Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Combining Service and Learning on Campus and in the Community

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Combining Service and Learning on Campus and in the Community

Article excerpt

Student workshops are valuable resources for combining service and learning. The challenge, Mr. Checkoway points out, is to recognize their limitations, integrate them with other courses in the curriculum, and find ways to improve their quality.

Student workshops are a form of community service learning in which students develop knowledge and learn lessons by serving the community. Through them, students may become participants in housing reform, health care, environmental change, neighborhood revitalization, and other types of service. The workshops may involve organizing for social action, planning programs at the local level, or developing new community-based services. Like other forms of service learning, they enable students to serve the community, reflect on their experiences, and learn lessons or derive principles for the future.(1)

Student workshops can complement coursework in the academic disciplines and provide field training for public health, social work, urban planning, and other professions. Studies show that service learning can develop substantive knowledge and practical skills and contribute to life-long social responsibility and civic values.(2)

Student workshops can also contribute to community problem solving and program planning. They can help people to assess needs, set priorities, formulate plans, implement programs, and create change. They can provide technical assistance that makes an important difference at the community level, especially in traditionally underserved areas.(3)

In this article I describe three student workshops for community service learning. They include a community planning workshop in an area of rural farmlands and small cities, a neighborhood revitalization workshop in a low-income area of a large industrial city, and a voter participation workshop that promoted the participation of traditional nonvoters.

Community Planning Workshop

This workshop took place in east central Illinois, midway between Chicago and St. Louis, an area of agricultural farmland and several small and medium-sized cities. The focus of the workshop was Champaign-Urbana, twin cities that are home to roughly 100,000 persons and the University of Illinois.(4)

The academic base for the project was the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois. Faculty members in urban planning rely heavily on field courses - studios, laboratories, or workshops - to provide opportunities for students to make direct contributions to clients while gaining experience and skill. Since workshops are a particularly intensive educational experience, students receive twice as much credit for them as for a typical class.

The community planning workshop began with my search for students who were committed to community planning. I sought students who wanted to collaborate with community organizations, and I required a written statement for screening purposes. I did not assume that acceptance into an undergraduate or graduate program was a guarantee that students were ready for this type of experience. Moreover, I believe that a commitment to work with a community client obligates the instructor to find the best available students.

Before the semester began, students participated in a weekend retreat. The weekend provided an opportunity to discuss the content and objectives of the workshop and to develop guidelines and operating procedures. An important part of the weekend was the holding of "community public hearings" to which local leaders were invited and asked to identify areas of need in which we might make a contribution. Planners, organizers, elected officials, and agency administrators identified more than 120 possibilities.

Students formed teams around two projects, for which they formulated proposals and learning contracts for the semester. Both teams agreed to meet on Tuesdays to discuss operational tasks and on Thursdays to reflect on their experiential learning. …

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