Designing an Engaged Swarm: Toward a Techne for Multi-Class, Interdisciplinary Collaborations with Nonprofit Partners

Sean Ronan McCarthy


This essay proposes a model of university-community partnership called “an engaged swarm” that mobilizes networks of students from across classes and disciplines to work with off-campus partners such as nonprofits. Based on theories that translate the distributed, adaptive, and flexible activity of actors in biological systems to organizational networks that include humans, swarms are well-suited to providing a diverse range of responses to complex problems. As such, swarming tactics can be useful when applied to nonprofit organizations that do not have the capacity or time to redesign their communications strategy across print, web, and social media platforms. Employing a case study of three classes that collectively produced a wide range of multimedia artifacts for a nonprofit in a single semester, the essay illustrates how a swarm embedded within a university operates, and concludes by providing a schema for modifying swarms to future partnerships. 

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Publication of the Community Literacy Journal is made possible through the generous support of the English Department and the Writing and Rhetoric Program at Florida International University. The CLJ is a journal of the Conference on Community Writing.