KMbeing

Knowledge Mobilization (KMb): Multiple Contributions & Multi-Production Of New Knowledge

Tag Archives: Masters

Graduate Studies: Critically Thinking About Community-University Engagement Research

Critical thinking

Every day I assist university students as part of my work at the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University. I am a member of the dean’s office and deal with students, faculty and staff – including grad program assistants and directors as representatives helping almost six-thousand Masters and PhD students make the most of their educational experience.

With so many aspiring graduate students I sometimes see students with something special – exceptional intellectual qualities and research skills that are often revealed by their national scholarships and awards, valuable research or examination results. These students display a self-confidence and level of academic success that leaves faculty, staff and peers alike very proud and in admiration.

These fortunate graduate students appear to be the winners in the race we have made of higher education. Yet the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in my interactions with many other students. Our education system continues to adopt methods that reflect competition rather than cooperation, elitism rather than inclusiveness – one type of knowledge over other knowledge. Our education system manufactures students who are smart and talented and driven, but also nervous, fearful, confused – and sometimes even smug or arrogant. There are some graduate students with little research curiosity and an underdeveloped sense of purpose and an overdeveloped sense of privilege – students who are stuck in a cycle of doing research simply as a means of getting a degree for some greater reward after they graduate.

Is it possible that these students – heading in the same direction – are great at what they’re doing academically, but have little idea of why they’re doing it, or how to engage in real, meaningful research that matters to them, their community, and our world?

The standard admissions process creates a brand of graduate students that seek opportunities that come only after a degree. Traditionally, students are pushed into the machine of higher education with little regard or encouragement to identify and seek real-world solutions to real-world problems during their studies to make a more immediate difference on a broader scale today.

In my job I come in contact with many grad students who are bright, thoughtful and inspired whom it’s a pleasure to talk with, exchange knowledge and learn from. But many seem comfortable to maintain an education marked out for them with no thought towards doing research that can create community-university engagement for impact beyond the university. This is why creating knowledge mobilization opportunities and strategies for graduate studies is so important.

The primary purpose of getting a degree is to teach a person to think critically. This doesn’t simply mean developing academic skills specific to an individual discipline. A new university paradigm is about multi-disciplinary and inter-departmental conversations and connections to provide differing views from varying capacities to create an academic environment that provides social benefit through community engagement within and beyond the walls of the university.

Learning how to think critically is only the beginning. There’s something particular you need to think critically about – building a better world for everyone. That notion may sound too idealistic, yet given the fact that we are still faced with sexism, prejudice, bigotry and hatred that lead to modern extremists and territorial wars that continue to threaten world peace, shouldn’t teaching our students to think critically about creating real and meaningful connections with people from different ideologies and cultures be a top priority in education?

Shouldn’t we be teaching our students to develop research that can make a difference in addressing these real-world problems?

Most universities claim to teach students how to think critically – but all they mean is that they train them in systematic and competitive skills that are necessary for success in business and professions post-graduation. Education seems to be based on developing expertise that is ultimately justified in getting a graduate degree for the sake of getting a degree as a means of making a difference in the future – not in the moment.

Universities that consider students as “commodities” rather than challenging students to be critical-thinking researchers making a difference in the world in the moment may continue to be financially stable, yet fall short on a broader scale. Graduate students are rewarded for research yet the whole incentive structure is biased against doing research that can make a deeper impact for society and our world. The result is trading off getting a degree in the future for doing research now – with greater community engagement – that can make a difference in the world today.

It’s true that some of today’s students appear to be more socially engaged than students in the past and that they are more apt to have more social or entrepreneurial instincts. But it’s also true that many universities continue to follow an historic, narrow view of what constitutes getting a graduate degree.

Application numbers for graduate studies continue to fall in many universities as a sign of the system’s alleged lack of developing students for opportunities post-university. What about creating opportunities to increase graduate studies applications with a focus on creating knowledge mobilization and social innovation opportunities while in university to do research that can make a difference during graduate studies today?

Graduate studies admissions should not necessarily be about maintaining higher numbers for the statistical sake of competition. It’s about creating opportunities to cultivate research that can make a difference on a broader scale. Accepting graduate students who seek to make a difference in doing research while in university not simply for doing research as “a means to an end” for post-university needs to be considered during the admissions process.

Instead, the higher education system continues to impair community engagement opportunities, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from society instead of contributing to it.

The reason is clear. Universities are manufacturing graduate students who aren’t challenged to make a difference in the world – only churning out students with Masters or PhDs based on a field of research that has little impact beyond the university.

Students need to be encouraged to do research that involves people of different backgrounds. Students need to interact with community stakeholders directly as part of their research, and it has to be on equal ground – not as a “subject” of study. Students need to work with and within community as part of the university experience to gain insight into other people – exchanging knowledge to show them that intelligent people actually exist outside the academy who perhaps didn’t have opportunities to gain a graduate degree – but are nonetheless intelligent in different ways.

When universities provide graduate students with such community-university engagement opportunities as part of their research they create students who are less entitled and competitive, genuinely more open, more interesting and more curious – and far more wanting to make a difference in the world in the moment rather than later on.

The time has come, not simply to reform the higher education system, but to plan our future with another kind of education system that embraces knowledge mobilization strategies more deeply within academia to transform our society altogether.

More broadly, we need to rethink our concept of merit within graduate studies. If universities are going to train a better class of graduate students than the ones we have today, we’re going to have to ask ourselves what kinds of qualities they need to promote to do research that makes social impact. Those universities that select students simply by GPA or “original” research more often benefit the statistical competition rather than develop graduate students who are critically-thinking researchers engaged with local and global communities.

It’s time for universities to provide opportunities for graduate students to exchange knowledge through greater community-university engagement and develop knowledge mobilization strategies as part of the graduate student experience to create greater value of a graduate degree – and greater value for the world in general.

Collective Impact Of Research Over Isolated Impact Of Research

Pepsi Coke Hatred

We live in a knowledge society with the technology to exchange our knowledge faster with greater numbers of people around the world than ever in our history.

So….

Why can’t we develop skills and opportunities to break the cycle of poverty, hunger and homelessness that still exist?

Why isn’t healthcare a universal human right?

Why is climate change still a problem?

Why can’t we provide students with all the support and services they need to stay in school and graduate?

Why can’t we avoid prejudice, bigotry, bullying and hatred that leads to war?

These persistent global harms are what social scientists refer to as wicked problems. Many academic researchers, community workers and social innovators have spent countless hours and years studying why wicked problems still plague humanity. An abundance of words have been written in an abundance of scholarly journals about an abundance of studies, and there are many community-based examples of localized success stories – yet wicked problems still exist worldwide.

Just when you think we might learn from past generations in history and begin to overcome wicked problems it begins to look like history repeats itself in our own generation. History may not repeat itself but rather rhyme as Mark Twain observed.  Repeating or rhyming – will we ever be able to eliminate these wicked problems? What needs to be done? When it comes to prejudice, bigotry, bullying and hatred – sadly, these are easily learned in childhood as adults pass on their views to children. Thankfully, such views can change and are not always maintained into adulthood. There are many reasons why prejudice continues to be a ubiquitous social phenomenon, and some international researchers even think hatred should be treated as a disease – approaching the problem from a healthcare perspective. Yet wicked problems are also interconnected to the cycle of poverty, hunger and homelessness which stems from economic competition and greed that can then cycle back into prejudice, bigotry, bullying hatred and war.

It would appear that within wicked problems there are two major underlying and interconnected reasons:

1)      Teaching our children to hate and “pass on the disease” by not thinking more broadly beyond exaggerated group categorizations or stereotypes and

2)      Economic conditions that lead to financial disparity and greed.

When we create mental categories and social barriers by grouping into similarities or stereotypes without being open to and understanding our differences, ridiculing or exploiting characteristics of others and exaggerating differences among us – we contribute to wicked problems.

When we maintain economic conditions that only help specific populations without regard for broader solutions that do not lead to lasting benefits for everyone- we contribute to wicked problems.

Knowledge mobilization (KMb) is about breaking down barriers – social and economic. It’s not just about sharing diverse knowledge in our knowledge society – it’s also about moving knowledge into action for broader benefit in society. Without turning knowledge into action knowledge is useless. We can begin to conquer the enormous social and economic challenges that create wicked problems when we begin to implement knowledge mobilization strategies to maximize the impact of research in order to change policies and systems within our world for lasting benefit.

It’s not just about doing research on the problems – it’s about taking that research and turning it into action by creating community/university collaboration, transferring and exchanging knowledge skills and experience to develop ethical business and technology partnerships, and advocating for policy change within government. It’s about connecting and collaborating across sectors to create social benefit that also leads to economic benefit. Knowledge mobilization when linked to social and economic innovation can create far-reaching and lasting change to overcome wicked problems on a broader scale.

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(Link here for more information about this knowledge mobilization model)

Overcoming wicked problems is not just for one sector of our world, one community, one country, one nationality. To overcome wicked problems we need to break down barriers and push beyond our individuality, discipline or region to focus on the larger scale of our commonality as human beings. We need to set our sights on collaborative action for ultimate collective benefit as a primary means to overcome wicked problems – which begins with knowledge mobilization. This includes innovation to make change – both social and economic innovation – which also begins with knowledge mobilization.

I currently work in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University and see so many graduate students interested in creating and contributing to our knowledge. I see great aspirations for the future as Masters and PhD students want to have an impact on our collective knowledge – while also wanting to create social and financial value from their research. If we are going to succeed in creating impact we must also start to encourage our students to be visionary in their approaches to knowledge mobilization and community-engagement by thinking about ways of turning their knowledge into action.

York University grad student Bart Danko is a recent and outstanding example of a student presenting his research with broader social and economic impact. Bart has not only pursued his interests in the interdisciplinary subjects of Environmental Studies and Law through York’s unique MES/JD program (the only program of its kind in Canada), he has also harnessed the power of social media by creating a film and website about his research. Like Bart, current and future students need to become more collaborative and networked in the knowledge and innovation society in which we now live by presenting research in broader and technological ways. It’s what is referred to as doing research with collective impact over isolated impact.

As with teaching our children to think beyond limiting and stereotypical categorizations and become more inclusive, we need to teach our students to think beyond their disciplines and think about research that advances knowledge to create not just social change but also economic change on a wider scale – to create collective impact over isolated impact. We need to teach our students to think about becoming boundary spanners from academia to community to business to government when they do research.

We must sustain economic conditions that continue to make it possible for student research to be financially supported by granting agencies while also creating collaborative and funding opportunities with philanthropists, business and industry to deploy their research in providing data and analysis to make informed economic decisions that decrease financial disparity. Students need to think about the potential extra-academic impact of their research across disciplines, sectors – and even social media networks.

Living in a knowledge society with technology to exchange knowledge faster and broader does not necessarily mean breaking the cycle of wicked problems. Knowledge mobilization takes that knowledge sharing one step further to action and impact. Research without knowledge mobilization has isolated impact. Research with action, community-engagement and public-private partnerships has collective impact. Connecting research to knowledge mobilization and scaling it broader to innovation in business and industry leads to wide-ranging social and economic changes that will then begin to break the cycle of wicked problems. It takes a commitment to educate our children, our students and our communities to create knowledge that ensures the cycle of wicked problems will not continue in the future so that we don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again.