Welcome the second post in a three post series to help you decide if Service-Learning is appropriate for your curriculum and how to best implement it, thoughts on how to redesign your course to fit Service-Learning, and how identify what learning you will be facilitating through the project. Be sure to check out the first post on whether or not Service-Learning will work in your class. These posts are based on information from a worksheet produced by Ed Zlotkowski of Bentley University and all information is credited to him.
Today’s post will deal with Ed’s ideas on redesigning your course to fit a community-based activity. Once you have ensured that a project is a good fit for your class, it is sometimes difficult to decide on the format. For instance, should it be mandatory or elective, group project or individual project, a major course component or a minor one? It is important to make sure that you have a good rationale for your choices.
For example, if you decide to make the service project mandatory, what current piece of your course will it replace? Service-Learning is meant to be a tool, not an extra something to add to a class. Could Service-Learning help your students learn some of the principles of your course that you used to assign in a paper? On the other side, if you made the project an elective part of your course, how do you ensure that the entire class will benefit from the experience? Would they benefit from an online forum discussion?
The same thought processes apply to determining rationale for individual vs group project and major vs minor course components. It will depend on the course objectives you are trying to meet and the type of project you are doing. It may be easier for you to keep track of 10 groups than it is to keep track of 50 students.
Another question to consider is whether or not you need to adjust what will be going on in your classroom to better fit the community-based components of your course. For instance, you might want to move some of your syllabus items to earlier in the semester to address situations your students may encounter in the community.
As educators, most of our time is spent preparing our students for something: the next phase of the course, a profession, life in general. Before we set our students loose on the community, we need to ensure a level of preparedness on our students part. We need to identify the content-related knowledge they will need before they leave the classroom. If they are working with a non-profit to help them build a website, do they have the proper tools? Another area of preparation that is sometimes overlooked is personal and social preparedness. Stereotypes, safety, and anxieties will need to be discussed before students begin their projects. If there are special or unique situations that will be encountered, would it be wise to bring in a community member to assist with some of the preparation? It might benefit the students to be able to ask specific questions of someone familiar with the organization they will be serving with.
There are so many questions we must ask ourselves before we can fully integrate a successful Service experience for our students! I hope these posts are helping to spark that inquisitive nature we need to possess sometimes! Stay tuned for our next post which will talk about facilitating the actual learning through community-based learning.