Detroit City Study offers new methods of academic discourse

Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 4:41pm

Forget the classroom, lecture hall or library and abandon it for a non-traditional, co-learning workspace filled with educators, students, intellectuals and locals. Sound good? I know I’m in.

The Detroit City Study is a co-learning workspace located at the University of Michigan Detroit Center, designed for people interested in engaging in academic discourses in a non-traditional way. At the Institute of the Humanities on Tuesday, the team behind this project will present feedback on their six-week summer pilot and reflect on their academic incubator composed of 12 Ph.D. students across numerous departments.

In addition to the incubator, the team worked on collaborative research projects in teams and evaluated how to make the research more available to all types of learners. Tuesday’s event will also serve as a way to envision the future of this project and encourage more people to take part in the movement towards collective learning outside of the classroom.

“At its most basic level, it is a co-working space, built around the work of education and learning,” said Rackham student Shira Schwartz, the project director. “It’s about creating more space for people to come together as a community through learning: to meet one another, share interests and work, gain support and collaborate.”

Many of the students involved in the launch are working on dissertations and various projects in Detroit. Their initial goal was to cultivate new working spaces outside the borders of an academic institution.

“It was open to anyone,” Schwartz said. “You didn’t have to be a student at a specific school. You didn’t have to be a student at all. The idea is when you come into the space you become a student in some ways and encourage co-learning among different types of people.”

The project, she said, is motivated by the deep need to rethink education in Detroit, as well as across the nation. The team behind the Detroit City Study believes that for education to be “re-thought,” it must be “re-placed.”

“ ‘Re-place’ means rethinking the place of education itself and the spatial dynamics of learning,” Schwartz said. “Where can learning happen? And how can changing up the space of learning impact the kind of knowledge and the relationships that are generated therein?” 

However, she noted that the team does not intend to restructure the educational system in the city. Instead, they want to offer a new type of learning space that projects similar goals to education within the school system. The graduate students believe that the devaluing of education is happening everywhere, and creating a co-learning space encouraging all types of learning is one step towards fixing the problem.

Schwartz outlined three layers that compose the concept of co-learning. First, it is a social spatial structure, where people can come together and share in learning. Next, co-learning occurs on a mission level, meaning coming together to break down boundaries between the University and outside community.

The third layer of co-learning is a group study, which involves a specific topic that the group studies together to gain new knowledge in a way that differs from a typical school environment.

“Essentially, what we try to break away from is doing frontal presentations, but rather, empowering people with the actual materials that are being discussed,” Schwartz said. “A lot of the work over the summer was working on transforming Ph.D. research into a form that could be digestible and something that people visiting the space could chew on themselves, rather than just being lectured at.”

The project specifically focuses on fields in the humanities and social sciences and addresses how to make graduate education more engaged and relevant towards these subjects.

“If these are pathways to understanding humanness and all of our most pressing concerns around our humanity, shouldn’t these disciplines have the most to say?” Schwartz asked.

The team behind the project believes these studies do have the most to say — they just need to be given a platform.


Detroit City Study

Tuesday at 12:30-2 p.m.

Institute for the Humanities, Osterman Common Room 

Free Admission