Service-Learning at Kent State StarkDo you want your students to learn or strengthen a specific skill, concept, or theory? To understand the ways in which your discipline comes to life beyond the pages of a textbook or the simulacra of a laboratory?
Chances are, there are existing opportunities in our local communities that will allow for your students to learn the discipline-specific goals of your course while simultaneously solving public problems. Non-profit groups and social-service organizations regularly contact Kent State Stark to find out how they can partner with our faculty and students, and there are several ways that faculty at Kent State Stark can find out more about how to help the community while helping students deepen their engagement with course materials.
Service-learning is a form of experiential education that integrates service to local communities into the academic goals of a course. It differs from community service because the service is not an end in itself or merely a “feel good” opportunity, but instead is a route to enriched learning for students. It also differs from traditional internships or pratica because in those cases the focus is usually on what students need to learn, rather than on a balance between the needs of those served with the needs of the classroom. When integrated into an academic course, “service-learning is a credit-bearing, educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility” (Bringle and Hatcher 1995; emphasis added).
Instead of meeting course goals in more traditional ways (tests, papers) or through simulation exercises, students participate in activities that take them into “real world” settings so that they can see course goals in action. Importantly, though, students also gain an understanding of the social, cultural, and political outcomes of our academic disciplines. The fundamentals of civic responsibility are key to service-learning pedagogy. “True” service benefits underserved populations or agencies that simply could not achieve results on their own without this kind of assistance, and community partners are key resources when deciding on exactly what is needed in the community.
Service-Learning Projects at Kent State Stark
Students have recently learned through participating in a variety of projects:
Tutoring/mentoring in Canton City elementary schools
Researching and presenting project plans for use of social-networking tools by the Friends of Fort Laurens Foundation and for event-planning by the Domestic Violence Project
Developing and implementing marketing and fundraising projects for the Stark County Hunger Task Force
Writing news stories for the Stark County Hunger Task Force and the Wilderness Center
Developing new marketing material for IMPACT at Mercy Medical Center
Updating archival processes for local historical societies
Benefits for Students
A report from the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute based upon a longitudinal study of over 22,000 college students from across the country indicates that service-learning impacts student learning and success in part due to an increased sense of self-efficacy, as well as increased engagement with faculty and with course materials. The things that typically allow for student success can be fostered through service-learning: more engagement with faculty, an understanding of how learning has “meaning” beyond the books. More than a decade of research shows that service-learning can increase students’ interpersonal and communication skills; facilitate racial and cultural understanding; and impact outcomes such as problem solving, critical thinking, and cognitive development. For most faculty, these are already central goals of the courses we teach. Find out about how to reach them through service!
Assistance is available for making contacts within local community organizations, for development of course syllabi, for thinking about assessment of student learning, and for other general questions about service-learning. If you like the idea of service-learning, but cannot quite imagine how to put it into play, then we can help you to discover how.