NUIM has a long history of ‘professional’ placement training or community-based learning for community work, teaching and media and some more recent civic engagement in departments like Geography.
The home department for this module, the Department of Sociology, has a departmental level commitment to ‘public sociology’ (Burawoy 2005, Khoo 2009) but no formal policy on civic engagement. There have however been various initiatives by academics which could come under the rubric of active research or civic engagement teaching pedagogies.
The new undergraduate degree programme in Politics and Active Citizenship, stress on political sociology and politics ‘beyond the usual’, a commitment to a critical form of active citizenship and to growing students who will question answers more than answer questions. From the outset in 2006 it was always anticipated that there would be an experiential learning module in Year 2 of the three year degree.
The first year intake of the degree was limited to an intake of 20 students so it was anticipated growing the numbers to approx 40 in the second year of intake and up to 60 students in subsequent years. This meant the first pilot year was limited to 20 students but that the methodology had to have the capacity to cope with up to 60 students.
The concept of civic engagement therefore fitted directly into the rationale informing the core learning objectives of the degree programme ‘politics beyond the usual’ and its key aim of providing experiential learning experience for students.
There was not necessarily a commitment to community or service within the design of the degree and indeed there may be wariness amongst a number of teaching staff of active citizenship concepts which promoted volunteering as an alternative to critical public and political debate as the centre of active citizenship.
The Learning Objectives for the civic engagement module were simply that students will have had opportunity to experience and reflect on power and democracy in the external world.