GUEST BLOG: Tarah Hodgkinson is a senior researcher in the Integrated Risk Assessment Instrument Research Group in Vancouver, Canada. She is a member of the International CPTED Association and a certified SafeGrowth instructor. She is completing her Ph.D in criminology at Simon Fraser University.
Last spring, I had the pleasure of teaching a fourth year university class on crime prevention at the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. The course had not been offered in several years.
I was nervous as this was my first upper year seminar course, but I wanted to provide the students with an experience rarely seen on university campuses today. I wanted them to have a chance to guide their own learning, engage with their own neighbourhoods and finally write a paper that they could use for something more than just a grade.
I set up the class to include the SafeGrowth method and created a problem-based learning (PBL) format to teach it. In PBL the students work together in teams and select a real-life, complex crime problem in a neighborhood. Their learning is based on research-in-action.
PBL IN CRIMINOLOGY
In PBL students conduct a SafeGrowth® assessment on that neighbourhood and work to address that problem. In addition to their field work, students each read a different book that had been key to informing the SafeGrowth philosophy or crime prevention. They then participate in seminars with short interactive presentations on that week’s material, presented by the students themselves.
During their field work they practiced real-life learning in the same way a professional consulting team might engage a neighborhood: they conducted site audits, contacted city officials, learned more about crime mapping and developed an evidence-based plan.
They learned about search conferences and safety audits, not by reading about them, but by actually doing them. Their final paper was a report they could give to a city counsellor or funding agency – hence, not just for a grade.
I had no idea how the students would respond since they were so used to lectures and tests. I was sure they would revolt. I feared the worst, but I got the best. When I trusted them to take chances, I saw them flourish. I saw them connect with each other, connect with their neighborhoods, and learn that they too had a voice.
A THIRST FOR REAL-LIFE LEARNING
I asked them to write a thirty second pitch about what they learned. Their responses were shocking. Very few spoke about the content. Rather, they told me that for the first time in university they felt that they had made real connections, real friends. In an era when many lament the loss of integration and connection, they integrated and connected.
They discussed the rewards of engaging with their neighbourhoods and realized that they could do something immediately to make changes. They said they felt listened to and that they had finally learned something. In a class where I did not do any traditional teaching, the students learned something. Imagine!
Not only did they learn that learning-by-doing and this intensive collaboration style - the action-based method - is the philosophical lynchpin of SafeGrowth and successful crime prevention. They also learned when I gave up lecturing and classroom control, when I trusted them to work together on real problems that is when real learning happened. It is then when we truly start to solve community crime problems.