Concordia University

Can you crowdsource curriculum?

Concordia's CHNGR project is developing a community-powered graduate certificate in social innovation and entrepreneurship
May 13, 2016
By Tom Peacock

CHNGR's Curriculum Challenge.

A new graduate program in social innovation and entrepreneurship at Concordia is in the works, and it’s all thanks to CHNGR.

Funded by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation’s RECODE initiative, CHNGR is a Concordia-based project designed to stimulate collective and social innovation on campuses across Montreal and beyond.

Earlier this year, CHNGR launched a Curriculum Challenge, which invited Concordia staff, faculty and students, as well as community members to help design a new graduate certificate — essentially crowdsourcing ideas for its structure and guiding philosophy.

“This is new, exciting and innovative, and it’s also the first time we’ve done this,” said Nicolas Nadeau, project lead at CHNGR, addressing 25 individuals gathered at Concordia’s District 3 Innovation Center for a “Curriculunch” event earlier this week. “We’re learning as we go.”

The Curriculunch marked the end of Phase 1 of the challenge, an “Idea Sprint,” in which teams were asked to come up with key components for the certificate.

From the submissions, the CHNGR team — with support from mentors Marguerite Mendell, professor and graduate program director at Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs, and Deborah Dysart-Gale, associate professor and chair of the Centre for Engineering in Society — extracted a list of ideas and best practices and two overarching themes.

Students as seeds

The first theme, “Students as Seeds,” approaches the certificate as a toolkit to provide students with necessary social entrepreneurial skills.

“The field is new, and it’s growing,” Dysart-Gale said. “However, it’s not yet clearly defined, and neither are the skills that a social entrepreneur needs. This brings the focus to identifying core competencies that are difficult to get.”

Some examples are: basic principles of research design, probability and regression modeling; writing programs to collect data, clean it and prepare it for analysis; and data analytics.

Having the right set of tools is important, says Curriculum Challenge team leader David McKenzie, founder and coordinator of the MBA Community Service Initiative at the John Molson School of Business “But it’s not the whole essence of what this is about. There’s going to be some experiential components as well.”

Preparing the soil

Don De Guerre, chair of Concordia’s Department of Applied Humans Sciences, presented the second theme, “Preparing the Soil: The certificate as creation of a social entrepreneurial community.”

“Social innovation necessarily involves systemic change in multiple players at once,” he said.  “We know that we can start projects in local communities, or within single organizations, but we have trouble changing public policy.”

According to De Guerre, scaling up will require having a strong network of social entrepreneurs on the ground. “Once we get out there, we’re connected and we’ll work out how to do it.”

After the themes were presented, the 25 attendees split off into small groups to discuss them and identify a clear way forward. In the end, they decided that a more holistic approach, involving both themes, was needed.

Nevertheless, the two Curriculum Challenge teams, led by De Guerre and McKenzie, will continue to work separately for the time being.

Compete to collaborate

Between now and July 15, the two groups will develop their ideas before submitting them to a selection committee. A funding envelope of $3,000 will be awarded to one team to finalize their proposal.

This document will then be submitted for institutional review and approval next spring. The hope is that the first students can enroll in the new certificate program for the fall 2017 term.

During the round-table discussion at the Curriculunch event, Mendell pointed out that people often only discuss social innovation and entrepreneurship in terms of solving society’s problems. But it’s more than that, she said.

“It’s also about aspirations, desires and wishing to live and work differently — collectively.”

Until Monday, May 15, CHNGR is accepting applications for the next cohort of its student ambassador program. Apply now!

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