Thursday, September 16, 2010

Service Learning as Pedagogy

In honor of the Campus Compact state conference at the Baker Center today, I want to pass along information about service learning.  Visit the link to last semester's Tenn TLC workshop for suggestions and resources.  Also, keep in mind that we (at the Tenn TLC) will repeat our workshop on service learning this spring! Thank you again to the Baker Center for sponsoring these workshops.

The title "Service Learning in Higher Education: Faculty Roles and Rewards" leads me to recall the many rewards that I have received from incorporating service learning into disciplinary classes and also teaching service learning curricular courses.

First, let me be honest about the rewards to self.  I am very busy (isn't that part of every professor's job description?), so doing service alongside my students gives me a chance to get involved with the community. If not for class, would I have spent time outside the classroom in creative work? Nope. Because of service learning projects, I've helped finish a home for Habitat, tutored in East Tennessee rural school systems, helped local churches with their outreach, hiked students through the Cherokee Mountains (to "map" a trail for a regional forest advocacy group), created garden space at Rural Resources, recorded the stories of elderly residents as they recalled their town's history, and  helped a social services organization with their web page.  Yes, I got to do all this because I decided to do service learning in my classes (with the help of Tusculum College's Center for Civic Advancement).  I also got to develop wonderful working relationships with colleagues and community members.  Since coming to UT, I have developed wonderful relationships with faculty and administrators who are passionate about service learning, like Bob Kronick and Sherry Cable, our former and our current Faculty Fellows at the center. 

The second reward is student engagement and student benefits.  I can really speak best about my own experiences, but I know that as enthusiastic as I am about all the projects, I had students who were equally enthusiastic and more so.  Their enthusiasm and sense of accomplishment translated into the classroom and onto our subject matter.  My students were much more willing to delve into the social ramifications of poverty, address professional writing in online environments, examine the healthy functioning of a community, talk about the value of narrative voice, write professional policy papers, and give well-designed presentations to outside audiences (their service recipients).

Given these rewards, why aren't more of us giving students a service learning experience?

To find out about service learning at UT, read a recent update posted on the Volunteer Tennessee site. Read more about the nuts and bolts of doing service learning at Learn and Serve America and on our TENN TLC  workshop page.

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