Apr 9, 2014
By Angela Woodward
One of the first goals for Ohio University’s newly-formed Center for Campus and Community Engagement (CCCE) is offering the University’s faculty opportunities to learn about incorporating service learning into their courses. Service learning is the only one of the “five high-impact practices” that research shows to correlate with student success that is not well established at Ohio University.
Expanding service learning opportunities is a goal rooted in the University’s five core values of community, commitment, character, civility and citizenship that will both enhance student’s educational experience and help to address diverse needs within the great community.
If faculty attendance at a recent set of service learning workshops is any indication, Ohio University is well on its way to incorporating more service learning into its curriculum.
More than 70 faculty members from colleges and academic units throughout the University participated in service learning workshops held April 3 and 4 on the Athens Campus and sponsored by the CCCE. According to Kevin Davis, director of the CCCE and director of community engagement for the College of Health Sciences and Professions, so many faculty members signed up for the program that event organizers had to expand the schedule from two sessions to three.
Leading those sessions was Vincent Ilustre, founder and executive director of the Center for Public Service at Tulane University in New Orleans. Considered one of the leading service learning experts in the nation, Ilustre founded the Center for Public Service in 2006 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Eight years later, Tulane University – through its Center for Public Service – offers about 130 service learning courses each semester and requires its students to successfully complete at least two service learning experiences in order to graduate.
During the workshops at OHIO, Ilustre discussed what constitutes service learning and how it differs from community service, the benefits it provides to all of the parties involved, how to go about infusing courses with service learning and how to do the reflection and evaluation required of a successful program.
“Taking on service learning does take time and effort, but there are so many benefits to this type of engagement,” Ilustre said.
Service learning is an applied educational experience based on a formal partnership between a faculty member and a community organization through which students “learn by doing.” Under the direction of faculty, students work with community organization by applying academic knowledge and critical thinking skills to the needs identified by those organizations.
Ohio University already has several courses that include service learning elements. The CCCE is compiling a list of all of those courses and collaborating with community organizations and local governments to develop a more effective method of connecting students with service projects, and expanding its service learning opportunities.
Ilustre noted the many benefits of incorporating service learning into the University’s curriculum.
For students, service learning is an opportunity to apply what they are learning in the classroom, to become engaged in the communities surrounding campus, and to explore possible careers.
For faculty, service learning encourages students to become more actively engaged in the classroom and to make connections between academic content and real world issues, and the research shows that it leads to deeper learning on the part of students. In addition, Ilustre noted that several public and private entities that fund research on college campuses, including the National Institutes of Health and the Carnegie Foundation, require faculty seeking research funding to substantiate how that funding will benefit the community.
Service learning also benefits universities as a whole. Ilustre pointed out that a number of universities have reported that expanding service learning opportunities resulted in an increase in applications and admits and contributed directly to improvement in those universities’ first-to-second-year retention rates.
Finally, service learning provides increased opportunity for the university to engage in constructive ways with the community by making the community feel like a true partner in students’ educational experiences and allowing students to build connections within the community.
Ilustre’s visit to Athens included several meetings with key players in the service learning initiative, including the University’s leadership, the CCCE’s Advisory Board and representatives from nonprofit and government entities interested in being a part of OHIO’s service learning experience.
“They are very excited to partner with all of you,” Ilustre reported about his conversations with representatives from community organizations. Anita Frederick, associate director of the CCCE, said several community organizations interested in exploring service learning partnerships have contacted the center since those conversations.
Sharon Reynolds, an educational special with the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Rural and Underserved Programs, attended one of the orientations and workshops. Reynolds teaches a graduate course on service learning.
“It’s exciting to be involved in service learning at a time when people at the University are talking about and thinking about incorporating service learning at the University level,” she said. “Based on how well attended these events are, faculty are clearly interested in and excited about this.”
The workshops are just the first step in the process and were meant to be an introduction to service learning for OHIO faculty, Davis said. Faculty who attended the sessions will receive additional information about the next steps in the process in the coming weeks as well as information about funding opportunities. Davis noted that the CCCE has set aside $10,000 for mini grants to help develop and support service learning courses, and he will be working with the University Curriculum Council and the Registrars’ Office to develop a consistent way of denoting courses that include a service learning component. In addition, the CCCE plans to work with its academic college partners to develop a Certificate for Community Engagement.
Faculty members who did not attend the sessions but who are interested in service learning are asked to contact the CCCE to schedule an appointment to discuss their ideas.
Next fall the CCCE is expected to launch regular service learning training opportunities for faculty. Those training sessions will be facilitated by Julie Paxton, associate professor of economics, and Pete Mather, associate professor in the Patton College of Education and secretary to the Board of Trustees.
Paxton already incorporates service learning into her courses, which has made the lessons she teaches on economic development, poverty and altruism more real for her students and places the students, who come from various backgrounds, on common ground.
“The shared experience that service learning provides makes every single student feel valued and encourages them to participate in class discussions,” she said.
For more information on the CCCE or service learning opportunities and training, visit http://www.ohio.edu/communityengagement/, e-mail CommunityEngagement@ohio.edu or call 740-593-4868.
The CCCE is co-led by University College and the Division of Student Affairs in partnership with the Office of the Provost, the Office of Community Engagement, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, the Patton College of Education, the College of Health Sciences and Professions, and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. It is funded by an 1804 Fund for Undergraduate Learning, the Konneker Fund for Learning and Discovery and its campus partners.