Service-Learning in the Computer and Information Sciences: Practical Applications in Engineering Education

Article excerpt

Service-Learning in the Computer and Information Sciences: Practical Applications in Engineering Education

Brian Nejmeh, Editor

Hoboken NJ: Wiley-IEEE Press

In Service-Learning in the Computer and Information Sciences, editor Brian Nejmeh offers a collection of reflective case studies describing projects and larger university programs that involve undergraduate students in service-learning projects. It provides, first and foremost, a set of existence proofs, that service-learning is something that can occur in the context of Computer and Information Sciences, not only in the social sciences and humanities where it might seem more natural. Students have engaged in many kinds of service, with projects structured in various ways. The reports offer tips and not a few tales of woe that would be valuable reading for any professor or staff member organizing or considering organizing service-learning projects in the computer sciences. Partner organizations might also find the reports valuable for thinking through their own motivations and readiness, especially if they are going into the project anticipating that a service-learning project will be an inexpensive way to meet their information technology needs.

The reports offer many insights about best practices and potential pitfalls. One key challenge is finding the sweet spot of projects that are genuinely useful to the individuals or organizations receiving the service and that exercise the skills that students have developed or that universities want the students to develop. Another challenge is managing the mismatch between course timelines and the natural timelines of projects. A variety of approaches to both these challenges are explored. The reports offer inspirational examples of individual transformation that occurred as a result of service projects. They also hint that such transformations may not be common, and may be less frequent the more technical and "indirect" the service becomes.

The book leaves some important questions unanswered, and some not even asked. None of the reports documents the costs of running service-learning programs and compares that to the number of students who participate. They do not address the preparation of students for service careers or how service-learning projects may fit into a larger eco-system that also includes professional service providers. And they do not address the service-learning opportunities that may be available through internship placements.

About the Content

Perhaps the most obvious value this book provides is its illustration of diverse service-learning projects appropriate for students majoring in the computing and information sciences. Not only does it show that there's a way to fit service-learning into engineering education, it shows that there are many ways to do it.

The first chapter, by the book's editor, outlines a useful framework for thinking about what might be called the design space of service-learning programs in the computing and information sciences. One dimension is the "project type", or the kind of service to be delivered, ranging from training to systems selection, to support, to custom development. A second dimension, the "activity range" describes which parts of a project's life cycle the students participate in, from analysis to design to implementation, testing, deployment, or assessment. A third dimension describes the "project mode" i.e., whether the service-learning is co-curricular (independent of creditbearing coursework), curricular (part of credit-bearing coursework), or a hybrid of the two.

Another dimension, not explicitly mentioned in the introductory chapter's framework but evident in the case studies in the book, is who is being served. In many cases, students tried to improve the internal operations of nonprofit organizations. In other cases, students served individuals more directly, but even then there was typically an intermediary partner organization that helped to facilitate the service. …

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