Why Service Learning? Why Now? Adam Peck, Ph.D.Dean of Student Affairs Stephen F. Austin State University
Relevance • The top 10 jobs in 2010 will be jobs that did not even exist 5 years ago. • Today’s students will have an average of 10-14 jobs by age 38. • There are 31 billion Google queries each month. • In a week of reading The New York Times, you can learn more than a person in the eighteenth century might have learned in a lifetime. • As Keeling (2004) articulated in Learning Reconsidered: A Campus-Wide Focus on the Student Experience, “…knowledge is no longer a scarce – or stable – commodity. (It) is changing so rapidly that specific information may become obsolete before a student graduates and has the opportunity to apply it” (p. 4).
Why Service Learning? Why now? • A number of political, economic and social forces have combined to make service learning more relevant than ever before.
Issue: The digital age has provided students with unprecedented access to (often conflicting) information. Students do not know how to evaluate what they learn to determine what they believe. This has caused them to be increasingly dogmatic.
Disequilibrium: An Essential Element • Service Learning projects are best when the provide students with an “ill-structured problem” that demands something from the student to solve it. • Solving problems created disequilibrium. This is essential in prompting belief change. • This change depends upon four conditions that must be met, • Dissatisfaction with existing beliefs • Individuals must find new alternatives intelligible and useful • Individuals must find the new beliefs plausible • New conceptions must stand up to challenges and lead to new learning (Hofer, B. K. & Pintrich, P.R., 2004, p. 203).
Service Learning Improves Higher Order Thinking • Recent studies connect participation in Service Learning and other “High Impact” practices with measurable increases in Higher Order thinking skills. • This is especially true when reflective activity goes beyond sense making to achieve meaning making. • Solving these kinds of “ill-structured” problems provides students with the opportunity to apply and improve their reasoning skills.
Service Learning Improves Higher Order Thinking • Service learning enhances more than just critical thinking! • Provides a context to go beyond just remembering, understanding and applying course concepts. • Lower levels of thinking are becoming obsolete in the digital age.
Service Learning provides students with “lived experiences” which can help them become better consumers of information. • It can aid students in developing their belief systems or “personal epistemologies.”
The Relevance of Service Learning • Service Learning exposes us to real problems in context. • It is harder to stereotype someone when you know their real story. • However, short-term projects may actually exacerbate and confirm stereotypes.
Issue: Improved access to higher education has flooded the system with students who are less prepared academically, less secure financially and who do not have role models for success
“Because individual effort and involvement are the critical determinants of college impact, institutions should focus on the ways they can shape their academic, interpersonal, and extracurricular offerings to encourage student engagement.” Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005, p. 602
In the 2007 report of the National Survey for Student Engagement (NSSE), George Kuh, Executive Director of NSSE, addressed a question he is often asked, “What one thing can we do to enhance student engagement and increase student success?” He replied, “Make it possible for every student to participate in at least two high-impact activities during their undergraduate program, one in the first year, and one later related to their major field” (NSSE, 2007, p. 18).
“…teaching and learning practices have been widely tested and have been shown to be beneficial for college students from many backgrounds.”
They demand that students devote considerable amounts of time and effort to purposeful tasks. • The nature of these high impact activities puts students in circumstances that essentially demand they interact with faculty and peers about substantive matters. • Participating in one or more of these activities increases the likelihood that students will experience diversity through contact with people who are different than themselves. • Students get frequent feedback about their performance. • Participating in these activities provides opportunities for students to see how what they are learning works in different settings, on and off the campus • Doing one or more of these activities in the context of a coherent, academically challenging curriculum that appropriately infuses opportunities for active, collaborative learning increases the odds that students will be prepared to connect.
Effects of Participating in High-Impact Activities on Student Engagement
Issue: Difficult economic times are resulting in reduced social services for people who really need them. It has also left higher education trying to prove its value as a “public good.”
Cuts to Social Services • In March, the Texas House of Representatives passed a $164.5 billion budget (about $23 billion less than the current two-year budget). • This budget includes deep cuts in social services including education, mental health, and healthcare. • As the Texas Senate advocates for a considerably larger budget, it may be difficult to reconcile with the house. • Comptroller Susan Combs added $1.2 billion to her estimate of state revenues, making that much more money available to budget writers who are scrambling for cash.
Issue: A recent survey conducted by the American College Health Association found that 78 percent of college students reported having felt very sad at least once within the preceding 12 months. Forty-two percent felt so depressed it was difficult to function, 9.4 percent had seriously considered attempting suicide, and 1.4 percent had attempted suicide.
Altruism and Happiness • A national sample of more than 600 Americans, they found that spending more on gifts and charity correlated with greater happiness, whereas spending more money on oneself did not. • A study tracking 16 workers before and after they received profit-sharing bonuses, found that that the workers who gave more of the money to others ended up happier than the ones who spent more of it on themselves. In fact, how the bonus was spent was a better predictor of happiness than the size of the bonus. • 46 students were given either $5 or $20 to spend by the end of the day. The ones who were instructed to spend the money on others — they bought toys for siblings, treated friends to meals and made donations to the homeless — were happier at the end of the day than the ones who were instructed to spend the money on themselves.
Issue: Consumerist notions of education continue to dominate student and public perceptions of what education is for.
Con$umeri$m For the past 10-15 years, there has been a drastic rise in…. • This has been partially driven by: • Declining state and federal resources for higher education. • Call for accountability in Higher Education. • Shifted the burden of student success from students to institutions. • Increased competition between institutions.
Reflective Activities: • Personal Journaling/Blogging • Presentations to Community Organizations • Case Studies Papers • Small-Group Work • Ethnographies • Group Problem Solving • Reflective Essays • Artistic Projects • Case Studies • Histories • Class/Workshop Discussions • Electronic Discussion Groups • Products Created for Organizations • Portfolios/E-Portfolios • Multimedia Class Presentations • Problem-Solving Papers • Source: Janet Eyler, Dwight E. Giles, Jr. (1996). Practitioner's guide to reflection in service-learning: Student voices and reflections. Vanderbilt University Press.
Meta-Cognitive Reflection • In much the same way that a child posing for yearly school pictures will show changes that may be unnoticeable day to day, meta-cognitive reflection encourages students to reevaluate their beliefs and to periodically think about the ways that these beliefs have changed overtime.
Take Aways Understanding of what they believe Belief in action High Impact Underprepared for Higher Education Improved Persistence, Life Skills Economic Uncertainty Altruism Practical Experience Consumerist Notions of Education Unhappiness