Title of Session

Adapting Servic-Learning for Introductory Courses

Presentation Format

Individual Presentation

Intended Audience

Faculty/Practitioners

Program Abstract

This presentation explores the utility of service-learning to achieve learning objectives in introductory survey courses, which may be especially challenging. It uses three iterations of an introductory American Government course as a case study to gage student achievement, noting the challenges in each iteration and assessing the subsequent course revisions. The results argue that, with adaptations to their specific challenges, service-learning pedagogies can be successful in problematic introductory courses.

Presentation Description

This presentation explores the utility of service-learning strategies in achieving course learning objectives, especially discipline-specific academic objectives in introductory survey courses. It uses three iterations of an introductory American Government course as a case study to assess the impact of community service on student achievement, noting the challenges in each iteration and assessing subsequent adaptations over the three courses.

The service-learning literature documents a variety of benefits for students from community service, typically including an enhanced sense of civic engagement, political engagement, academic learning, and personal growth. The potential for service-learning is accordingly high, but there are significant difficulties in applying the strategy to some courses. As Barbara Jacoby (2015) notes, service-learning can be effective in every discipline, but it may not be effective in every course. The bulk of service-learning projects discussed in the literature appear to involve somewhat specialized, upper-division courses. Introductory, survey courses are less well covered and may be especially problematic.

Introductory courses have several challenges uncovered in this study. First, students frequently have little preparation for the discipline, so they initially take little disciplinary knowledge to the work site. Second, few community partners offer service opportunities that clearly address the broad learning objectives inherent in these courses. Third, and related to the first two issues, academic learning objectives may be especially problematic, as students may have difficulty relating their service experience to class readings and discussions.

In each of my American Government course iterations, students performed weekly service on a voluntary basis with one of several community partners, including local governments and non-profit organizations. Making service voluntary allowed comparison between the service-learners and students who completed a traditional research project, since some assessments involved both groups. These included a series of exams, an end-of-course questionnaire, and an essay to analyze a contemporary news report. Others assessments focused exclusively on the service-learners, including weekly reflection blogs, class discussions, and an end-of-course reflection essay.

The first course iteration provided evidence of growth in students’ civic and political engagement and personal growth. Their academic performance was good, but apparently in spite of rather than because of their service experiences. As the course was designed it was too difficult for them to make the connection between course material and their service. In subsequent semesters I adjusted the course design to help students make that linkage, including changes in syllabus design and student instructions, partner selection and coordination, and most important, reflection exercises and instructor feedback. The adaptations to introductory course service-learning substantially improved student outcomes in subsequent courses, including academic learning along with civic and political engagement. The results are suggestive for other introductory courses.

Location

Room - 217

Start Date

4-15-2016 8:15 AM

End Date

4-15-2016 9:30 AM

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Apr 15th, 8:15 AM Apr 15th, 9:30 AM

Adapting Servic-Learning for Introductory Courses

Room - 217

This presentation explores the utility of service-learning strategies in achieving course learning objectives, especially discipline-specific academic objectives in introductory survey courses. It uses three iterations of an introductory American Government course as a case study to assess the impact of community service on student achievement, noting the challenges in each iteration and assessing subsequent adaptations over the three courses.

The service-learning literature documents a variety of benefits for students from community service, typically including an enhanced sense of civic engagement, political engagement, academic learning, and personal growth. The potential for service-learning is accordingly high, but there are significant difficulties in applying the strategy to some courses. As Barbara Jacoby (2015) notes, service-learning can be effective in every discipline, but it may not be effective in every course. The bulk of service-learning projects discussed in the literature appear to involve somewhat specialized, upper-division courses. Introductory, survey courses are less well covered and may be especially problematic.

Introductory courses have several challenges uncovered in this study. First, students frequently have little preparation for the discipline, so they initially take little disciplinary knowledge to the work site. Second, few community partners offer service opportunities that clearly address the broad learning objectives inherent in these courses. Third, and related to the first two issues, academic learning objectives may be especially problematic, as students may have difficulty relating their service experience to class readings and discussions.

In each of my American Government course iterations, students performed weekly service on a voluntary basis with one of several community partners, including local governments and non-profit organizations. Making service voluntary allowed comparison between the service-learners and students who completed a traditional research project, since some assessments involved both groups. These included a series of exams, an end-of-course questionnaire, and an essay to analyze a contemporary news report. Others assessments focused exclusively on the service-learners, including weekly reflection blogs, class discussions, and an end-of-course reflection essay.

The first course iteration provided evidence of growth in students’ civic and political engagement and personal growth. Their academic performance was good, but apparently in spite of rather than because of their service experiences. As the course was designed it was too difficult for them to make the connection between course material and their service. In subsequent semesters I adjusted the course design to help students make that linkage, including changes in syllabus design and student instructions, partner selection and coordination, and most important, reflection exercises and instructor feedback. The adaptations to introductory course service-learning substantially improved student outcomes in subsequent courses, including academic learning along with civic and political engagement. The results are suggestive for other introductory courses.