Last Friday we gathered for the first CIRCLET learning circle of this academic year. The beautifully renovated industrial site of Art Basics for Children proved to be a spacious, warm and inspiring setting for a first full day of workshops. Our goal: getting to know everyone who will be involved in the CIRCLET-trajectory, trying to find a common ground about Community Engaged Research and Learning and dreaming of an excitingly participative academic year despite the current corona measures. A short account of an inspiring gathering.

1..2..3… CERL? 

Service-Learning, Civic Learning, Responsible Education, Community Based Learning … It’s hard not to get lost in the ever broadening landscape of educational and research approaches that focusses in one way or another on societal engagement. Besides, given the rich transdisciplinary background of all the participants, every one of us had different perceptions about what CERL is or should be. Some of the participants were already familiar with CERL-practices while others were still quite new in the field.  In order to find a common ground we used the interactive online tool Mentimeter. The colourful result below gives a good overview of some of the fundamental building blocks of CERL.

Want to find out more about how CERL is approached here at VUB by the Univer.City team? Check out these short introductory clips: Short introduction to CERL and Short history of CERL .

Mapping the where, who and what of CERL activities

By now, we more or less had a common understanding of what CERL could be. But some important questions still remained unanswered:

* What places are important in our CERL activities?

* Who do we like to involve in our CERL activities?

* What (glocal) challenges do we address in our respective CERL activities?

Time to creatively cross pollinate with a subjective mapping exercise! We used both soft tech (good old paper, marker and post-it style) and high tech tools (blended participation in online mind mapping using Limnu). The answers turned out to be rich and multi-layered. CERL-practices were linked to a myriad of places, actors and challenges. This kind of mapping exercises are valuable to get a clearer picture on how all of these elements are mutually interrelated. It became clear that CERL practices are well-suited to interact with the highly complex urban ecosystem. 

Actively involving community partners – BBOT/BNA

Afterwards, we were initiated in the wonderful sonorous world of Brussel Behoort Ons Toe – Bruxelles Nous Appartient. BBOT/BNA is a Brussels based organisation that records, archives and distributes voices, stories and sounds that are found in the city. One of their projects is called the Brussels Soundmap, where you can explore sounds that were recorded by different people all over Brussels, both in the present and the past. A resonating digital journey through space and time. The mission of BNA/BBOT is to demonstrate that sound has its rightful place next to image and text as a valuable (historical) source. In their participative philosophy, sound becomes a medium of empowerment: to record the city is to appropriate it!

During the entire day, the people of BNA/BBOT joined us in our workshops and brainstorm sessions. Actively involving community partners in these workshop sessions turned out to be a very fruitful and pleasant exchange.

Finally, we exchanged some best-practices on how to successfully connect with places and people in CERL-practices and how to explore the glocal issues we defined earlier. Therefore we used yet another digital tool called Padlet : an interactive way to harvest input from participants and visualise it as a starting point for further discussion. Looking for inspiration yourself? Check out the results here.

Time flies when you’re having fun. After an entire morning of connecting, deepening and exchanging, it was time for a well-deserved break. All that was left to do, was to devour one of the delicious sandwiches and start working towards the next collective gathering.

This second CIRCLET session will take place early November, stay tuned for more information!