Service-Learning 101 aids faculty in engaging students, community

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By Michael Wunder, News Editor

A workshop for faculty interested in weaving service learning project experiences into their course curriculum will take place Oct. 4 and 12, continuing the expanse of the Service-Learning Academy’s reach at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

     Service – Learning 101, introduced in 2005, will give professors insights into how to engage students by urging them to apply course concepts to community involvement, said Carlynn Hartman-Kurtz, community liaison for the UNO Service – Learning Academy.

   “Service learning is a pedagogy that takes some pre-planning and coordination,” Hartman-Kurtz said.  “Instructors need to identify which course objectives can be met through applied learning, through collaborating with a community nonprofit partner, and develop a project that will allow students to apply the identified concept and also serve an identified need or gap in resources in the community.”

   The two-hour workshop covers pre-planning, finding community partners, collaborative project planning and guided reflection processes which enable students to “harvest” important lessons from “their unique experience,” Hartman-Kurtz said.

       The workshop focuses on standards the Service  – Learning Academy recommends to make service learning a “quality service for all involved,” Hartman-Kurtz-said.   

   Foremost, faculty must provide a link to the curriculum which gives students an opportunity to apply course concepts—”to make it real in the real world,” Hartman-Kurtz said.   Professors must also guide students to reflect on their understandings of course concepts in relation to their personal experience in the community setting, establishing a bridge between service and learning.

Strong community partnerships are also encouraged, allowing the projects to grow from a mutually collaborative experience between the classroom and the community—students should also be given plenty of levity to suggest solutions and brainstorm.

Projects ideally have a duration and intensity of a large enough magnitude to give students a glimpse of how their work affects the community over time, and sustainable relationships are encouraged so future students can engage in service learning in the same communities.

   Service learning projects often make a dull classroom enriching as well as encourage further community involvement among faculty, Hartman-Kurtz said.

       “We have found that service learning enriches teaching in many ways,” Hartman-Kurtz said.  “Faculty find that service learning enlivens the way they teach the subject and makes it come alive for the students.  Faculty find that they learn more about the community and the way their work can serve needs.  Faculty also find that they can discover community based needs for research that can forward their own obligation to their field to do original research.”

Since the Service – Learning Academy’s conception in 1999, the number of classes engaged in service-learning projects has increased tremendously.  When first implemented, a pilot group of faculty taught seven courses.  During the 2008-09 academic year, 111 service learning courses were offered with 1,673 student participants.  Since the SLA’s inception, 13,355 students have participated in a Service-Learning course.

   The 2011-12 academic year is coming along well, Hartman-Kurtz said.

    “We have at least 54 projects active this semester”, Hartman-Kurtz said.  “One Introduction to Criminal Justice class is tutoring members at the North Omaha Boys and Girls Club, there are two IS&QA courses at PKI that are consulting with micro-businesses to develop IT strategies for their businesses.  These are just a few of the many projects that are happening.”

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