Service Learning Programs on Community College
Campuses. ERIC Digest.
by Prentice, Mary
During the last ten years, there has been an increasing demand from
the public, from legislators, and from accrediting agencies for higher
education to become more accountable for the learning that takes place
in colleges and universities. Community colleges have been at the forefront
of the burgeoning educational movement to become more learning-centered.
The focus of the community college, now more than ever, is on being a learning
institution (O'Banion, 1997). In step with this new focus, community college
administrators and instructors have been on the lookout for new pedagogical
techniques that will enhance classroom learning. One teaching tool that
has been increasingly utilized is service learning (Franco, unpublished
WHAT IS SERVICE LEARNING?
While definitions of service learning vary, the American Association
of Community Colleges (AACC) directors describe this instructional method
as one that "integrates community service with academic instruction as
it focuses on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility" (Robinson,
1995, p. 1). In essence, it is an instructional strategy that links course
content with service to the community (Simmons, 1998). Thus a student participating
in a service learning project through his or her biology course may help
to create a nature trail over the course of the semester, while students
in a spring semester advanced accounting class may serve as supervised
tax consultants for low income residents (Lee, 1997).
There are various ways of incorporating service learning into the curriculum.
In all classrooms, "learning is the objective, and in service learning
projects, experience is the vehicle through which learning occurs" (Soltys,
1997, p. 7). Service learning projects can range from brief, one-time-only
experiences to a student commitment to a non-profit agency of 15 or more
hours during a semester. Typically, such course options are offered as
an alternative to more traditional classroom assignments. Often, students
are given the option of participating in a service learning project over
the course of the semester and writing a paper based on the experience
instead of writing a traditional research paper.
One component of service learning that sets it apart from co-op placements
or internships is the requirement of reflection. This can be accomplished
in various ways: within a reflective journal over the course of the semester,
in a meeting with the class instructor once or twice during the term, or
in a instructor-facilitated group with other service learning students.
The goal is to help the students think critically about their experiences
at the service learning agency and in how those experiences tie in with
their learning of the course material (Robinson, 1995).
SERVICE LEARNING BEST PRACTICES
For those wishing to begin a service learning program at a particular
community college, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)
has identified best practices for sustaining service learning programs
in its 1998 AACC Project Brief (Robinson and Barnett, 1998). Summarized
here is a sampling of some of the best practices for each constituency:
* Students: hold an orientation, hold reflection sessions, track outcomes,
* Faculty: start with "believers," offer mini-grants, hold an orientation,
* Institution: connect to existing initiatives, start small, celebrate
* Community: create an advisory board, hold an orientation, celebrate
In addition, AACC service learning program directors have recommended
that: 1) service learning should be noted on student transcripts and described
in college catalog; 2) the academic rigor of service learning should be
emphasized and demonstrated to faculty; 3) service learning should be written
into course competencies; and 4) periodic presentations should be made
to the board of trustees.
Robinson (1995) has also suggested that the issue of program sustainability
should be at the forefront of program planning and development. To help
facilitate this, those at AACC offer several suggestions. First, solicit
upper level administrator's support from the beginning, especially that
of the college president. Second, gain faculty senate support of the initiative.
Third, involve the curriculum committee in revising and approving courses
with service learning components. Fourth, establish a service learning
team that is made up of faculty, staff, and administrators so that the
responsibilities of running the program can be shared. Fifth, conduct special
presentations for board members. Sixth, publicize the program to both the
campus and the surrounding community. Finally, consider lobbying for a
reallocation of student activity fees or portions of academic departmental
budgets to support the program.
EXAMPLES OF SPECIFIC SERVICE LEARNING PROGRAMS
Kapi'olani Community College in Hawaii, one of the ten colleges that
were selected by AACC in 1994 to receive funds to develop or strengthen
their service learning programs, has worked to integrate service learning
into the pre-education major. Service learning is part of the Family Relations
230 (Human Development) class, which is a required course in the social
science general education core. The service learning program coordinators
also created a one-credit course for service learning students who wanted
to help young children learn how to read. The course is entitled "Early
Literacy Tutor Training" and incorporates early literacy experts who come
to campus to train the students in the tutoring skills that they will need
to help the children both in the students' service work and in their later
teaching work (Franco, unpublished manuscript).
Miami-Dade Community College
The tradition of service learning at Miami-Dade Community College in
Florida runs deep. Since 1994, over 8,000 students have completed service
learning projects, which equates to over 200,000 hours of service to community
agencies. Part of their success can be attributed to the development of
comprehensive service learning centers with full-time coordinators on the
three largest campuses. In addition, a service learning faculty coordinator
on each campus works with faculty in using service learning as an instructional
pedagogy. Projects were developed for courses ranging from dental hygiene
to music appreciation. Students in the dental hygiene program, for example,
were given the opportunity to select a community agency, assess the clients'
dental hygiene needs, and implement a dental hygiene plan in the same way
that they will have to do when hired as a dental hygienist. A faculty member
who teaches music appreciation created a service learning project in which
students interact one-on-one with the children of migrant workers in Homestead,
Florida. Over 100 children have received music instruction, and the numbers
continue to grow. Service learning students develop an appreciation of
music both within the class and through their service placement by seeing
the love of music develop in the children (Exley, Gottlieb, and Young,
Albuquerque TVI Community College
Albuquerque TVI Community College also began their service learning
initiative in 1994 as an AACC-funded service learning initiative. The program
began with the selection of two faculty members who were each given one
course release a semester to coordinate the program. They began with twelve
faculty and 137 students and jumped to 35 faculty and 225 students within
the first two years. By the end of the third year, the college funded a
full-time service learning coordinator position, and supported a faculty
liaison position through continued course releases. One project example
is the Washington Middle School Greenhouse Project. Through discussions
with Washington Middle School administrators, a service learning project
emerged that paired TVI carpentry students with Washington Middle School
industrial shop students in order to jointly create a much needed biology
greenhouse for the middle school students. The TVI carpentry students gained
more experience in carpentry while providing mentoring to the middle school
students. When finished, biology students at the middle school began growing
native plants to be placed in a city park and vegetables to be sold at
a farmers market, with any surplus being donated to one of Albuquerque's
homeless shelters. Mayor Jim Baca dedicated the greenhouse project in the
spring of 1998, simultaneously announcing a city-funded scholarship for
service learning students in environmental studies (Garcia, 2000).
Service learning is one technique that is increasingly included in the
pedagogical toolbox used by educators. Successful programs offer orientations
for students, faculty, and community agency representatives; require some
form of reflection for service learning students; connect the program to
existing initiatives; track outcomes; and celebrate successes. Supporters
argue that service learning prepares people for the responsibility of living
in a democratic society, allows students to explore career possibilities,
exposes students to different cultures, and encourages critical thinking
and problem-solving skills (Gray, Ondaatje, Fricker, and Geschwind, 2000;
and Robinson, 1999/2000). Others remain skeptical about what can be accomplished
with service learning. Parker-Gwin and Mabry (1998) found that service
learning students developed slightly less favorable attitudes toward community
service after one semester of program participation, while Shiarella, McCarthy,
and Tucker (2000) cited the beliefs that service learning can weaken the
curriculum and place a burden on faculty members' time. Further research
on the outcomes and effects of service learning programs is needed to resolve
such concerns. Overall, service learning appears to be a concept worth
exploring by anyone interested in adopting new techniques to enhance learning
in the classroom.
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