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February 22, 2000


Engaging the Academy in the Community:
Learning to Serve and Serving to Learn

by Elliott Lauderdale

Recently in New Orleans at the annual American Association of Higher Education conference, Dr. Judy Stout, the University of South Alabama (USA) Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, participated in a pre-conference seminar with Dr. Edward Zlotkowski on community engagement. Dr. Stout was impressed with the enthusiasm of her colleagues about service learning. Several administrators from adjacent states have resolved to remain in contact for collaboration. I interviewed Stout to talk about her participation in this meeting and the upcoming visit of Edward Zlotkowski to USA.

Dr. Zlotkowski is an English professor and founder of the Service-Learning Project at Bentley College. He is currently editing a monograph series on service learning and the academic disciplines. This series, which began prior to 1997, covers most disciplines in the university, including medical education, biology, composition, teacher education and political science. Dr. Stout pointed out the long list of professional associations in the disciplines that endorse service learning. Dr. Zlotkowski is a Senior Associate at the American Association for Higher

Education and a visiting fellow at the New England Resource Center for Higher Education. He travels widely as a consultant to institutions desiring to initiate or enhance campus service-learning. Dr. Edmund Tsang of USA is editing the book in this series on Engineering Service Learning, and was able to help arrange these contacts with Dr. Zlotkowski. I was fortunate to meet Dr. Zlotkowski at a meeting in Atlanta on Volunteerism and Service Learning in Higher Education.

Like myself, Dr. Stout was impressed with Zlotkowski's carefully reasoned presentation. She was happy to learn of the distinctions between volunteerism, internships, and service learning. She was pleasantly surprised that Zlotkowski does not advocate service learning requirements; instead he recommends service-learning as part of a repertoire of approaches such as collaborative problem-based and student-centered learning that help improve the quality of teaching in the university.

Dr. Stout said that she and Acting USA Vice President for Academic Affairs Pat C. Covey met with President Moulton about what she learned in the New Orleans meeting, and that he was very interested and heartily endorsed this effort to learn with Dr. Zlotkowski on how service learning might enhance education at the University of South Alabama.

Dr. Stout said that service learning is motivating because it asks that learning goals be achieved in the context of solving real-world problems. She noted that many students are curiously upset at an experiment that does not work out the way it was supposed to. For Dr. Stout such a attitude goes against good science and good education. In the real world she noted, "I would not know the answers myself." Good science involves dealing with the unexpected and discovering what aspects were overlooked.

A basic principle of both adult education and service learning is that education flows from careful reflection on the experience, not the experience itself. One of the principles of good practice for service-learning is that programs emphasize structured opportunities to reflect on service experience.

Another advantage of service-learning is that it gives students an opportunity to see what they have been learning being applied in a complex social and cultural context. A biological issue or problem is often compounded by political and sociological ramifications. The interpersonal skills one develops and the ethical questions one confronts in service learning can help biology students who may become private consultants. Service-learning programs can be designed carefully so that they meet the defined needs of the curriculum, the community agency, and the students.

Dr. Stout noted that many colleges have two offices, one for volunteers and one for service-learning. Many faculty members have developed close relations with community organizations and often work closely with those groups to meet mutually beneficial learning and research goals. These professors are aware of good service-learning placements in their areas of expertise. The USA Office of Community Involvement serves as an agency for receiving requests for assistance from community agencies, for placing volunteers, and for recording the experiences of university-community cooperation. But Dr. Stout suggested that as a community of faculty using service-learning in different disciplines on the campus begins to evolve, there will be a limited amount of time that individual faculty will have to make arrangement with community agencies. The institution would then have to step forward. Resources can help in faculty development and in providing the administrative assistance necessary to ensure the mutual benefit of service-learning programs to the university and the community.

Dr. Stout found at the New Orleans conference that faculty frequently have two major concerns about service learning -- "It does not fit my discipline" and "I have too little time to convey course information as it is; how can I add service learning?"

By meeting multiple goals, appropriately planned service-learning can be a more efficient way to meet curricular goals. Dr. Zlotkowski emphasizes that no curricular goals should be sacrificed for service-learning. The definition of service-learning is that curricular goals are met through community service.

As noted above, service-learning has been used in all disciplines. Plentiful resources such as the series edited by Dr. Zlotkowski are available to help faculty members design service- learning projects appropriate for their courses. The University of South Alabama Office of Academic Affairs and the university Service Learning committee invite faculty members and citizens to participate in the seminar by Edward Zlotkowski to be held February 25. Please see the notice on this page.

During most of our lives, our learning is concrete, contextual, linked to problems that demand solutions. By linking traditional classroom-based learning to community-based challenges, service-learning reconnects the classroom to a felt sense of education's power to make a difference. Service-learning can help students develop broader social and political awareness. But, how can service-learning be customized so it supports learning? What is the difference between volunteerism, internships, community service, and service learning? The University of South Alabama Office of Academic Affairs and the University

Service-Learning Committee invite you to participate in a day of lectures and workshops on Friday, February 25, 2000 to examine the possibilities and benefits of service-learning. If you are currently enhancing your syllabus with service-learning components or are interested in trying service-learning in your courses, pick the appropriate session from the agenda below or plan to attend both sessions. For reservations, please contact Ms Diane Hartley at 460-6261. Space may be limited, so make your reservation early.


Friday, February 25, 2000 * University Student Center

Faculty and Campus Leaders interested in Service-Learning - Room 212.
Format: Presentation with questions and discussion.

Faculty and Campus Leaders currently involved in Service-Learning at USA - Room 212.
Format: Workshop of shared ideas and issues.

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