Mission Impact, Ready for Re-Launch

Think for a moment what the future of higher education could look like? Where do we find meaning in learning? What leads to collective learning and how can we nurture it more holistically as higher education evolves? These were some questions our small team of student and teacher-researchers set off to ask ourselves as we delved into the redesign and co-creation of new learning pathways for the second iteration of Mission Impact (MI) at The Hague University of Applied Sciences. At a time when the current trends and trajectories are depleting global resources and the fragility of our world’s systems are being exposed, this minor aims to explore the future of higher education as a catalyst of hope and co-creator for more regenerative futures.

Mission impact groep One of Mission Impact’s central goals is to foster Regenerative Learning Ecologies (RLEs). These are spaces where students can develop their capacity to guide collective learning and promote place-based transformation in the surrounding communities. Collective learning in this context refers to dialogue, reflection, and the exchange of knowledge it takes to move towards collective growth. It is about deep expression and investigation into how as a community we can be better about sharing honestly throughout the learning processes and developments to create space for openness and vulnerability in areas where they might be traditionally overlooked. RLE’s support this by connecting individual learning with a regional sustainability challenge as two accompanying learning lines. To garner this connection to place, MI has partnered with the Greenport West-Holland and the industrial neighborhood of the Binckhorst near the THUAS campus. These partners will join us in tackling sustainability transition challenges they are facing for the students to host their research projects. 

The desire to connect learners with a broader ecosystem as creative and constructive disruptors to embolden and co-create alternative futures guided us through the redesign process. We just had to find a way to articulate and substantiate our ideas into a tangible learning journey. Our work to redesign Mission Impact began by reading the students' written reflections about their experiences in the pilot version. Emerging from this data, we discovered that community building and social connectivity were missing from the first iteration. To move towards more regenerative futures, emerging educations programs such as Mission Impact must expand their capacity for learning to become flexible and responsive to the desires and aspirations of the collective community. 

In many ways, we are often shaped to see the world in pieces, boxes, and categories dissecting and processing the world around us, often rooted in our own cultural biases. Meeting as an international group we can redefine our individualistic lenses. Through fostering community and creating shared collective lenses we can expand the opportunities for broader scopes, perspectives and the emergence of collective learning. For its second iteration, we had to strip back the layers of Mission Impact to understand what intentions were at its core to then rebuild the program for the September relaunch. 

Mission Impact is a rigorous program that supports the duality of diving deep into regional sustainability challenges and while bringing awareness to the personal experiences and obstacles as a learner, especially in moments of facing hard truths that come with transgression. Moments that are almost inevitable, but are rarely spoken about, much less in the classroom. Every day, reports on ecosystem breakdowns, social conflicts, and crises across the globe flood the news and our lives. For Mission Impact learners to investigate into a sustainability challenge calls for understanding the underlying dynamics of these unfolding transitions. Rarely is there space made to also recognize the weight that uncovering and unpacking these truths can have on individuals and communities. It is important to us that in creating an alternative educational form, students have the support and tools to be able to sit in their relationships, awareness, and awaken sensitivities with and to these challenges. To nurture this, collective reflection sessions will support learners' through the journey of research and self-inquiry while building confidence to integrate the lessons and their own experiences into their work. Above all, there needs to be safety in allowing space for individuals to have unique learning experiences while still remaining part of the whole.

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Our research, co-creation, and design processes will culminate in the re-launch of Mission Impact in September 2021. One of the prominent deliverables was the creation of an Expedition Guide hosted on Notion that will serve as the blueprint for navigating the minor. It will be the main landing page for personal reflections, creative expressions, research, and design processes. The guide is accessible to the public through this link. Part of Mission Impact’s vision for the future is for the minor to become more accessible by providing it as an open-sourced education, an example we strive to set through our work. For a deeper review of the scope of work, see our attached recommended reading and complete course guide.

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Part of the re-design of MI the team was given immense freedom to explore how we could create the foundation for a program that could yield to the ebbs and flows of different learning currents. Gabriella Bustamante, designer, and program co-coordinator explained that “higher education and all kinds of education should open up to be a lot more inclusive.” In a discussion, she expressed that despite the newness of the minor, it was less important for it to become the longest withstanding study program, but rather that it has the capacity to evolve and adapt to the needs of the outward community and the inward transformations of the students. Bas van den Berg, the other program leader, added that as MI evolves, “we can use everything that we've learned and plant those seeds of change in other places.” With the goals of Mission Impact being to support learners in personal revitalization and to think more systemically, the form in which the learning grows does not strictly have to live within the context of educational institutions.

This rethinking of systems challenged our team and as we wrapped up our research and worked to articulate our designs for the relaunch of Mission Impact. In a workshop, Philosopher and teacher Adriana Bustamante reintroduced us to the spirit of child-like inquiry. Adriana expressed that through the “rhythm of community, we connect to questions.” She articulated the importance of reflection and understanding the nuances of internal and external inquiry and expression, which was a recurring theme in the design of the minor. It made us reflect on the pressure (often self-inflicted) that we felt to create something great. And while we think we succeeded, through our co-creative discussions, we came to realize that regenerative learning environments are not bounded by the institution, minor program, or classroom. Collective learning in this environment would reveal itself through dialogue and grasping how we could all be of service to the project and community – for future MI students and throughout our redesign experience. 

Each learner with their own uniqueness and perspectives will experience learning differently. The students will be provided with the tools to engage with the project, but we can’t predict how they will react and interact with the resources and frameworks we offer. The Expedition Guide is a landing platform and a support system, but it is through dialogue and collaborating with the wider learning community that the nuances of this experience will surface. Balancing structure and openness for Mission Impact was vital for encapsulating what we hoped to achieve. Otherwise, we would be creating a form of education that emulates an older form – one we are currently trying to grow beyond. As long as we have designed the minor in such a way that it has space to evolve, the learners will be able to flow with the living RLE. To a great degree though, it will always be up to the learner to be open enough to welcome the experience into their hearts and minds and to run with the opportunity. 

While the process felt a bit whimsical at times– being a student helping to design an educational model for other students is a gift. Our opinions are being sought, our voices are heard and taken seriously, and as a group we reflected back and forth on what exists and what we hope to see as the educational models evolve. We are on our own journeys of self-inquiry and existential investigation. It is for this exact reason that co-creation is so vital because though we may be walking similar paths, our experiences and the way we see the world will vary. Regardless of the outcomes, the beauty of this work is that we are all learning, collectively. 

If you would like to have a more in-depth overview of our research, design process, and findings, find your way to Bas van den Berg’s Medium page to read the full explanation and reflection into the 2021 Mission Impact redesign.

Written by: Luciana Santerre
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