Episode 41 - Ashoka U on Teaching Change Series with Rebecca Riccio
Updated: Oct 29, 2019
Today’s episode brings us the 4th installment of our special series Ashoka U on Teaching Change with our conversation with Rebecca Riccio, Director of the Social Impact Lab at Northeastern University. Rebecca shares her philosophy of change-making education from the ways of thinking, ways of being, and ways of doing, to her disdain for placing too much emphasis on specific terms like “social entrepreneurship” or “social innovation” and lastly her chapter in the forthcoming Ashoka U publication.
Rebecca Riccio is the founding Director of the Social Impact Lab (SIL) at Northeastern University, an experiential learning hub that prepares students for lives of citizen-leadership and social change through systems thinking, complex problem solving, and ethical community engagement. Throughout her career, Rebecca has developed and managed cutting edge projects around the world, including the first federally funded teacher training program in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall; satellite-based email networks connecting health facilities in Africa and Asia before commercial options became viable; and the world’s first massive open online course or MOOC on experiential philanthropy, which engaged thousands of students around the world in awarding grants from the Buffett family’s Learning by Giving Foundation. She continues to break new ground by researching and developing experiential learning methods that challenge students to grapple with the complexity and ethical implications of engaging in social change using techniques such as network and systems visualization, real-dollar grant making, and community-based service-learning. Rebecca is a leader in the growing use of experiential philanthropy education to illuminate the study of the nonprofit sector, civil society, and social justice by having students confront the power and privilege of managing scarce resources in the face of vast need. The model she developed at Northeastern, Northeastern Students4Giving, is now being adapted in countries around the world through SIL’s Global Philanthropy Initiative. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on the nonprofit sector, philanthropy, and social change at Northeastern University and has lectured on philanthropy, social justice, and policy at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.
Social Impact Lab website: https://cssh.northeastern.edu/impactlab/
Social Impact-athon website: https://www.socialimpactathon.com/
Rebecca’s talk at Ashoka: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXxSIGdyPv4
For more information about Rebecca’s philosophy and work in experiential philanthropy, see Riccio, Rebecca. “Checks and Balances: Experiential Philanthropy as a Form of Community Engagement.” Service-learning through Community Engagement. By Lori Gardinier. New York, NY: Springer, LLC, 2017. 39-56. Print.
Jerrid Kalakay 0:09
Welcome to the teaching change podcast where we explore she's social entrepreneurship, education, and innovation. I'm your host Jerrid Kalakay. On today's episode, we have the fourth installment of our special series a show KU on teaching change. Today we're speaking with Rebecca ratio, director of the social impact lab at Northeastern University in Boston. Well, thank you so much, Rebecca, for being on teaching change today. Why don't you introduce yourself to the audience?
Rebecca Riccio 0:34
I'm Rebecca Riccio. I'm the director of the social impact lab here at Northeastern University, which is a space for students who are interested in social change to come and I hope, learn how to be ethical and effective in the work that they hope to pursue in their lives.
Jerrid Kalakay 0:50
Okay, awesome. And how long have you been at Northeastern,
Rebecca Riccio 0:54
this is my 11th year, we've been doing the experience of philanthropy education for that whole time in which students are engaged in real-dollar grantmaking in the community. That's kind of our Hallmark program. And we've been very much involved in the expansion of the experience of philanthropy education across the United States. And now we're starting to do it in other countries as well. In addition to the programs that are associated with my teaching and experience of philanthropy education, we partner with a lot of units across campus to provide experiential learning opportunities for students who are interested in social change.
Jerrid Kalakay 1:33
Wow, that's awesome. So, can you talk a little bit about what experiential philanthropy is?
Rebecca Riccio 1:38
Yeah, you know, it's interesting, the basic idea is that we integrate real dollar grantmaking into the classroom. And the notion is that by charging students with the responsibility for deciding how that money is awarded as grants to local nonprofit organizations, it challenges them to grapple in a very meaningful way, with the practical and ethical implications of controlling scarce resources in the face of so much need, right? Because they are learning about what's going on in the communities that they sometimes don't even enter that much, you know, these are space off-campus. So it really engages them and thinking about what their neighbors and where they live and learn, familiarize them in a hopefully deep and meaningful way with what the lived experience of our neighbors is. And then it makes them decide what they're going to do with this money. And I tried to deconstruct any idea that they might have that they can really do that. Well, you know, I mean, like, Who are they to be deciding where that money should go in these communities that they don't live in? And so we really grapple with what that means. How do you earn your right to be engaging as learners in this giving process, and you know that you have to say no to a lot more organizations you can say yes to and that should feel like a heavy ethical burden for them. So it's this great space, where we give them a kind of a visceral experience of what it means to control resources, which is something that most of them will likely encounter in their lives, whether it's their own philanthropy or whether they're involved with corporate social responsibility, or if they volunteer on aboard. You know, these are really important questions for us to understand the agency that we have, but also the risk of doing harm. If we're not thinking about how we think about the power and privilege we bring into these spaces, and how we can make good decisions, you know, we want to be effective we want, we want to ensure that we're supporting good outcomes. But we also have to learn how to take perspective and enter into these relationships with respect and humility, and the ability to understand our own risk our responsibility as members of these communities.
Jerrid Kalakay 3:59
Yeah, and I imagine empathy would be huge.
Rebecca Riccio 4:03
Absolutely, I think that we approach everything we do with this understanding that there are certain competencies or literacy or attributes or values, you know, whatever you want to call them, that are absolutely essential to integrate into the way we teach social change. And I'm excited about talking about what that means for learning outcomes. Because we have to be so deeply responsible as social change educators and reflecting on our own responsibility now, our agency to affect social changes via the students and our classrooms and how we teach them and what we teach them. And so we should be reflecting all the time, on our responsibility, not just to them as learners, but to the communities in the lives, they're going to be touching for the rest of their lives, beyond their time in our classrooms. And so, this discussion around values, requires us to be reflecting on our own, as well as thinking about how we're creating spaces where students can reflect on them, and understand that tension between wanting to do good, and the risk of doing harm. And how you, you know, I like to how you earn your, your spot, the social change table.
Jerrid Kalakay 5:19
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I mean, the common that, that balance between doing good and doing harm is, is one that has to be struck, and also sort of, and sometimes, the line between the two is rather thin.
Rebecca Riccio 5:34
Oh, absolutely. And it can all hinge on the extent to which were successful in creating habits of reflection, and introspection. I believe that the ability to get students to just pause in their own excitement and exuberance in their own good intentions, and to contextualize what they're hoping to do, to deconstruct how they think, or how they perceive the issues that they want to address, and then to recognize what their relationship is to their other new to other human beings, right. So now we kind of slow their role, you know, everything now seems to be like, you know, fail early and fail off or, you know, while those things about fail faster, right? That's fine if you're making widgets, but it's not fine. If you are engaging with human beings and means we can be racing at worse, we're wasting time and resources. I mean, a fast we're wasting time and resources, right. But at worst, we're potentially doing stuff that's really harmful to others. And we have to make that our first principle. And it's not to say you can't be an ethical and effective social Changemaker. It's to say that in order to do that, you have to do a lot of work on yourself, you have to be very introspective, yourself health. And I don't think we can hold our students to that standard unless we're holding ourselves to that standard as educators.
Jerrid Kalakay 7:08
Yeah, absolutely. have now been at Northeastern, I mean, how do you slow down and such a busy city? And such a busy world that we live in today? I mean, to slow down and on the spot of the table, as you said, and be reflective and be introspective? I mean, how do you do that? In your surroundings?
Rebecca Riccio 7:32
Yeah, that's such a great, great question. You know, I have made it the mission of the social impact lab to do that. Right. So I have created a space here, where our ethos is to very consciously and deliberately amplify what these messages are. Right? So, you know, because I'm so worried, I really worry a lot that this risk of social change education, being driven by the fetishization of buzzwords, like social innovation and social entrepreneurship, and that we are not thinking enough about what keeps human beings from being good complex problem solvers. You know, what are the ethical implications of doing this work? And so, this space is dedicated to asking those questions, right, I'm actually kind of agnostic as to what discipline students are excited about, or what sectors or industries they want to go into. I, I'm a fan of all of the things that we can do to affect social change. And we need them all, you know, we have, you know, creating as many ideas and as much passion and as much capital as we can from every single sector from every single industry. And we have to understand that there is no approach. You know, they're like social innovation, like what is that human beings have been in it socially, innovating, since uh, you know, our ancestors figured out that you can use fire to stay warm and cook food and fend off predators and build community by having a place where people can gather around together at night and tell stories, right? So. So I don't want to fixate on those buzzwords, I don't want to fixate on social enterprise or social entrepreneurship, because those are all tools. Right? Those are all great tools. But our mission here in the social impact lab is to contextualize those tools, let's uplift all of them, you know, let's uplift the role that journalists can play in public health experts and policy experts. There is not discipline on any campus, where students who are excited about their majors are excited about their jobs, can't bring value to the social change. endeavor, right? So So instead of focusing on those kinds of specific tools, I say, let's talk about what you should be doing before you even pick up your tool. Right? So the ethos here that we've developed, that kind of defines this space, we call it the are pillars of social change education, and there are three of them. The first one is ways of thinking. Right? And then the third of the critical question there is, how can we use How can we empower students to be better systems thinkers, so that they can be more comfortable, intellectually and psychologically, and emotionally navigating the enormous complexity of the problems facing their generations, and there's so much about being human that disinclined us from being good systems, thinkers, right? Like our, our brains crave closure? emotionally, we want to know, we want to cross that, oh, we fix that, right? Like I made a difference. Right? So our brains in our hearts are longing for easy and fast solutions. We're educated to be kind of siloed and linear and our problem solving
our media and everything we teach them, like, what's your elevator pitch? Right? What's your solution? What's your innovative thing? What's your enterprise about? And you know, I think there is never going to be a killer app for poverty or climate change, right? Like, that's really just not how social change happens. And yet, everything we do reinforces this desire for us to find the next buzzword or silver bullet that's going to fix things. Right. And so we are, we're buzzword junkies. And I think we're very vulnerable to getting excited about these isolated tools, you know, about this notion about social enterprise or being entrepreneurial. And I don't have a problem, I always want to emphasize, I don't have a problem with any of the tools, right. Like, I think that the more robust and expansive the toolkit is, the better, as long as we're including things like policymaking, and advocacy and community building, you know, we have to honor the tradition and the skills and experience that have been accumulating in the social change space for generations, right. So let's not pretend we just invented all this stuff within the last 10 or 15 years, let's contextualize it, let's build out that toolkit. But for goodness sake, let's help them perceive problems in their full complexity, let's help them feel comfortable with the ambiguity of so much of this work, let's help them understand that that linear problem solving is not ever going to really move the needle. And because we've been doing it so long, you know, it's not that we haven't figured out the right business model, or you know that we should be using market-oriented solutions instead of nonprofit solutions. It's that we haven't been understanding the problems in their complexity, and we haven't gotten comfortable navigating them, and we don't have the patience for it, you know, everything about whether you're working sort of in a nonprofit model, or a more market-oriented model. Everything is around, you know, what are your measurable outcomes going to be in a year, what's the monetized return on investment for this, you know, it reinforces this kind of quick, fixed mindset that is utterly inconsistent with the world around us. So that's what ways of thinking are, and so we, we emphasize systems thinking and comfort with ambiguity, civic-mindedness in a way that rep that recognizes how the public, private and nonprofit sector all work together, how capital flows across all those sectors, you know, and it can be very disorienting for people because, you know, I'm not here to tell them, there's a killer app or there's a business model, that they're great idea is, you know, going to do it, I want them to be I disabuse them of that notion, you know, slow that roll around your great idea, kind of listen and learn before you jump in and do and recognize that a lot of this stuff is going to cost more and take longer and be harder to do than anybody wants. But if we keep pretending to ourselves, that that's not the case, we're going to just keep doing the same old, same old, and pursuing all of these, these great ideas that actually weren't aligned with the complexity. So that's the first, the first pillars that ways of thinking. And the next one is about ways of being. And here's where we grapple with our relation to others. And what are the ethical implications of attempting to affect change in other people's lives? Or communities? And what are the ethical implications of being in a place of power and privilege where you control the resources or you have the time, or you have the education to affect change, or to make decisions about which how we're going to do this, in the face of so much need, you know, especially when you want to insert yourself into places that are not your own lived experience? So there it's really about ethical reasoning, and perspective-taking cultural agility, listening, empathy, that's, you know, you mentioned empathy, earlier, empathy, empathy, respect, you know, really, who are you to be a Changemaker like there's a certain hubris to that,
where we have to recognize that good intention aren't enough, that we have to enter this space, recognizing that there is very often deeply rooted social or economic injustice underlying a lot of these issues. And if we don't go in honoring that, and if we don't go in understanding that our way, our ways of being in relation to others, are essential to being able to manage ourselves in ways that don't cause harm, and hopefully do bring value to other people's lives. I think we're failing if we don't, don't do them. And the other point about that, that I think is really exciting, is that there's this really close relationship between systems thinking and ethical reasoning, which might not always be obvious, but my feeling about this is, once you understand the complexity of the economic, political, social, cultural, environmental forces that are converging to create these problems, you know, you, you expose all of the levers where you can potentially bring your unique passions and interests and skills into play. But you also realize that all the connections between those things are connections between human beings, right, you start to understand humanity. And, and the agency that lots and lots of individuals have, you know, systems seem like they're so uncontrollable, and they're so dynamic, and all of that. But that's because humans are in the mix there. And so recognizing the humanity within the system, recognizing that we do have some agency within that system and that other people do, right, it kind of forces you to reckon with the fact that being strategic, you know, when you understand what's going on, from a systems perspective, you start to understand where the human relationships come into play. But then you also understand that looking at things from an ethical perspective, really deep perspective-taking and learning and listening illuminates the complexity of the system to you in ways that allow you to be more strategic, right, that allows you to ask better questions, it allows you to engage the right people in defining what needs are and defining what programs and interventions can look like. And so being ethical, makes you more strategic, and teaching about how to be strategic and being systems here, I think, strengthens the case for being ethical. So I love, love, love the interplay between ways of thinking and ways of being, and then that those bolts set us up for the next, you know, the next pillar, which is ways of doing, and this is now we only now get to all of the cool things that you can actually do in the social change arena, right. And that can be social entrepreneurship, it can be corporate social responsibility, it can be you know, market-oriented solutions, or, you know, impact investing all of those things. But it also can be public health education, it can be community organizing, and advocacy and policymaking, and so many things that work, and that has to be engaged, and it plays all the time. And so I say, you know, whatever, whatever your tools are, they're part of the toolkit, and let's celebrate the diversity of that tool kit, and how many ways we can be preparing the next generation to do what they love, in service to the common good. And, even more importantly, respecting all the other things that are happening in that space? And wouldn't it be great if we had a generation of social change educators, so I'm sorry, of social change-makers whose instinct was to look around at what other people are doing and to see how these actions can be complimentary and to and to strive to work in multidisciplinary cross-sectoral ways that actually help them all move systems and change systems, as opposed to this more kind of, you know, self oriented, here's my solution. Here's what I do. Here's my NGO, here's what I'm doing, you know, we gotta let go of that. And think about how collaboration and
working collectively working collaboratively at the very least, understanding who else is working in this space? What do we know about what works? What else is going on? Who are the stakeholders that we have to be aware of? And how can we be complementing each other's work, as opposed to, you know, again, just exalting each of our own cool ideas, or our own enterprises or whatever?
Jerrid Kalakay 20:25
Yeah, that definitely makes a lot of sense. So the ways of thinking and lead the ways of being the end of the way done?
Rebecca Riccio 20:33
Yeah, it's kinda like a dashboard. And I think once you get that mindset, you see how they interact with each other, and really, really reorient people. So what we've done here in the lab is, you know, I have to say, that also reflects kind of my own journey as an educator. And I was gonna
Jerrid Kalakay 20:55
ask you about that for
Rebecca Riccio 20:57
a long time.
Having made mistakes from having thought a lot about my obligations as an educator, having gotten frustrated about what I do see, as this human tendency, it's not just in higher ed, it's just the tendency of human beings to fantasize about buzzwords and go chasing after the next bright, shiny object. And thinking very, very deeply about what inclines us to do that, what makes us so susceptible and so vulnerable to thinking that words are going to solve the problem or that, you know, these isolated new discoveries are, you know, are making it seems like these things are new discoveries, when they're not, in fact, that new, we're just maybe using new language for what people have been doing for a long time. So why do we do that? And what does that mean for me as an educator to stop and understand why this good intention, right, excited, creative thinking young people may already come into my classroom, predisposed for all sorts of intrinsic and extrinsic reasons to be bad at complex problem-solving. Right? And what does it mean for me as a teacher, right, not to just say, Oh, it's all about this, that or the other thing, but to meet them where they are, and design my teaching, in a way that is not about me imparting my wisdom and knowledge to them, but about creating a space and facilitating their experience in that space, so that they can grapple with these issues, in a way that at first, you know, I'll admit it, you know, the first couple weeks are kind of rough for them. And then they're like, wow, you know, people really aren't honest with us about this stuff. You know, it's, we don't actually have these conversations. But the reality is, when you start talking about complexity, it resonates. Because that's how our lived experiences, you know if problem-solving were easy, at any scale, none of us would have problems in our own personal lives. Right? Of course.
Everything would be simple, but we know it's not we live that it's not simple to solve the problems, we see it all around us. And yet, we somehow keep pretending that, you know, there are these formulas we can teach them or they're these new business models or they're these new whatever's right, that makes it easy. And I don't want to be a part of that. I want to be honest. And they'll say that that's like, wow, you know, but once you hear this, once you start, and I'm very thoughtful about how I teach systems thinking and how we engage in this, we do a lot of visualization and mapping and, and we look at stories and cases and, you know, bring them to a place where that initial shock of Oh, my God, this is all so it's even worse than we thought it was right, let's kind of a shin and I'm aware of that, you know, and that's why I think of myself as a facilitator because I can't just drop them in there space. Right? And not recognize that this is both emotionally and intellectually new for them in a lot of cases. So then how do we work our way through that, to the point where we're flipping that lens to say, wow, you know, look at this visualization you've come up with, that reflects how complex any of these issues are. And we look at issues in Boston, that they might be considering funding. But now look at that map, but every juncture in that map that you have visualized represents an opportunity, right at represents a space where an intervention of some sort may make a difference. And sometimes it is a market-oriented approach that can make a difference. Sometimes it's about figuring out what policy needs to be changed. Sometimes it's about raising public awareness or organizing at the community level. And they can see, you know, the flip side of how complex that map is, the inspiring side is, look how many places that you can interject yourself in a meaningful way. Right? It's, it's, it's a, it becomes a world of opportunity, instead of a world of overwhelming complexity. And furthermore, if you're able to navigate that complexity, and situate the work you want to do in a way, where you now actually have the potential to make a change because you're recognizing the environment in which you're working. How awesome is that? And so, so that, that takes a lot of thought about learning outcomes, right? So like, there's certain factual information in my course. It's called the nonprofit sector of philanthropy and social change. So there is some stuff they have to learn about, you know, why we have nonprofits and what their role is in our society and legal stuff and financial stuff, right, like, so there are facts that they have to get right? How does philanthropy work, the IRS stuff, you know, all of those things? But to me, that's just like, that's, that's just the small stuff. What's much more important, is understanding what those competencies and literacy and skills and values are, that I have to somehow evoke in them that I have to create these visceral experiences. You know, like the visualization, like this decision making around where the money is going to go, where they feel stuff at a visceral level, right, where they're, they're getting angry about things, or they're getting confused about things, or they're feeling excited about things, and then engage them in reflection, and help them find their own vocabulary for understanding what they're feeling for thinking about the agency that they have to be a part of this complex system. And for understanding that they're still at this cool moment of self-authorship in their lives, where they can be making conscious decisions about what they're going to do with all these feelings they're having in my class, what are they going to do with all this information? And how can they
How can they choose the values of the skills that they want to be working on, that they think are essential for effective and ethical, social change leadership, and not just be passive recipients of whatever I knowledge I choose to pass on to them in the classroom, but to be actively engaged and integrating all of these experiences, the theoretical, the practical, the emotional, and hopefully, coming out of my course, feeling that they have charted their own path through it, and that they have decided what to focus on, and what they want to carry forward with them into the future. And so doing that means I have to be really thoughtful about the content, the experiences, the activities, the assignments, how these all relate to each other, what which of these competencies and literacy is in attributes? I think I'm creating an opportunity for them to live about and then holding myself accountable to them, you know, are we, in fact, getting the stuff? Mm-hmm.
Jerrid Kalakay 28:31
So do you would you say that your learning outcomes are more focused on process, the process of them becoming the into you know, going from thinking to being to doing Yeah, are they more process-driven? Are they? I mean, I know, you mentioned that there's some, some facts they have to know. Yeah, just as a curricular component, but what would you say? It's more process-driven?
Rebecca Riccio 28:56
I would say it's, it's, it's both I would say that,
you know, when I, when I, I'll give you the verbs at the beginning of each of my learning outcomes, right? So at first, understand, first of all, there's some stuff you just have to understand, I'm going to introduce you to the nonprofit sector and philanthropy and the role they play in our lives, right? Like, I want everybody to feel like they have a shared knowledge base, so that they're all on, you know, they need to be in a level playing field. Right? So everybody has this shared understanding of a certain set of facts and information, then I'm going to help you use that knowledge, I'm going to integrate that into this new perspective on the complexity of the systems in which the nonprofit sector and philanthropy work, right. So now, I want you to start navigating that, right. So you go from what you've learned to how you're going to navigate it. Right? And then the next one was confronting, right. So now I've situated that I've situated you in that complexity, because I'm asking you to make real-world decisions with real money, and your decisions are going to have social consequences. So now, you have to confront the ethical implications of making decisions that are going to have consequences, right? So we're getting deeper now from just learning about it, to navigating it to now apply it. And then and then that's the end like you apply it, hopefully, to a grant-making decision that embodies all of these things that we've talked about, you know, yes, we want our money to be as effective as possible. But no, we don't want to be making these nonprofits jump through hoops. And no, we don't want to be imposing our views on what these problems are, how they should be addressed, right. So then they are now in that, that process of applying all of this. And throughout all of that the thread that ties it all together is is constant reflect and in a way that I hope is so thoroughly integrated into what they're doing throughout the semester, that they don't think about it as assignments, like I don't grade the reflections, based on the content that they're including, like II reflection can to easily become yet another kind of assignment that they can game, you know, that like they read the prompt, they look at the syllabus, they know what the teacher thing, so I'm going to read my reflection is going to actually be an essay that, you know, I'm going to make the teacher happy. You know, I you know, and it doesn't become reflection at all, I have them doing very brief reflections throughout, I don't grade them on the content so much as the extent to which they're demonstrating how deeply they're engaging with themselves throughout this process. We do a deep before and after reflection on the competencies and skills and literacy, these are values that they think that the getting is important to ethical and effective social change leadership, and then at the end, they can change that list, they can reflect on that list. And I asked them to say, you know, how did you do? I actually asked them to rate themselves, you know, on a scale from one to 10. You know, and they often will say, you know, empathy or cultural jelly whatever, like, did you do you think you grew in this, do you think you have work to do? my happiest moment and this has happened every semester since I've been doing this is when they lower their scores, right? They say, Well, you know, I thought I was an eight and empathy. But really, I'm more like a four, because I didn't have any context in which to understand this, you know, and a lot of them will add systems thinking to their list because it's a new concept for them. So that whole kind of arc of the reflection around this integration of the content with the experiences, and this process of agency and self-authorship that I think is so important. It's all kind of tied together. And when I designed the course, as part of this process, and this, this kind of gets to what I would encourage other people to do, it's, it's you really have to, like be so honest with yourself, about, you know, what you think your role is, as a social change educator, how comfortable you are giving up control of your classroom, you know, or thinking of yourself more as a facilitator than an expert, and also really holding yourself to rigorous standards about, you know, what are those learning outcomes,
and how they can be different, you know, the stuff that they're learning, versus the stuff that they're engaging with, those are very different kinds of outcomes. But then also, I did a visual map of my course, where I forced myself, you know, throw away all those 10 pages of text that is a syllabus, right, and just visually realize the relationship between your learning outcomes in the activities and what they're doing, right. And if you can't figure out what the relationship is, between pretty much everything you're doing, and how they're related and how it all I say, then either you haven't thought of everything that belongs on your map or their stuff on your map that doesn't belong there. Right? As it should, you should be able to point at any day, any day of the anytime during the semester, I can point to where we are in the map and say, but this is what we're doing and why. And here's how it relates to the learning outcomes. Here's how it relates to your process. Here's how it relates to what you should be grappling with right now. But that, you know, I had to really I used the learning outcomes, and I used ways of thinking, being and doing as a mirror to myself, you know, am I really doing what I think I'm doing? Am I really open to learning from myself when I'm not? Right, like, Am I being humble about this, because a lot of this has been kind of experimental. A lot of it goes against the grain of how social change, education sometimes works. And a lot of it takes, you know, takes courage to, I think, in academia stand up and say, yeah, you know, I teach humility and empathy and respect, or at least I bring them up, right, these kinds of soft skills that we all know are so important, and yet haven't always had a comfortable place for us to articulate. I've been really lucky here at Northeastern. This is a tool that people might like to look at. While I've been doing this work, we have a new initiative here called self-authored Integrated Learning sale as an IL. And people can visit it at sale northeastern.edu. And it's a really cool, campus-wide initiative, to create a platform and a language for us all to recognize and integrate the different ways that students learn while they're here at Northeastern. And it recognizes that learning happens in the classroom and outside the classroom, it happens on campus and off-campus. And what does that mean? What are the different domains in which students are learning and, you know, some of the domains make me really happy? Civic mindedness and social conscious conscience is one of our consciousness as one global mindset, you know, all of these different domains, it's a different way of thinking about how we support them, as whole human beings and as lifelong learners and leaders, and it identifies and kind of celebrates, a lot of the things I think are absolutely essential in framing who we are, as human beings who engage in social change, so folks might enjoy check that out.
Jerrid Kalakay 37:00
The sale is so sale you are your core curriculum,
Rebecca Riccio 37:05
it's not important, you know, we have something called a new path, which requires students to take courses across a variety of ways of thinking and ways of problem-solving. So there's like a quant quantitative, qualitative, ethical, you know, that's our, that's called new path and up a TH sale is it's complementary to that. But it's really intended as a just as a shared framework and culture, for all of us to be using this understanding of educating the whole student and recognizing that learning happens everywhere, and a way that we're actually able to capture that. But be more mindful about how to help students get meaning from all of those different experiences, you can do a lot of really cool things here because we do celebrate the experiential, and we have Co-Op and you know, lots of global programs. The idea is, you can have all those great experiences in life. But if you're not reflecting on them, if you're not thinking about how they fit together, if you're not trying to make sense of what happens on Co-Op, and in the classroom, neither experience is going to be as rich as it could be. Yeah,
Jerrid Kalakay 38:23
yeah. Cuz any of us have isolated experiences that don't connect. Exactly. So Rebecca as an as a human being, I would love to take your class. Sounds it sounds amazing. And I love the way you're approaching and, and so forth. With that being said, as a faculty member, I'm thinking oh, my gosh, this must This is such a labor-intensive approach to teaching a course. How many students do you teach? Typically? And how do you manage it as, as a director of a lab and faculty member I mean,
in your closet, or what?
Rebecca Riccio 39:05
Well, you know, it's interesting.
I, there's been so much demand that I have every semester been experimenting with how many more students I can let in because I just hate you can imagine, I'm so excited about doing this. I hate not letting people into my class. This semester, I have 31 people in my class,
Jerrid Kalakay 39:23
Oh, my gosh,
Rebecca Riccio 39:25
yeah. And they are so deeply engaged. I'm so excited. I think there are only about three that have not yet participated actively in conversations. And in this step, so. So here's the thing, there was a period of time I, I will admit that I was a fellow here at our Center for Advancing, teaching and learning through research. So I was able to do a lot of this work in the context of being in our teaching and learning center, I really encourage people to take advantage of those facilities and services on campus is if they have them. And I feel really passionate about all of this. And I longed for a structured way to kind of get my own clarity around this. So I did invest a lot of time and thinking about this, I would say probably over the course of a year and a half or so I really just said you know what, you're just going to deconstruct everything, you're going to be really honest, you're going to expose yourself to these teaching experts. And so it became a big project for me. But now that I've kind of worked through it, I feel like I created, I took myself to a new place as a teacher in terms of my understanding of my role and who I am. And so now all of it just feels kind of fun. You know, like, I like what I'm doing, I think, I think when you find that place, as an educator, we're who you are and what you've done in your practice and what you teach your kind of all the same thing. That's an impact credibly exciting and liberating place to be. So So I encourage folks to do it. And you know, as in terms of teaching takes a lot of work anyway. Right? So why not? Why not give our carve out some space where we can deeply reflect ourselves and grapple with these things, and put ourselves out there. And so so now, I feel like after I've done this now for a few semesters, it feels very natural. To me, it feels so much more comfortable, actually, because I don't have any preconceptions of myself as the font of wisdom in the classroom. I'm trying to create experiences where students will come to ideas on their own. And I might give them the language of the theory or the framework for expressing what they're talking about. But they learn it themselves. Because it's a joy.
Jerrid Kalakay 41:50
Yeah, well, and I, and I think we as educators need to have, there's, there's times where we do reinvent and renegotiate and reiterate then and change things around. Right? Because again, as you said, if you're not enjoying it, you're probably not doing it very well.
Rebecca Riccio 42:07
Right? Well, and if this is what we're gonna do for the rest of our lives, we should enjoy it, right? I just do with joy, you probably do better.
Jerrid Kalakay 42:17
So let me ask you, how you got with the show KU and the learning outcomes publication that'll be coming out soon? How did you get involved in that project?
Rebecca Riccio 42:27
It was a great project. And I have to say, that's another one of those opportunities, where I said yes because I knew it would cause me once again to pause and reflect and hold myself accountable. You know, if I can't explain to other people what I'm doing in my classroom and why it means I'm not sure myself. And so when they invited me to write about or when they invited me to tell them about what I do. And then they fed that story back to me as part of this, the development of the content, it, it was a mirror for myself. So the process was great. And I like how committed they are to helping us get this work, right.
Jerrid Kalakay 43:11
And so as the publication is going to be coming out soon, what do you hope it does for the field or for your colleagues across, really across the world?
Rebecca Riccio 43:24
I hope that it, First of all, it inspires social change educators to reflect on their roles. And to become thoughtful about how innovative you can be no, there I'm using the word that I get anxious about, but how you can be how you can reimagine yourself as an educator in the social change space, right? And how you can be bold about owning that there are values that we bring to this there are skills and literacy is an attributes that you have to be creating space for students to grapple with. It can't just be that we're selling them a bill of goods that were saying, here's, here's this, you know, people will talk about the social innovation curriculum. I don't know what that is, you know, I don't think that there's a cookie-cutter curriculum, because I believe that educators in every discipline can become social change educators, not by not by adopting some kind of campus-wide curriculum, but by maybe adopting shared values around what how we teach students to think how we teach them to be you know, getting back to those ways of thinking and being taught what you teach about how to do this stuff.
Jerrid Kalakay 44:40
But add to it. What Rebecca, this has been awesome. Is there anything you'd like to share before we close out,
Rebecca Riccio 44:47
and I guess I would just end by encouraging people to let go, you know, unleash the values that brought you to education in the first place. Unleash the values and power. Make you want to be a social change educator, and interest your students.
Jerrid Kalakay 45:09
Today, we've been speaking with Rebecca Riccio director of the social impact lab at Northeastern University. Till next time, be nice and change some stuff