Student Power and Your Programs: Creativity, Technology, And People Power
Maria Anderson Knudtson
Creativity, technology, and people power are elements, which college students can provide to zoos through educational experiences benefiting both the students and the zoo. In Technical Communication classes I teach at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), students have worked with the Henry Doorly Zoo on document-based projects for both the Education Department and Human Resources. At the AZAD conference, this presentation will be a Power Point in which I will show and explain our projects and discuss how zoos can benefit by establishing relationships with institutions of higher education.
I. Background to the UNO projects
Henry Doorly Zoo Education Department.
The zoo education department is directed by Education Curator, Elizabeth Mulkerrin. She leads a staff, which is responsible for creating and implementing programs with a wide focus. In 2004, the department offered 917 educational programs to 32,658 adults and children.
Ginger Noel, Volunteer Manager, directs all training and work done by 455 current volunteers including docents, divers, and horticulture volunteers.
Steve Daughtrey, Campout Director is responsible for creating and supervising campout programs at the main zoo and the safari park. In 2004, these programs included 7500 campers.
Jenny Vytlacil creates and directs classroom activities. Julie Anderson directs outreach presentations to the community.
Through the main zoo and the Wildlife Safari Park, the education department serves the Omaha community at large and the population in Nebraska and surrounding states. HDZ Education received the 2005 Phi Delta Kappa Outstanding Service to Education Award.
Technical Communication Classes. The Technical Communication class is basically a writing class, which introduces students to applications in professional situations. The assignments differ from writing academic papers like essays which students traditionally produce in general composition classes in colleges. Tech Com principles focus on the writing situation, audience, format of documents, researching, and editing. Students produce documents such as reports, resumes, letters, memos, technical definitions and descriptions. At UNO, the challenge in developing assignments begins with the student profile. In spring 2005, I had three classes of 20 students each in computer lab settings. Those 60 students represented 10 colleges on the campus and were studying 23 different majors. Developing assignments that will teach them concepts across different disciplines is challenging.
Two current movements in higher education influenced the development of the zoo projects: service learning and Communities of Practice. Service learning focuses on curriculum development, which brings the students together with a client in the creation of assignments which fit both the curriculum and the needs of the client.
The students can apply the principles of their class and the client gets usable work usually with no fee. Both parties benefit.
The second principle is really an analytical theory called Communities of Practice.
Communities of Practice is a concept developed from analysis of communication within successful business groups. Communities of Practice are groups, which support professionals in knowledge and working environments. They are voluntarily selected. If you consider your professional life, these are the people with whom you choose to interact in a professional perspective. They may or may not actually work in your place of employment with you but may be a larger, wider group of support. For example, I work within a large English department, but not everyone is in my Community of Practice. My COP involves certain people in my department along with people in other areas institutions with whom I choose to consult and collaborate on a regular basis.
My Tech Com classes are taught with a combination of team projects and individual projects. In order to bring the diverse students together in teams, I moved them away from their individual majors and organized them in teams of different majors with the zoo as the focus. This is an effort to artificially create a Community of Practice by placing them in a situation where they have to grow together as professionals with a common interest.
The first effort to do this was a single project revising the campout documents for Steve Daughtrey in the spring of 2004. This project was so well received by the students and Steve that I threw the entire curriculum both semesters fall 2004 and spring 2005 into the zoo work.
II. Project Descriptions
Team Structures. In all five projects in 2004 and 2005, the teams were required to use similar procedures.
Depending on the project, teams had 3 or 5 members, so I was working with 60 students in 15 or 18 teams across my three classes each semester. Once a team was organized, each team had to come up with a team name and a logo for their official correspondence. For example, the team that developed the study guide for bears called themselves “Da Bears” after the Chicago Bears, and the team writing a travel guide to the United Arab Emirates was “Team Oasis”. Each team had a project manager who was responsible for organizing all team activities and reporting to me. To document each project, the team had to produce a planning memo, a progress memo, a letter of transmittal, and presentation to the client from the zoo. Individually, each team member created a personal activity log to document activities and wrote a summary report after the project was completed describing the work, evaluating team members, and describing the benefits of the project.
Project #1: Revision of Campout Brochure and documents.
Client: Steve Daughtrey, Education
Project #2: Docent Study Guides
Client: Ginger Noel, Education
Project #3 Emergency Action Plans
Client: Craig Jacobs, Human Resources and Safety
Project #4 International Travel Guides
Client: Elizabeth Mulkerrin and Grewcock Research
Project #5 Hiring Process Manual
Client: Craig Jacobs, Human Resources and Safety.
Project #1. For Project#1, students were given copies of the current documents for campouts including a promotional brochure, confirmation sheets and assorted forms. Each team was required to redesign the promotional brochure moving the information from an 8 1/2 X 11 two-side format to four sides on a single 11 X 17 sheet, which could be folded. Teams could also select any other document to revise. Steve received 15 new brochures and 15 revised forms, which he reviewed, and then he selected sections to use in his new 2005 campout material.
Project #2. Project #2 was developed for docents. Docents in the training program at HDZ study zoo manuals of several hundred pages and attend weekly lectures for 16 weeks. The amount of information is somewhat daunting for some people who haven’t had to be students themselves for many years. The UNO students took sections of the large manuals and developed study guides covering 15 different subjects. The study guides covered 10 general animal areas like fish, birds, cats, and five different biomes like grasslands and rainforest.
The eight pages of content included several sections:
3 pages of general information based on the manuals
A section of vocabulary words
A review questions section
A page of graphics
2 pages of reviewed web sites for further information
An area to take notes
The page layout was four sheets back to back printed on two 11X17 pages in black and white. These study guides were reproduced by the zoo and given to docents in training in the spring of 2005. The docents sent me comments about the guides, and the docents were impressed with having a tool that concisely summarized material; in addition, they were grateful for reviewed web sources. Because the sites were evaluated by the students, docents could go directly to solid web sources without having to waste time in searches.
Project #3. Institutions like a zoo are required by the government to have on file Emergency Action Procedures for fire and tornado evacuation. In Project #3, students researched safety procedures for the training and safety of zoo employees in five areas:
·Students wrote instructions and explanations and were also required to produce an 11X17 sign in color.
Project#4. Our zoo sends researchers all over the world. They know zoo protocol, but they might not know about the counties they visit and the customs. In Project #4, students researched business customs in countries and developed full-color business travel guides with zoo researchers as the audience. The overall format followed the eight-page format of Project #2, but the introduction of color made the final documents look professional and enticing. The following sections were included:
· 3 pages of general information about the country and customs
· A section highlighting a major city
· A section with zoorelated attractions
· A graphics page with assorted pictures
· 2 pages of reviewed web sites for further information
· An area to take notes
· A cover.
Project #5 Our final project for Human Resources involved researching, organizing, and designing a step-by step process for hiring full-time employees at the zoo. This manual had full-page format in a ring binder, so pages could be exchanged, as changes were needed. Along with a cover and table of contents, the manual included the following sections:
·A broad set of interview questions
·Instructions for interviewing candidates
·A flow chart of the process
·A set of 10 documents for completion of the process
·A research report on hiring procedures and laws.
III. Project Benefits
Benefits to the zoo. The creativity and manpower involved in having students work on documents greatly benefits zoo personnel. For example, in the docent guide and researcher travel guides projects, teams of 60 students worked for five weeks. Each project averaged 15 hours of class time and about 25 hours outside of class for approximately 40 hours per student multiplied by 60 students, which equals 2400 hours of work. The zoo receives all the work in computer-ready files, usually in Word or Microsoft Publisher. As zoo personnel develop documents, they can review, revise, and incorporate the student work.
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo developed a very unique partnership with Ms. Knudtson’s university English classes this year. It was very exciting and rewarding to work with these college students on several projects that had been placed on the back burner. These students were given a little information and completed documents we could use at the zoo. This was a very rewarding experience for everyone. The students were able to apply concepts to real world situations and the zoo benefited from the documents produced, fresh ideas, and excitement the students brought to the organizations. We are currently looking for more projects for these students to help us out.
Benefits to the students. This is huge. HUGE! First of all, the Henry Doorly Zoo allowed all 120 students enrolled in fall 2004 and spring 2005 classes to visit the zoo on free admission passes. They were required to visit as teams, which helped in team building. The team structures are a valuable learning experience, as most students will work in teams in their professional careers.
As docents, we all know the educational benefits of any trip to the zoo, and for many of my students, the simple visit to the zoo was more than outstanding. Some students, especially international students, had not ever visited the zoo, and many more students had not visited in several years. Going to the zoo and considering the zoo as a business and as a client gave them a new perspective. Applying the principles of the course in real-life situations was dramatic in its effect. “This has been one of the most useful assignments given in my time at UNO”, said Brian Hemmer, a senior criminal justice major. This police recruit learned much about the use of forms and writing to audiences, two crucial points for a policeman. Research and production require the students to understand many concepts of audience, design, utilization, and copyright. An important note on copyright: most documents were produced with free clip art. Copyrighted artwork can be used once by students under Fair Practice Guidelines; however, the zoo must obtain permission if it wants to reproduce copyrighted work.
IV. Projects for your zoo
Finding college students. Many zoos are in metropolitan areas and have access to students at community colleges, colleges, and universities. I recommend doing projects with college students because of their mobility (They can drive themselves to the zoo!) and professional perspectives. Most of my students are juniors and seniors who handle themselves maturely in situations with clients. They are serious about their work and the level of excellence they want to produce. They are required to organize team meetings outside of class time around their busy schedules of classes, families, and jobs.
Obviously, if you have docents who already teach in higher education, you have a natural connection. One key way to get started is to have zoo personnel consider what projects they would like to have developed and to consider how college students can provide the creativity, technology, and people power to assist zoo personnel. Contacts can be made to faculty in different departments.
Ideas for projects. In addition to the areas of my five projects, it’s easy to consider many areas for cooperation of college students and zoos. My classes emphasized document design, but students have broad backgrounds, which can be utilized.
Education majors: Education majors can help develop curriculum for classes in both elementary and secondary levels. We are currently trying to work with math education students to develop programs using math skills at the zoo.Physical Education majors can design activity programs for the zoo. We are currently trying to get athletes to participate in the zoo programs. Business majors can develop human resources, marketing, and business procedures. Biology majors can create many animals based projects. Computer science, MIS, and computer engineering students can design programs and applications for the zoo. Journalism majors can help with the zoo newsletter and internal bulletins.
I just love college students and I just love the zoo! The students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha who participated in the five zoo projects performed at an exceptional level as teams, with technology, and in the role of professionals working with clients.
Creativity: I had 60 brains working on each project. Think about the power in that! The fascinating aspect is that those many brains do have different levels of creativity. Art history majors do view and approach tasks differently than civil engineering students. Many of the students are in courses only with other students of their same major, and it was interesting to them to work with students from different majors. It was a real shock in some cases! The diversity of their ideas and perspectives was a great benefit to each zoo client, and, at the same time, the students broadened their own perspectives.
Technology: I have to face the issue that my computer skills are no match for my students, but my skills don’t have to be. Today’s students are in many cases light years ahead of professors. My students were able to bring technology skills to their projects that I cannot approach. They taught me and taught each other many skills and used technology in ways the zoo clients could not produce on their own because of availability of software and familiarity with its use. The students are amazing in this area.
People power. The sheer number of hours students spent researching and designing their documents could not be replicated by paid staff who are busy with the basic requirements of their jobs. The advantage to the students is that their people-power is directed to a client who can use their work. It doesn’t dead end at the professor’s desk. The advantage to the zoo is that they are not paying for the work, and from these classes, the use is optional. Ultimately, zoo personnel decide how they will use the work from the students.
The relationship between the Henry Doorly Zoo and the students of the University of Nebraska at Omaha has been a great learning experience for all involved. Contact colleges or universities in your area to get started with projects, and please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the projects in my classes.