universities accessible was the more pressing concern. What this highlighted is how Universities need to offer strategies that traffic opportunities for learning in both directions – students into the community but also the community into the campus.

What respondents also revealed to us was a vital failure in our assumption that any ‘community’ automatically defines itself as homogenous group, when it is instead comprised of a diverse range of individuals with specific needs. Indeed, all of us exist as members of multiple, dispersed and simultaneously overlapping communities at any one point in time. To meet the need of a ‘community’ therefore requires a civic pedagogy strategy that impacts on the lives of individuals and not just groups loosely formed around transient proximities.

1. Kahn, L., (1961). Quoted in Wilder Green, Louis I. Kahn, Architect: Alfred Newton Richards

2. Holland, B. A., & Gelmon, S. B. (1998). The State of the" Engaged Campus": What have we learned about building and sustaining university-community partnerships?. AAHE bulletin, 51, 3-6.

3. Harriss, H., Widder, L., (2014) Architecture Live Projects: Pedagogy into Practice

4. Elisabeth, C., Christine, W. H., & Ewa, P. (2009). Teaching during clinical practice: strategies and techniques used by preceptors in nursing education. Nurse Education Today, 29(5), 522-526.

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