Shared Learning Approach
Mike Nelson, Cynthia Matthias, James Connery, Megan Dickerson
What was your hypothesis?
Does a shared approach to learning enhance a sense of belonging to a community?
What indicator did you measure?
The time shared between participants builds a relationship that in turn increases a sense of belonging in the community that is greater than Santa Cruz as a whole.
How did you measure it?
We conducted ethnographic research to explore three shared learning community spaces in the Hub for Sustainable Living development at the corner of Pacific and Spruce in Santa Cruz: Fabrica, a textile and sewing resource co-op; Bike Church, a bike maintenance tool co-op; and Subrosa, an anarchist community space and coffee shop.
Indicators & Proxies:
Indicator: People self-identify as members of the community
Proxy: People use the word “we” when describing the space/community and use words and non-verbal cues (such as a handshake, fist bump, other greetings) to welcome newcomers
Indicator: People enjoy spending time in the space.
Proxy: People who come in for a simple transaction (for instance, purchasing a bike bell) linger longer than the time necessary for the transaction; People refer to inside jokes or to events or shared experiences that happened prior to the visit; People say that they prioritize going to this bike shop as opposed to another bike shop
Indicator: People feel at home in the space and feel a sense of ease.
Proxy: People help themselves to amenities and tools and don’t stop to ask first; people eat and drink, sit or lie down, take shoes off; people leave possessions unattended. Strangers offer to help each other fix bikes and ask for help
1. WAYFINDING EXPERIMENT: Walked down Pacific Ave, and asked for directions from four people on the street, every couple blocks or so. Asked three questions:
Do you know how to get to Bike Church?
Have you ever used Bike Church?
What's it like there?
2. OBSERVATION: For 45 minutes, mapped movement through Bike Church and noted use of specific words, gestures, etc.
3. INFORMAL PARTICIPANT INTERVIEWS: One member of our group interviewed three Bike Church users informally, asking the following questions:
Are you from around here?
Is this your first time here?
How has your experience been here?
4. TWO KEY INFORMANT INTERVIEWS: 30-minute interview with Steve Schnaar, community activist and longtime volunteer of BikeChurch, and Jessie James, longtime volunteer with Subrosa anarchist community space.
What did you learn?
Our hypothesis was predicated on one primary measure: time. We were curious about whether the length and quality of time shared between participants in a shared learning space would lead to a sense of belonging greater than the benchmark of the sense of belonging in the CAP report. When we visited the Subrosa space at 2pm on Thursday to refine our proxies by making observations of the physical space, we found that it was closed, though it had been advertised as open. We quickly regrouped when we realized that our assigned research location was not available. In twenty minutes, we decided to refocus our efforts on the Bike Church, another shared learning space in the Hub for Sustainable Living complex. The Bike Church was only open on Thursday, so we crammed what we had planned to be two days of data collection into about an hour and a half and arranged for an informal follow-up key informant interview with Steve Schnaar, the main volunteer at Bike Church, for the following day.
All this is to say that our findings, though interesting, do not line up neatly with our original hypothesis! However, we found that our indicators and proxies did provide workable measures for investigating a sense of belonging in a shared learning space.
Some summaries of our findings:
The Bike Church and Fabrica were full of people. Subrosa was closed for the majority of the time we did research and it was unclear when it would be open. Bike Church and Fabrica have posted hours which, though decreased in recent months, are consistent. If you are going to those locations for a resource, you can be pretty sure it will be open. Subrosa, according to our key informant, is often closed.
TRANSPORTATION & SELF-EFFICACY: A bike is a mode of transportation. By building and/or maintaining a bike, you now have the opportunity to explore your community further. This may increase your sense of self-efficacy and empowerment, in itself. One informal interviewee called Bike Church a “local, good place,” and says he would “like it better” if he had a vehicle, but “this is how it is.”
PLATFORM FOR CONNECTION: Being a cyclist or someone who uses a bike as a primary form of transportation already loops you into a larger community with an established identity. Steve Schnaar said that “people need some kind of structure to meet each other.” Bike Church offers a structure around a basic need (transportation), which can lead to connections around “higher” needs, such as community support and a sense of belonging.
This experience has lead to new questions, partly based on a quote from Steve Schnaar: “All these kinds of things create spaces where people meet and connect with their neighbors or broader neighborhood, and I think that’s definitely true. That’s Subrosa’s explicit purpose, but in my opinion they seem to have a narrow target range of who they draw in. I’m more interested in a broad range... We’re creating connections here and outside.”
Does a structure in which some people are there by choice (the volunteers) and others by need (for instance, the homeless man who needs a bike) inhibit the development of a genuine sense of belonging and community?
Does a space based on transactions (for instance, a bike shop) more effectively create a sense of community and belonging among participants than a space based explicitly on creating community (for instance, a “community center”)?