Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Critical Thinking, Service-Learning and General Education Competencies at Mount Wachusett Community College

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Critical Thinking, Service-Learning and General Education Competencies at Mount Wachusett Community College

Article excerpt

Introduction

Mount Wachusett Community College's (MWCC)journey into Service-Learning began in 1995 as our President, Dr. Daniel Asquino, was meeting with other college and university leaders to define a new vision for their campuses, where academic skills and community service become entwined. He returned to the "Mount" convinced that Service-Learning was essential in meeting the College's mission. He believed that Mount Wachusett Community College could become a leader in the process of building citizenship and character, providing new opportunities in learning, cultural awareness, wellness and economic enhancement while serving as an important community resource. Plans were set into action, and in the Fall of 1997 MWCC received our first Massachusetts Campus Compact (MACC) Learn & Serve Higher Education Service-Learning Grant. We began instituting a 3-year plan for institutionalizing Service-Learning into all academic divisions, encouraging participation in Service-Learning related professional development opportunities, and expanding Service-Learning.

A Team Approach

The success of the "Mount's" Service-Learning program is a direct result of team work and strong support from Academic Deans and College Administration. Susan McAlpine, Director of Cooperative Education and Service-Learning works closely with faculty and deans to establish a well defined, team-oriented Service-Learning program reflecting the needs of the "Mount's" students, faculty, and community partners. Team members explore ways to create Service-Learning experiences that meet course objectives, build critical thinking skills, and make progress toward achievement of MWCC's six General Education competencies.

Our Service-Learning team has been proactive in rethinking how student abilities are measured and defining what competencies students should gain from their collegiate experience. Critical thinking, defined by Robert Ennis as "reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on what to believe or do,"(1) is at the core of the General Education competencies they identified for MWCC. Everyday, students face choices or problems. They must identify and assess arguments--whatever the form, assess reliability of information, order or classify information or ideas, explore causal claims, and make comparisons. They must understand inductive and deductive reasoning; determine the usefulness of ideas, generalizations, and factual claims; make assumptions; understand implications; and recognize logical fallacies. Course objectives may vary from discipline to discipline, but critical thinking skills are consistently required to meet all academic objectives.

The MWCC Service-Learning Team identified Service-Learning as an ideal teaching approach for several reasons. First, Service-Learning is useful as a tool to help students reinforce classroom theory in real-life situations. Placement in Service Agencies across the region provides students with valuable opportunities to reinforce career decisions and generate contacts within their future profession. As understanding of learning styles increases, Service-Learning provides faculty with an excellent tool for students with a preference for experiential learning. Thus, Service-Learning becomes an opportunity for faculty to implement new teaching approaches into their courses meeting the learning needs of a wide variety of students. Furthermore, Service-Learning provides an opportunity for students to develop self-esteem, a sense of community, and civic responsibility.

Psychology Instructor Sheila Murphy was one of our first faculty members to integrate Service-Learning components into her Abnormal Psychology, Counseling Methods and Interviewing Techniques courses. She has long believed in the philosophy behind the Native American proverb, "Tell me. I'll listen. Show me. I'll believe. Involve me. I'll learn," and works daily to help her students apply classroom knowledge to the world around them. …

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