The Devil is in the Details: How Dialog and Planning Can Produce Project-Based Learning Opportunities that Promote Strong Community Partnerships and Greater Impact.

Presenter: Suzanne Plesha, Director of the Office of Immersive Learning, Ball State University,

Session Title:
The Devil is in the Details: How Dialog and Planning Can Produce Project-Based Learning Opportunities that Promote Strong Community Partnerships and Greater Impact.

Session Narrative:

When faculty, students, and community partners collaborate on a project-based challenge, one impulse is to jump in and see how things evolve. A better approach is to create a dialog with stakeholders that sets mutual goals and expectations long before the semester begins. Whether you are new to project-based learning or have been collaborating this way for some time, this workshop will walk through a planning process that helps to organize your thoughts, determine roles and responsibilities, create a realistic timeline, consider sustainability issues, and lay the groundwork for future funding and publications. This planning process is a part of a new certification pilot at Ball State University, which assists immersive learning faculty in developing semester-long, for-credit student collaborations that produce mutually-beneficial products. During this session, participants will have an opportunity to brainstorm on proposal elements and relationship-building techniques in small groups.

For over two decades, Ball State faculty and students have partnered with Muncie/Delaware Community members to tackle local challenges through immersive learning. While we see many positive results of these efforts in our local schools, neighborhoods, and nonprofits, the semester-long model has not always been as mutually beneficial, sustainable, or holistic as it could be. This presentation will show how we are addressing potential shortcomings through training and a project proposal process.

The Immersive Learning Office has developed a proposal template that engages faculty and external partners in a conversation ensuring that project deliverables fit the context and serve the partner, students, and faculty’s true needs. Writing a project proposal can also alert partners to potential barriers, risk management concerns, and sustainability issues that might arise before, during, or after the project. These intentional steps help define each partner’s best interests and point to the training students may need to understand personal biases and interact professionally (and respectfully) with community members.
Ball State’s Office of Immersive Learning is now asking its faculty mentors to develop a project proposal with each of their partners before their immersive semester begins. This workshop will highlight the benefits of project planning and provide proposal examples for various disciplines and settings.

Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of this workshop is to give faculty, students, and community partners the tools to negotiate mutually-beneficial projects that can have a greater impact. Upon completion of this session, participants will be able to:

  • Work with partners to develop a project-based learning proposal that aligns student learning outcomes with the community’s needs.
  • Identify key stakeholders for a project-based collaboration and articulate each party’s role, contributions, and responsibilities.
  • Recognize potential implementation and sustainability issues that can arise before, during, and after a project is completed.
  • Identify ways to nurture and maintain community relationships before and beyond a semester-long project.
  • Lay the groundwork for future funding and publications.
  • Develop a realistic and practical timeline for a project.

This interactive session will offer background, tips, and a project template that illustrates the planning process’s utility. The facilitator will then give participants prompts and divide the group into breakout rooms where small groups can brainstorm how to approach certain aspects of the proposal template.

This project proposal method is part of an online training program that our office began offering this summer, and over 50 faculty have participated in the program so far. At the end of the training, faculty have a working draft that they can use for planning discussions with their external partner. Instructors said they appreciated the structure the proposal offers and that the exercises helped them see things from a different perspective. The method also helps to break down a project into manageable chunks. Inevitably, faculty see information gaps and questions that must be addressed. Some said they felt a sense of relief, understanding that their community partner is meant to be a co-educator for the class, and welcomed their iterative feedback in their planning and course design.

As the sole facilitator for this session, I feel qualified to lead this workshop. I have been a director in the office of immersive learning for five years, have stayed active in the classroom, and have administered immersive programs at Ball State for the last 20 years in various offices and capacities. I worked in industry before coming to Ball State, so I understand the transformative potential of these “real world” collaborations on faculty, students, and communities.

The audience for this workshop is primarily faculty and community partners, but students could benefit from the discussion, as well. The proposal process is a collaboration between all three groups, and having a mix of these audiences will enable participants to hear differing perspectives as to what works for each. Likewise, because this session will be interactive, people of varying experience levels – from novice to advanced – can share and learn from each other.