Creating an online course on engaging families and communities

(Photo: geralt)

From 2018, an undergraduate online elective I teach on community engagement at the University of Newcastle will be one of a growing number of courses (or subjects) the Family Action Centre is offering in family studies at both an undergraduate and a postgraduate level. This means that the course will have a greater emphasis on engaging families as well as communities.

Twelve months ago I restructured the course (HLSC2241 Engaging communities), which I’ve been teaching since 2008, so that it had a greater focus on how community engagement is used in practice.

Prior to last year’s restructure, it had five modules:

  1. Introduction to community engagement
  2. Building on community strengths
  3. Strategies for community engagement
  4. Case studies of community engagement
  5. Summing up

The new structure was largely built on three broad areas where community engagement is used:

  1. Introduction to community engagement
  2. Community engagement in community development
  3. Community engagement in service delivery
  4. Community engagement in planning and decision-making
  5. Summing up

At first I thought it wouldn’t be too big a change to incorporate engaging families, but the more I think about it, the bigger it seems.

When the focus was mainly on community engagement, the emphasis was largely on how to involve people in community development, service delivery or planning and decision making after the initial engagement. With the increased focus on engaging families, particularly marginalised families, I think we need to explore the initial engagement of families (getting them through the door, or letting service through their door) much more.

I’m not sure what other changes will be needed but it does seem quite daunting.

One of the features of the course that makes it interesting to teach is that students come from a range of disciplines. Of course this also means it needs to be relevant to a range of disciplines as well. My initial thinking is that the course will focus on:

  1. Strengths-based approaches to engaging families and communities
  2. Community-led approaches to community development
  3. Levels of community engagement and the Spectrum of Public Participation
  4. Community engagement in health promotion
  5. Engaging parents in schools
  6. Online community engagement

It’s such a huge area that it won’t be possible to do justice to everything but I think these broad areas will give students a taste of some of the breadth and depth of engaging families and communities.

My main hope will be to inspire students:

  1. To actively engage people (individuals, families and/or communities) in meaningful, two-way processes that help them take control of issues that affect their wellbeing.
  2. To consciously seek out and build on the strengths, resources and aspirations of the people they work with (individuals, families, or communities).
  3. To listen to individuals, families and communities and not to assume that they, as professionals, know what is best for the people they work with.
  4. To give it a go when they have the opportunity to engage families and/or communities.

I’d love to hear what you think would be crucial in an introduction to engaging families and communities.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. An introduction to community engagement
  2. 10 things I’ve learnt about strengths-based community engagement
  3. What is the Spectrum of Public Participation?
  4. Focusing more on families
  5. Playgroups as a foundation for working with hard to reach families
  6. 7 principles guiding my work

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Families & parenting and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Creating an online course on engaging families and communities

  1. Joe Coope says:

    A good emergent trend, vital to development of global changes towards sustainability. Big picture interface with ISO 9000 models/GRC would be useful for perspective..


  2. Marie Stuart says:

    Hi Graeme
    There were great presentations at the ARACY Parent Engagement Conference in Melbourne recently . There were some showcase schools doing great work. Penny and I presented our work in the early years setting. As you know my passion is getting in early – the importance of the early years.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alan Blackshaw says:

    Looks like a great unit. Have you considered offering it as a stand alone unit for professional development for those working in Community Development but not enrolled in a University course. UWS did this a few years ago with some of their urban planning and UTS offers something like this through their school of Local Government. I’m certain this would be welcome in the sector. I’d certainly advocate for it with my employer.


    • Thanks for the encouragement Alan. I’ll investigate possibilities. Do you know what USW did about assessments? Did they have similar assessments to those they give their students or were there less assessments? It would require some modification because some of the resources I use I can only make freely available to students and staff from the Uni (e.g., some articles in journals).
      It’s worth thinking about.


      • Alan Blackshaw says:

        The UWS ran a series of short courses. They were usually two days duration and were conducted on campus in Parramatta. Attendees received a certificate of attendance. There were voluntary assessments. Those who opted to complete the assessments could use the unit to count towards part of a post grad qualification offered by the Urban Governance School. I would imagine those enrolled were enrolled with the university in some way.
        UTS conducts 5 day courses from their Local Government School. Again there are voluntary assessments.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for that additional information Alan. I’ll look into possibilities.


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