Service Learning in an FCS Core Curriculum: A Community-Campus Collaboration

Article excerpt

The new core for the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Ball State University was designed to provide students with a better understanding of the integrative nature of the family and consumer sciences (FCS) profession. The resultant 9-credit core includes an introductory course, a capstone course, and one student-selected course. The content in the introductory class centers around the conceptual framework and cross-cutting threads described by Baugher et al. (2000) in the "Body of Knowledge for Family and Consumer Sciences." Topics covered in the course include professional ethics, public policy, technology, systems theory, critical thinking, diversity, communication skills, global perspective, and civic engagement.

As part of the Department's efforts to promote the importance of belonging to a professional organization as a student, U\e Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences is used as the required course textbook. Articles corresponding to course concepts are assigned and discussed in class and through electronic discussion boards. Plans are underway to engage authors of selected JFCS articles in electronic discussions with the students to further their understanding of the profession. The Journal also is used to teach students how to abstract research articles and cite references using APA style.

Students have been willing to become student members of AAFCS once they understand the value of belonging to a professional organization and when they realize that membership is less costly than most textbooks! (A student membership in AAFCS, which includes a subscription to the Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences, is $60; in Texas, $70.)

Service Learning Requirement

One of the profession's key cross-cutting threads described by Baugher et al. (2000) is civic engagement. To operationalize this concept, 20 hours of community service, obtained through a structured service-learning experience, is required of each student enrolled in the Introductory FCS course. Service learning is defined as "a method of teaching through which students apply newly acquired academic skills and knowledge to address real-life needs in their own community" (Payne, 2000, p. 3). Service learning has gained wide attention at colleges and universities nationwide, as well as in FCS courses in middle and high school (Paulins, 1999). Service learning provides an outstanding opportunity for FCS professionals to collaborate with community agencies by providing a needed service while bringing relevance to the traditional text-based approach to learning. The objectives of the service learning experience in the Introductory FCS course are to help students: (a) increase their social awareness, (b) demonstrate a connection between academic information learned in the classroom with real life, (c) develop or enhance their professional skills (e.g., communication, leadership, time management); and (d) develop a sense of community and civic responsibility.

Service opportunities are made available to students through Ball State University's Office of Student Voluntary Services, and the University provides transportation to a select number of sites. Students choose from a variety of opportunities, at times that are convenient for them (e.g., soup kitchen, food pantry, the Muncie Mission, senior citizen centers, the Children's Museum, after-school tutoring and arts programs, resale clothing stores, daycare centers, and the Salvation Army). A typical schedule for these volunteer activities is 2 hours per week for 10 to 12 weeks throughout the semester.

Reflection opportunities (e.g., discussion, reading, and writing) that enable students to think critically about their service experience are an important component of service-learning (Payne, 2000). To be effective, critical reflection should be continuous, connected, challenging, and contextualized (Eyler, Giles, & Schmiede, 1996). Students in the Introductory FCS course keep a journal about their experiences throughout the semester. …