May 20, 2002
Harry Howard liked the idea of service learning. He knew there was something pedagogically powerful in sending students out into the real world to match their newly acquired knowledge with the needs of the community. The only problem was that the actual implementation of service learning wasn't matching the ideal.
"I've been trying to incorporate service learning in the classroom for a few years," says Howard, an associate professor of Spanish. "But it hasn't been going well in the sense that the opportunities available to students were not pertinent to the goals of the class."
So when Vincent Ilustre, associate director of the Office of Service Learning, offered Howard the chance to enroll in a 10-week faculty seminar on service learning, Howard, with some apprehension, accepted. And he has had no regrets.
"I have gotten so much more out of this program than I thought I would," said Howard. "It has been much more useful than I could have imagined."
Through support from the staff of the Office of Service Learning, as well as the seminar's required reading and interaction with the five other faculty participants in the program, Howard has developed a service learning course entitled Brain and Language.
The class, which will be offered next fall, will examine how the brain produces language and will offer students the opportunity to work with linguistic-deficient patients. He feels now he has a program that will be beneficial to both his students and the community. The instruction that Howard received from the seminar is just the kind of guidance Ilustre wants to impart.
"I think faculty members come out of the course heavily loaded with service-learning knowledge," he says. "They are more prepared to send their students out into the community."
The seminar, which at the end of this semester will have graduated 18 faculty members, was started in spring 2001. In 1998, Barbara Moely, professor of psychology and director of the Office of Service Learning, discovered that Eastern Michigan University was looking for collaborative institutions to share in a U.S. Department of Education grant to help faculty members across the country develop new service-learning courses.
Moely applied for the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education grant and received it in May 2000. Faculty who sign up for the seminar commit themselves to 10 weeks of training.
"We discuss theory and research supporting service learning as a pedagogy," says Moely. "We consider the importance of collaboration and discussion with community agencies in planning a service-learning experience, and how college students can grow through experiences with individuals of different ages, races and cultural backgrounds."
In addition, participants discuss how good service-learning courses operate and how to teach within such courses. "We discuss why to do and how to do service learning," summarizes Ilustre, who along with keeping up with the office's budget, works with faculty in establishing contacts with suitable agencies, institutions and organizations.
Helping Ilustre are program coordinators Amanda Buberger, Anna Groppi and Scott McCraw. The seminar is budgeted for another two semesters. After that, says Moely, Tulane may apply for funding to create a program to use the seminar as a model to train faculty at other institutions.
Moely is quick to point out that many faculty members on campus have developed service-learning programs on their own, without the assistance of the service-learning office or the FIPSE seminars. She estimates that Tulane currently has, each semester, approximately 25 service-learning courses operating out of 10-12 departments with a total of about 350 students.
Joining Howard in this semester's seminar are Carol Burdsal, assistant professor of cell and molecular biology; Teri Davis, coordinator for teacher certification; Joy Fuqua, assistant professor of communication; Adele Myers, assistant professor of dance; and Beverly Trask, associate professor of dance.
As with Howard, Fuqua has found the seminar to be helpful. "It builds on philosophies I already have about connecting the classroom to the world," says Fuqua. Fuqua will redevelop an already-existing course, AIDS and the Media, into a service-learning course in which her students will be working to assist the NO AIDS Task Force.
She says she has learned that service learning is not simply about "taking a theoretical problem or issue and putting it on top of a community organization, but rather seeing what the organization's needs are and how my course can address those needs." While the course will maintain its current title, she says it will not be taught the same way.
"You don't just add service learning like a shot of Tabasco; it requires that you reconceptualize your course."
Nick Marinello may be reached at email@example.com.
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org