Involvement in Service-Learning
Service-learning is more than an opportunity for students to experience a community. It is a pedagogy which ties student experiences in communities with their academic course work. [Formal description of service-learning here.] Like any instructional approach, it will only be as strong as a professor makes it. Many faculty members offer a JEP service-learning component in their classroom and treat the community experience as an add-on to a relatively traditional lecture and readings course.
The staff at the Joint Educational Project works hard to help students get the maximum value out of their experiences but the lack of connection between the community experience and the rest of the course and the community experience frequently results in lost learning opportunities.
We like to think of students' experiences in the community as yet one more text for the classroom, a text which both faculty members and students make reference to, compare with other sources of information, and document in making an argument. For this to happen, faculty members must have an intentional design to the course and be aware of how the students' experiences are likely to relate to the course. In our opinion, the best place to develop this design is the course service-learning syllabus.
Frequently, grants are made available to faculty to assist in the process of curriculum development and a variety of workshops, conferences and institutes are available to assist in better understanding the pedagogy of service-learning. The best single source of information is the national office of Campus Compact. On campus, the Center for Excellence in Teaching's Fund for Innovative Undergraduate Teaching often awards grants to faculty who develop service-learning projects for their courses.
Other resources include:
Publishing/Presenting Opportunities - We have seen a dramatic rise in the number of articles in discipline-based journals and conference presentations at professional organizational meetings that are related to service-learning. We invite you to look closely through the journals and conference proceedings in your own discipline to familiarize yourself with the likelihood of publishing of service-learning related work. An excellent source of more general information and publication opportunities can be found in the Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning. Also, here is a paper on the Research in Service Learning from The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement
Service-Learning and the Review, Tenure and Promotion Process - Creating and offering a service-learning course is hard work and, for an untenured faculty member can take time away from research and publications. Here at USC, most tenure decisions continue to be made primarily on publications and it is important for the would-be faculty member to stay focused on their priorities. There are cases, however, where excellent teaching and involvement in the community have tipped the scales in favor of the granting of tenure. A recent guide (Making Outreach Visible: A guide to Documenting Professional Service and Outreach - AAHE, 1999) can help faculty members in the process of using there work in community service and service-learning more effectively in the review and tenure process. A copy of the guide is available on loan from the JEP House. In addition, the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) offers a variety of resources to support faculty who study their own teaching practices.
Service-Learning and Research - There has been a great deal of research done examining the efficacy of service-learning as a pedagogy. Far less has been done looking at the effects of service-learning on communities. We believe that there is tremendous research potential in using undergraduates' experiences in communities to engage in community-based action research. We have worked with faculty members who are interested in exploring this connection and have had some success (and uncovered some difficulties). See, for example a summary of our work from the JEP Immigrant Project.
The primary difficulty with research in these areas is the fundamental messiness of research designs when so many different players and agendas are considered. Service-learning, by its very nature, involves faculty members and classrooms, students, community agencies and directors, service recipients and community members. The work that students do varies widely from project to project, the support provided varies from campus to campus and classroom to classroom and it is simply very difficult to develop a clean design. These challenges are not insurmountable, however, and we are eager to grapple with research designs with you.