Service-learning Provides The Environment In Which Students Will Apply Ideas From The Class Or The Readings
Service-learning, the newest name for a teaching strategy that has been used successfully for many years, integrates community service into a traditional academic curriculum. Courses that have a service component can help students connect material learned in class and experiences acquired in their placements. Ideally, this should be a two-way process: students should apply what they learn in class to their placements. In addition, service-learning introduces students to a community outside the university, which might otherwise remain invisible to them. Successful incorporation of service-learning into a course will enable: instructors to accommodate different learning styles; students to acquire practical experience; the university to serve the needs of the community.
The goals of your course represent the knowledge, thinking skills, and practical skills students should acquire by the end of the semester. Keep in mind that goals and objectives should focus on what students are expected to learn. When writing goals, also keep in mind whether service-learning is required for all students or is optional. One way to establish goals is to ask yourself how students should be different after taking your course. Do they need to master a clearly defined body of knowledge? Do they need to apply theories to particular situations? Should they be able to evaluate a situation or set of ideas? Or should they acquire skills that they will need in their professional careers? At the same time you should determine and articulate the degree to which participation in community service relates to these goals.
A student involved in a service-learning placement will produce real-life material that can be evaluated on its actual effectiveness within the community. The objective is for students to contribute their own study of rhetorical principles, strategies, audience adaptation, etc., to the agency and to learn from the agency how to adapt a message to real-world audiences, how to put ideals into words that can be understood by various special-interest groups.
Insuring that there is a connection between community work and coursework will depend not only upon careful planning of the course content, but also on the selection of placements. You need to find or develop community-service placements that will provide students with the activities or experiences that help them achieve the course goals you have defined. Keep in mind that the placements you arrange should fulfill a need at the supporting agency as well as allow your students to acquire experiences related to course-work.
The key is that a specific, tangible output has to be decided upon and identified before the placement to the agency is made. The agencies can’t work it out later. One way to insure that all parties understand and fulfill each other’s expectations is to have students and agencies develop a contract specifying responsibilities on both sides.
Unlike independent volunteer work, service-learning is an integral part of a student’s learning experience in a given course. The work that students perform in their community placements informs their understanding of the material presented in class. The instructors we spoke to agreed that it is best to develop a detailed teaching strategy for the course that includes both classroom and community service activities.
There’s got to be a very conscious, deliberate connection made between what the students are doing out there in community-based service-learning, and what we’re talking about in class. Conversely, coursework should prepare students to be more effective in their placements.
The next step in incorporating service-learning into the class is to select a method of evaluating student achievement of course objectives. Methods of evaluation for service-learning could include: written and oral exams, papers, interviews, observations, questionnaires, skill assessments, and classroom presentations.
Students involved with service-learning keep a journal to document their work with the community agency. They are also required to submit a report at the end of the semester assessing the rhetorical effectiveness of the agency, in terms of its goals and the audience it was trying to reach. Finally, the service-learning students make a panel presentation to the rest of the class to share their experiences.
If service-learning will be mandatory, you should make this clear from the first day of class. It will take a great deal of time and effort to find and set up placements for 100 students as opposed to 20 or 30. More importantly, service-learning enables instructors to create courses that take into account a variety of learning styles. Some students learn well by reading, taking part in class discussions and writing papers and exams. Others are more successful when they gain hands-on experience that enables them to put abstract ideas into context. Students in the former category might not be comfortable in a work environment until they are confident they have mastered the course material. If you decide to accept a fixed number of students to participate in community service, you need to work out some type of selection process. Once they graduate, students will have to adapt to situations where their success will depend on how well they cooperate with their co-workers.
Service-learning will not be appropriate for all courses and all instructors. Finding placements, keeping track of students and integrating community service and course materials will take a considerable amount of time and planning. In addition, it is possible that logistical problems will arise, especially if this is your first experience with service-learning.
Despite these potential difficulties, most instructors agree that the experience was well worth the effort. Service-learning can be advantageous to students as they pursue professional careers.
Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of https://Ebookschoice.com. Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.