When the Community and the Classroom Collide: Service-Learning at NIU

college student reads book to children

This article is guest-authored by Renique Kersh and Michaela Holtz from the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, and Destiny McDonald from Student Involvement and Leadership Development. We are grateful that they have shared their expertise on Service Learning for our blog and spring 2016 newsletter!

Service Learning, as a practice, “deliberately integrates community service activities with educational objectives” (Bringle & Hatcher, 1990, p. 180). As a transformative learning pedagogy, service learning, uniquely combines student learning, perspective shifting and meaning making. The process of meaning making, for students, is important as it causes critical shifts in schema. At its root, meaning making assumes that students better understand how they fit into the world around them. Service learning experiences enhance this process and encourage a sense of social and civic responsibility. Student engagement in quality service learning experiences challenges their assumptions, ignites their moral compass and disrupts prior knowledge.

As previously explored in the fall 2015 newsletter from the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, service learning takes many unique forms. Academic Service Learning has been defined as “a specific pedagogy that integrates academic coursework with service which meets a community-identified need.” Important to the integration of Academic Service Learning into courses is the inclusion of critical reflection, which is the venue by which students begin to unpack old knowledge and create new knowledge. This practice results in a deepening of learning. It has been hailed as a practice that promotes an “enlightened understanding” for students and emboldens clarity around social responsibility and the interweaving of the student’s experience and the experiences of those in the world around them (Bringle & Hatcher, 1999, p. 179). Other scholars suggest that critical reflection is a means by which educators can assess student learning and therefore make assumptions about depth and breadth (Molee, Henry, Sessa & McKinney-Prupis, 2010).

Further, the definition of Academic Service Learning includes a reference to meeting a “community-identified” need. This suggests that incorporating these activities into courses cannot be one-sided and must include the thoughtful cooperation of community partners. This highlights the need for university collaborators to be reminded of the importance of the reciprocal relationship and collaborative problem solving (Bringle and Hatcher, 2002). There are a number of other important things to consider when coordinating service learning activities, which may pose challenges for community partners. These challenges include the lack of training for students engaged in these experiences and the impact that this may have on community organization’s ability to meet their identified mission. Other challenges include student’s level of interest, communication and sporadic schedules (Smith-Budhai, 2013).

Another important consideration for faculty interested in utilizing Academic Service Learning is how its use can be influential in the process of tenure and promotion. Institutions like Colorado State University provide faculty with guidelines for how to articulate the curricular impact of Academic Service Learning in the tenure and promotion dossier. The National Review Board for the Scholarship of Engagement confirms the importance of pedagogies like Academic Service Learning noting the importance of strategies that “engage faculty in academically relevant work that simultaneously meets campus mission and goals as well as community needs”.  Although much of the research on service learning focuses on student learning outcomes, faculty-related outcomes and community partner outcomes must be considered as well.

So where do you go from here? The Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning in partnership with the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, invite you to learn more about Academic Service Learning, community partner expectations, the use of critical reflection and considerations for tenure and promotion at the upcoming Service Learning Institute titled “When the Community and the Classroom Collide: Service Learning at NIU” on May 18, 2016, from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. This fully online institute will be easily accessible from any location and will include a keynote from service learning expert, Dr. Patrick Green of Loyola University in Chicago. At the close of the institute, participants will have an opportunity to learn about a new Faculty Fellows program scheduled to launch in the summer of 2016! The Faculty Fellows program creates a learning collaborative in which new and experienced service-learning faculty deepen their knowledge and share best practices. In addition, selected Faculty Fellows will receive a small stipend to support professional development and the integration of service learning pedagogy into new and existing courses.

We look forward to having you join us!

 

References

Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (1990). Reflection in Service Learning: Making Meaning or Experience. Educational Horizons, 179.

Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (2002). Campus–community partnerships: The terms of engagement. Journal of Social Issues, 58(3), 503-516.

Gerstenblatt, P.  (2014). Community as agency: Community partner experiences with service learning. Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship, 7(2). Retreived from http://jces.ua.edu/community-as-agency-community-partner-experiences-with-service-learning/

Smith Budhai, S. (2013). Two sides to every story: Exploring community partners’ perspective of their service learning experiences. Journal for Civic Commitment, 20, 1-13.

Mezirow, J. (1990). How critical reflection triggers transformative learning. Fostering critical reflection in adulthood, 1-20.

Molee, L. M., Henry, M. E., Sessa, V. I., & McKinney-Prupis, E. R. (2010). Assessing learning in service-learning courses through critical reflection.Journal of Experiential Education, 33(3), 239-257.

Web Sources

http://www.scholarshipofengagement.org/

http://www.gvsu.edu/servicelearning/service-learningdefinitions-11.htm

Service Learning in Higher Education

posted in: Newsletter, Teaching | 0

pre service reflection, reflection during service, post service reflectionService learning is an engaging teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful, real-world community service with instructional goals and objectives. The service experience involves students in essential reflection activities that enrich the mutually beneficial outcomes of students and the community.

Falling under the umbrella term Experiential Learning, service learning joins other student-centered learning strategies such as problem- and project-based learning, active learning, and place-based learning (Wurdinger & Carlson, 2010, p. 7). Service learning can be further subdivided into direct, indirect, research, and advocacy service learning, each of which involve students in a variety of engaging and meaningful learning experiences (excerpted from Colorado State University, 2015; GenerationOn, n.d.; University of Minnesota, 2011).

Types of Service Learning

Direct Service is volunteer-focused where students are placed in direct contact with people who benefit from a specific service such as:

  • Counseling incoming or new students
  • Reading to small children in intergenerational projects
  • Helping local citizens fill out their annual tax returns
  • Serving food at a local food pantry or soup kitchen

Indirect Service is program- or issue-focused in which students engage in a service by providing goods or a product to a needy cause such as:

  • Collecting and distributing food items or clothing
  • Engaging in neighborhood beautification projects or local conservation efforts
  • Planting a community garden
  • Building low-income housing

Advocacy/Civic Engagement is policy-focused during which students address the cause of and are often personally committed to a social issue such as:

  • Establishing a voter registration campaign among students and the community
  • Distributing literature about a neighborhood watch program throughout specifically affected neighborhoods
  • Speaking on behalf of underrepresented segments of the community
  • Lobbying for more trash cans to minimize littering on campus

Research Service involves students collecting and reporting information for public welfare or interest such as:

  • Working in a laboratory that meets a community need
  • Testing water or soil quality
  • Conducting research to protect local wetlands
  • Developing or re-purposing products from recycled materials

Characteristics of Service Learning

All of the types of service learning share some common characteristics:

  • The service must be connected with course learning goals and objectives
  • The service must meet a genuine community need
  • The service will establish a reciprocal relationship among all constituents
  • The service includes time for students to reflect throughout the experience
    (Bethel University, n.d.)

Reflecting on Service Learning

Reflection is a key component of service learning and gives students an informal structure to connect the experience to the learning goals and objectives. The figure at the beginning of this article illustrates how this reflection can lead to successful learning experiences through:

  • Pre-service reflection, where students examine what they know and think about issues raised by the project.
  • Reflection during service (this is the “What?” phase), in which students identify where they are in the process and share their concerns and feelings.
  • Post-service reflection (this is the “So what” phase), during which students consider the significance of the service (their experience in it, how they can integrate their new understanding in the situation and course work, and offer further action).
  • “Now what?” phase, when students ask what they should do next and whether it is time to decide how best to proceed – considering the future impact of the experience on the community and themselves.

Getting Started

Getting started with service learning involves a number of steps for it to be meaningful for students, community partners, and instructors. First, connect the service and course goals and objectives; second, explain the relevance of the service to both the students and service constituents; third, incorporate the principles of service learning in your teaching through meaningful engagement, reflection, reciprocity (where everyone is a colleague); four, allow for public dissemination of the experience; and finally, each student, community partner, and instructor must have the opportunity to provide their assessment of the experience. Analyzing and assessing the service learning experience will help all constituents realize the effects of the experience and pinpoint areas of the course to make improvements for future experiences.

Service Learning in Action

Service-learning is often combined with interdisciplinary learning, where different colleges, departments, and curricula share service learning objectives (National Service Learning Clearinghouse, 2011). These cross-disciplinary opportunities are ripe for learning how to collaborate, problem solve, and reflect with peers, faculty, and the community. Where students, faculty, and community members often function in separate domains, service-learning experience brings all stakeholders together to share goals and decisions which benefit both the campus and community.

Service Learning in Online Courses

Service learning opportunities need not be restricted to face-to-face courses. Strait and Sauer (2004) highlight an “e-service” model at Bemidji State University that engages teacher education students in service opportunities that take place in their local communities. They also report on the lessons learned, challenges, and suggestions for those who are interested in incorporating e-service in their courses. Visit the Center for Digital Civic Engagement for articles and resources about ways to integrate online teaching and service learning opportunities.

Service Learning at Northern Illinois University

Visit the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning for more information on service learning opportunities at NIU and how to get started implementing service learning in your own courses. The Office of Student Involvement & Leadership Development is a great resource for identifying service learning opportunities for students. Also, both the College of Business and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offer unique experiential learning programs for their students.

Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning

Office of Student Involvement & Leadership Development

College of Business

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Service Learning Resources

The National Service Learning Clearinghouse

Campus Compact

Summary

Service learning can have a profound impact on students, faculty, and the community. Students are able to combine classroom knowledge with real-world issues as they work with community members to bring about realistic and effective solutions and faculty from different disciplines learn from one another and gain valuable insight for future collaboration. The partnership that emerges from service learning activities helps the community to see solutions and ways that can further their cause.

References

Bethel University Off-Campus Programs: Service Learning (n.d.). What is service learning? Retrieved from http://cas.bethel.edu/off-campus-programs/service-learning/

Colorado State University (2015). Types of service learning activities. Retrieved from http://tilt.colostate.edu/service/about/typesOfSL.cfm

GenerationOn (n.d.). Taking action: Four types of service. Retrieved from http://www.generationon.org//files/flat-page/files/taking_action_-_four_types_of_service_0.pdf

Strait, J., & Sauer, T. (2004). Constructing experiential learning for online courses: The birth of e-service. Retrieved from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2004/1/constructing-experiential-learning-for-online-courses-the-birth-of-eservice

University of Minnesota Center for Community-Engaged Learning (2011). Direct, indirect, research, and advocacy engagement. Retrieved from http://www.servicelearning.umn.edu/cesp/programdetails/engagement_types.html

Wurdinger, D. D., & Carlson, J. A. (2010). Teaching for experiential learning: Five approaches that work. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education. [Available at Founders Memorial Library]

Service Learning Workshops with Patrick Green

posted in: workshops | 0

Patrick Green

Patrick Green, a nationally recognized expert in experiential learning, service learning and civic engagement programs in higher education, will offer a pair of workshops for faculty Friday, April 1.

The first workshop, scheduled from 8:30 a.m to noon in the Lincoln Room of the Holmes Student Center, is titled “Service Learning: When to, Why to, HOW to!” Intended for faculty who have not yet taught a service learning course, registration is limited to 30 people.

The second workshop, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. in the Lincoln Room, is titled “Service Learning: Taking it up a Notch.”

It is for faculty who already have employed service learning but want to delve more into philosophical underpinnings of service learning as it relates to civic engagement, higher-order reasoning, structured reflection and focusing on the tenets of reciprocity as dictated by the interests of the group. Registration is limited to 15.

Green is the director of the Center for Experiential Learning and clinical instructor of experiential learning at Loyola University in Chicago. His current research focuses on the impact of experiential education programs on skill development, core competencies and career development.

To attend either workshop, or for more information, visit the NIU Engaged Learning website or contact Lindsey Myers at lmyers@niu.edu or (815) 753-5969.