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

NIU to Conduct Review of Classroom Response Systems

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clickersFive years ago, at the request of faculty and teaching staff, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center facilitated a search for classroom response (“clicker”) systems, in order to standardize their use at Northern Illinois University. At the time, some students had been required to buy and use multiple systems as part of their class materials, which faculty and instructors found untenable. At the end of that search, faculty chose Turning Technologies as the officially-recognized clicker system vendor at NIU.

Because of faculty and staff feedback, rapidly changing technology in this sector, as well as the recent adoption of competing clicker systems on campus once again, we surveyed faculty and instructors who have experience using clickers. Of those who responded, the majority (63%) have three of more years of experience with clickers. Check out the infographic below for interesting results that came out of that survey.

Some key findings:

  • Physical Devices: dedicated response devices – clickers – were once the primary tool used for classroom response systems. However, 71% of faculty reported that they currently allow students to use laptops or mobile devices instead of a physical clicker, and 100% reported that they would allow students to do so if it would decrease costs to students.
  • Blackboard Integration: Blackboard integration was considered very important. Currently, 53% of respondents report using the integration, and 74% indicated it is Critical or Important.
  • Multiple Polling Options: Respondents also indicated that they appreciate having multiple options for polling. 74% use polling embedded in PowerPoint, 58% use polling over other applications, and they were both among the top 5 critical features identified in the survey.

NIU clicker use stats 2016

The responses also indicated a strong desire among the faculty to conduct a fresh review of systems, to ensure that NIU uses the system that best suits their and students’ needs, and the Faculty Development Advisory Committee, comprised of faculty representatives from each college, agreed. During March and April, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center will be facilitating a new round of product demonstrations and reviews from multiple response system providers. Following the reviews, we will also facilitate group discussions among faculty to determine which product to adopt as the centrally-supported clicker system. The faculty who attend the demonstrations will make a formal recommendation to be presented to the Faculty Development Advisory Committee in April, and implementation would begin in fall 2016.

Product demonstrations will take place from March 22, through April 7. The following vendors will present their products from noon to 1pm on each of the following days. The process is open to faculty, instructors, teaching assistants, or staff members at NIU, and your feedback will be important for guiding the future direction of clicker usage and support at NIU moving forward.

March 22 – Poll Everywhere

March 30 – NIUResponse.com by Chuck Downing

March 31 – Turning Technologies

April 5 – Top Hat

April 7 – i>clicker

If you plan to attend, you may register for one or more of the sessions in our registration system, so that we will have an estimate of how many people will attend, and so that you will receive reminders about the upcoming sessions. However, walk-ins are welcome.

Blackboard Portfolio Tool: Faculty Perspectives

Blackboard Portfolio ImageDuring the summer of 2015, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center team worked collaboratively with many faculty and staff to prepare for the Fall 2015 implementation of the new Blackboard Portfolio tool. Blackboard portfolios were created in a variety of courses including UNIV 101 and First Year Composition courses, as well as other undergraduate and graduate level courses and programs.

The easy-to-use portfolio tool allows students and faculty to create several portfolios for different purposes. For example, portfolios may be created for a specific course, program of study, or job search.  Faculty can request templates to serve as a guide for students and grade the portfolio assignment in the Blackboard Grade Center. Students can upload completed assignments, projects from co-curricular activities, and career information using the portfolio tool. Students can then share their portfolio by submitting it to a course or via email to NIU users or non-NIU contacts with only an email address.

NIU faculty who have used the Blackboard Portfolio tool found it beneficial for their students. Some of the comments from faculty include:

It was easy to set-up.

 

The portfolio gave me (as instructor) far deeper insights…what really had an impact on their learning and how beneficial different teaching strategies or activities were from the students’ perspective.

 

For the students, I believe this portfolio really helped them explore and recognize everything that they accomplished in a very short time frame.

 

The portfolio also helped the students reflect on what type of learner they are…and how to adjust their approach to their own education and learning in the future.

 

It is so important to have all of the resources…in one place and this functionality in Blackboard made it especially convenient.

 

Students were able to include a variety of media (ppt, animation, audio, documents, links, etc.).

 

I was able to create a checklist/rubric to go along with the portfolio assignment, which made grading painless.

 

I was very pleased with the pilot of the e-portfolio. I would like to experiment with setting up an e-portfolio for another class I am teaching this semester.

We have extensive information and tutorials on using the Blackboard Portfolio tools at go.niu.edu/portfolios, including tutorials specifically for faculty and students to help you get started using Blackboard Portfolios. Contact us at facdev@niu.edu for more information on using the Blackboard Portfolio for your course or departmental ePortfolios!

NIU Hosts International Delegation for Cultural Exchange and Professional Development

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Northern Illinois University (NIU) hosted faculty from the Anhui University of Finance and Economics (AUFE), mainland China, during the fall 2015 semester. The International Training Office was instrumental in designing and administering the program for the delegation of six Chinese scholars, which was focused on cultural exchange and professional development.

Chinese Delegation workshop in computer lab

Because of this focus, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center was asked to provide professional development opportunities in the form of workshops highlighting pedagogy and technology used in higher education settings in the United States. In preparing for these sessions, Faculty Development staff reached out to members of the AUFE delegation in order to assess their individual teaching experiences (both face-to-face and online), as well as their familiarity with a range of learning technologies. The Chinese faculty were also queried on their preferences for workshop topics. With this information, the center staff designed a series of workshops arranged in a sequence that maximized impact building upon each other. The delegation members attended workshops on a range of topics such as ‘Designing a Course’, ‘Writing and Assessing Leaning Objectives’, and ‘Introduction to Live Online Classes Using Web-based Technology’, to name a few.

In order to better prepare for the visit, Faculty Development staff received orientation training which focused on Chinese history, geography, cultural heritage, as well as exploring differences between Chinese and American cultures. We are grateful to Dr. Michelle Xia, an NIU Assistant Professor in the Statistics Department, for delivering that session. After arriving in the United States, the AUFE delegation received an orientation to American culture during their initial meeting with Faculty Development staff as well.

We were fortunate to have a graduate assistant who could assist with communication during the workshops. Lucia Wang served as an interpreter during lectures, group discussions, and reflection activities. Because she also has deep knowledge of teaching pedagogy and technology use, she was an invaluable asset.

In addition to attending our workshops, the International Training Office arranged for the visiting scholars to attend multiple ELS sessions for improving English language skills, faculty-led workshops such as ‘How to Publish and Flourish’, and meetings of the Faculty Senate, University Council, and the Board of Trustees.  During their stay, members of the Chinese delegation also enjoyed a number of opportunities for cultural exchange including field trips to the Chicago Art Institute, the 21st Annual Native American Harvest Pow Wow at the Naper settlement in Naperville, a Chicago Bulls’ games, and a visit to the Wisconsin state capitol. These adventurous faculty also gained a sense of the diversity of people and places in the United States by traveling to New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.

In reflecting on their time at NIU, the Chinese faculty were eager to express a deep appreciation for their experiences. When asked what the most important thing they learned from the Faculty Development workshops, one person reported, ‘….the philosophy and the ideas of teaching. A good teacher should be a good instructor, good director, good designer, good actor, and good listener as well. He (or she) should be open-minded, responsible and whole-hearted for the students and one’s teaching career itself.’ Another faculty member said they would miss NIU faculty’s attitude toward work, ‘Faculty at NIU are thoughtful and passionate, and each course is prepared carefully…. teachers respect students and have patience.” Finally, when asked what they plan to use/share upon their return to AUFE, one person wrote, ‘I’m going to apply the methods of metacognitive and reflective thinking and the techniques and skills of responsive teaching methods for my future teaching area. Engagement matters much in teaching. I’ll try many teaching skills learned in NIU to get my students more engaged and learn more.’

Because of such a positive response by the Chinese delegation, it is likely that international cultural exchange and professional development programs will continue to take place between Northern Illinois University and other Chinese universities.

Enhancing Live Online Sessions with the New Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, Part II: Updated Features and Faculty Feedback

Students watching online sessoin

During fall 2015, we introduced Blackboard Collaborate Ultra – an updated version of the existing web conferencing tool that can promote online collaboration and interaction. Blackboard Collaborate Ultra can be used to hold live class sessions, offer virtual office hours online, or conduct meetings with students or colleagues. One of the most exciting improvements in this release of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is that sessions open quickly directly in a web browser, with nothing to download or install in order to join a session.

This time, we want to discuss additional features that can enhance online synchronous courses as well as share feedback from the faculty and instructors who participated in beta testing or piloting Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. The beta testing program began in spring 2015 and allowed NIU faculty and instructors to explore the revised interface, test upgraded features, and provide feedback to Blackboard to continue improving the product. In the summer and fall 2015, faculty and instructors piloted Blackboard Collaborate Ultra in their courses. During that time, a number of existing features were enhanced and a few new ones were introduced.

Feedback from Faculty

A major advantage to using web conferencing is the ability to bridge distance so that students can participate from wherever they happen to be. Whether due to job demands, family obligations, transportation issues, or other causes, distance and travel time can represent a significant barrier to pursuing education. Web conferencing can address these concerns by allowing you to present material, engage in live discussion, and keep long distance students connected to live class sessions. This was supported by one of the faculty members,

This program will allow me the opportunity to communicate course content with the class in a timely manner so that no material is missed. A few years ago, I had an RN reservist who was pursuing a MS degree and was deployed to Germany.  I was able to Skype him into the class each week, but it was cumbersome and didn’t allow for him to see the other students well.  This program would successfully include a student unable to attend the course face-to-face.

Another faculty member expressed a similar sentiment,

I used the tool for a course offered to first-year graduate students, many of whom work full-time and are considered mid-career. Once the technology adjustment was made, they found it extremely useful to interact with the instructor without making the trek to the campus.

During the pilot courses, novice users of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra found it to be quite intuitive, with a short learning curve, making it easy for faculty and students to begin using it quickly,

I had never used Blackboard Collaborate, yet learning how to use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra was very easy.  The process is very intuitive and the students also seemed to pick it up easily.

One common complaint expressed by faculty who are considering whether to put their courses online is that online teaching can be a somewhat impersonal experience, with little to no opportunity for faculty-to-student, student-to-content, or student-to-student interaction. However, as reported by one NIU instructor, her students seemed to enjoy this updated web conferencing tool,

Feedback from students was very positive- they told me that they really liked the convenience of being able to have this session online.  They also indicated that they felt they were able to get to know their classmates a little bit better.

In addition to presenting their own content to students, another potential application is for faculty and instructors to invite a guest lecturer to a class session to speak on an area of their specialization.  In one instance during the fall 2015 semester, a faculty member invited an expert in substance abuse to speak to her upper division psychology students in a face-to-face class. Because travel logistics and other obligations made an in-person appearance all but impossible, web conferencing offered a convenient solution. The guest speaker was able to join the class ‘virtually’ from her office at another institution. Students were able to ask the guest for clarification when necessary as well submit questions, thus benefiting from the guest speaker’s clinical and research experience,

I have used collaborate 2x – once in the workshop ….. to train on it and then also with a guest lecture.  Things went very smoothly in the class you taught and I was impressed with how participants could interact by raising hands and typing questions/comments.

Although a primary use of this web conferencing tool is for faculty and instructors to conduct live online session for their courses, an alternative use for Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is to hold online meetings with research associates and collaborators,

I have used it on several occasions both for teaching as well as to work on research projects with colleagues in other parts of the country.  I like the features of being able to share files on the screen as we discuss items.

New Features Added

Now that the core functionality is completed, Blackboard Collaborate Ultra continues to be updated with small additions on an ongoing basis. These changes do not significantly change the workflow for using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, but do improve the experience for both faculty and students. Here are a few of the tools or upgrades that were recently added:

  • Content Zoom: Individual users can now control the zoom level of the content, which makes it easier for participants to view content at a size appropriate for their screen-size. Participants can choose between ‘best fit’, ‘actual size’, and ‘zoom in’ or ‘zoom out’.
  • Private messaging between Moderators and Presenters: Within the general chat window, Moderators and Presenters now can access a private chat feature to other moderators and presenters. This helps you coordinate with other faculty, instructors, and teaching assistants, or support staff who are assisting with your session.
  • Visual indicator when you are sharing video: All participants can be more aware now of whether or not they are broadcasting their web camera. When your video feed is on, you will see an ‘eye’ beside your avatar image
  • Participant connection indicator: Faculty and instructors can now tell at-a-glance who is in their session and who might be having trouble connecting. New indicators have been added that inform faculty when someone is in the process of joining their session, if users are connected, and how strong their connection is. This is as easy as hovering a pointer over participants in the ‘Participant’ panel to see the indicators.
  • Audio via telephone: If faculty or students do not have access to a microphone, they can still participate via the new integrated ‘telephony’. Now, faculty and students have the ability to call in to a live session using their phone, where they can listen or speak to session participants.
  • Audio indicator: For those participants who are using a microphone, an indicator icon (dark microphone) appears beside their name and photo in the ‘Participant’ panel, permitting faculty to identify who is speaking and who has turned off their audio. This can be important as the indicator will move to whoever the current speaker is as a discussion unfolds.
  • Mobile access: Students and other participants can participate in Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Sessions from any iOS, Android, or Windows Mobile device using the free Bb Student app.

 

Final Thoughts

The consensus opinion among faculty who commented on their experiences using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra was favorable. Here are a few other comments from faculty who have tried Blackboard Collaborate Ultra:

I enjoyed using the technology and I feel like it has a great deal of promise.  I am looking forward to using it in the future.

The technology seemed to work well and everyone who has used it liked the overall look and feel. Overall, very positive, very easy to use. Love it.

I am so glad that this program is available and I am looking forward to using this again in the future!

For the pilot, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center had to manually create Blackboard Collaborate Ultra sessions. It will be available for everyone and integrated in Blackboard beginning in summer 2016. If you would like to try it early, or for more information, training, or consultation on Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, contact Dan Cabrera, Multimedia Coordinator for the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at dcabrera@niu.edu or 815-753-0613.

 

Photo Credit: www.laudio-lucistore.It

 

 

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