In recent years, the service-learning field has exploded in all sorts of interesting ways, and we believe that political scientists should be active participants in this field. With this in mind, I have constructed a tool kit for service-learning in political science. The goal is to provide an opportunity for political scientists who have built service learning into their courses to offer suggestions regarding what has worked and not worked within the context of the content categories described below. For those of us who have not yet integrated service learning into our courses, but are thinking of doing so, we hope that this took kit is of some practical use. This is very much a work in progress, one that takes into account developments in this ever-changing field. I also wish to integrate the thoughts of those faculty who have integrated and are requiring service learning as a part of their courses. In this sense, the tool kit is a work in progress and highly interactive, as well.
Service Learning Goals and Components*
The central goal of service learning programs is to afford students the opportunity to develop necessary skills for participation and leadership on their campuses, in their communities, and in the larger society. Ideally, students should see the connection between their college educational experiences and their participation in the larger society upon graduation. For political science faculty, service learning pedagogy has opened up a new area of inquiry that enables them to connect pedagogy and scholarship in important and interesting ways.
Service learning encompasses a number of the following components:
a) it is premised on experiential education and is thus an engaged pedagogy;
b) at its best, it serves as the foundation for civic, intellectual, and moral growth among students;
c) it links course assignments, readings, and discussions to students' experiences;
d) it gives students the opportunity to reflect thoughtfully and critically upon those community experiences;
e) it requires students to use interdisciplinary, integrative thinking in unstructured problem solving circumstances; whenever possible, students are encouraged to link their service learning experiences to concrete public policy problems and solutions;
f) it affords students the opportunity to reflect upon difference in all of its forms--class, race, gender, age, and sexual orientation--as they encounter that difference in the community;
g) it encourages students to connect their community participation to various normative models of democratic citizenship and engagement;
h) whenever possible, it draws upon community members/partners to help plan, advise, and ultimately implement the service learning component of courses;
i) by its very nature, it requires that dialogue among students, community members, faculty, and administrators is an integral component of the course pedagogical process.
*The above includes some material liberally adapted from Margarita Maria Lenk, "Service Learning in Accounting: A Guidebook," 1999 and Campus Compact, "Introduction to Service-Learning Toolkit: Readings and Resources for Faculty," 2000
Types of Institutional Support for Faculty and Departmental Service-Learning Practices:
If service learning programs are to be successful, they must receive various forms of institutional support. In this way, service learning will then become institutionalized like all other programs and courses of study on college campuses. Until this formal institutionalization process occurs, service learning programs will not receive the respect that they deserve. The service learning literature indicates that there are three types of institutional support that are necessary for successful faculty and departmental service-learning practices:
1) A campus coordinator for student placements in community organizations. Such a person is of crucial importance, given the considerable time investment that quality student placements require. Faculty generally cannot integrate such an enormous workload into already busy professional (not to mention personal) lives!
2) Course load accommodation, for faculty who offer service-learning courses. This is particularly necessary if there is no other campus support staff support to coordinate placements. If an institution cannot or will not support a campus student placement coordinator, then faculty should be given course release time if they assume such important responsibilities.
3) Recognition and credit toward tenure and/or promotion for faculty work on service-learning. This is crucial, especially for younger, untenured faculty who so often bring excitement and new ideas about teaching with them as they enter into their initial teaching appointments. For older, more established faculty, service learning needs to be recognized and rewarded as an important component of continued professional growth and development.
Why Should Political Science Faculty Embrace Service Learning?
1) Service learning requires faculty to reflect on public life and the role of the college/university in the community. College presidents are increasingly asking faculty members to connect their teaching and scholarly work with the communities in which they live and teach;
2) By its very nature, service learning encourages faculty to rethink course goals and pedagogical strategies;
3) Faculty who build service learning into their courses will have an opportunity to rethink student assessment and empirical criteria for student learning success/failure;
4) Faculty members will have an opportunity to reflect critically upon their own relationships to the communities in which they live and teach.
Tips for Faculty on How to Introduce and Sustain Service-Learning Courses in Different Institutional Settings
Consequently, I recognize that service-learning is an invaluable pedagogical approach across various types of institutional settings: Ph.D, M.A., B.A., and Community Colleges. The purpose of the following sections is for faculty to share ideas on what has worked and what has not worked, and most importantly, identify how service learning courses can be introduced and sustained over the years.
The Relationship Between the Community and Higher Education Institutions in Service Learning Programs: Establishing and Sustaining Community Contacts
The goal here is to establish an open, reciprocal relationship between community organizations and higher education institutions in service learning programs. How is such an important goal achieved in practice? Can community members be integrated effectively into the classroom? And how might community leaders help structure student course assignments?
Service Learning Orientation/Training Prior to Community Participation
The importance of preparing students properly for their service learning experience before they participate in the community cannot be underestimated. In addition to class discussion of these issues, students will also benefit from evening sessions where members of the community, administrators/faculty responsible for service learning, and student peers who are already participating in service-learning projects come together to answer student questions and to provide appropriate student orientation to service learning and the community.
Tips for Identifying Projects and Finding Placements for Students
What are the criteria for "successful" student service learning placements? How might such placements be identified? What role can faculty play here in finding appropriate placements for students? How might community members be integrated here in meaningful and effective ways?
Identifying Course Syllabi that Integrate Service Learning
Our goal is to collect as many service learning based syllabi as possible, to create a resource for the exchange of ideas and pedagogical strategies for integrating service learning into college level political science courses. The collection will cover a full range of courses, including: core introductory, major subfield, and capstone courses. The syllabi will eventually be placed on the web. SYLLABI
Student Exercises that Encourage Reflections on the Connections Between Service-Learning Experiences and Democratic Participation: Reflection and Evaluation Techniques
A central goal is to devise assignments that require students to engage in an array of analytical and reflection activities. If you have devised student exercises that encourage students to reflect on the connections between their service-learning experiences and democratic participation, and can report on how successful have these exercises been, consider sending descriptions of these exercises to the Service Learning Exchange. Identify your criteria for "success," and how these assignments/exercises might be used in other political science courses that require service learning. These activities might include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
a) Small and/or large group discussions. I have found that service-based learning courses lend themselves to interesting discussions that potentially afford students the opportunity to connect their service learning experiences to the course reading, lecture, and discussion materials;
b) Journals. I have occasionally used course journals as a way for students to reflect critically (and in writing) about their own interaction with the course materials and their service learning experiences across the course of the term. I ask that students make connections among the various course materials as the term unfolds;
c) Formal oral presentations. In virtually all of my service learning courses, I ask students to make a formal oral presentation, which also includes responding to questions from their peers and the instructor. The assignment requires them to make analytical connections between their service learning experiences and the course materials, most often to a concrete public policy issue area.
d) Analytical public policy papers. For their final course assignments, students are often required to write a substantive public policy research paper, one that poses an analytical question at the outset and then responds to that question in light of the course materials and their own library research. As a part of this assignment, I require that students integrate their service learning experiences in some substantive and meaningful way. CONNECTING SERVICE LEARNING
The Evaluation of Service-Learning
The evaluation of service-learning is an important component of any service-learning based experience. Nonetheless, many course evaluation forms do not ask about such experiential learning. Here are several questions that might be helpful in assessing student development in service learning based courses (these questions can be added to departmental/college course evaluation forms):
a) Has participation in your service learning project given you the opportunity to think differently than you did before? If so, in what specific ways? If not, why not?
b) What have you learned from working in the community?
c) What do you think that the community organization has gained from your participation?
d) Has the service learning component of this course been useful? If so, why? If not, why not?
e) How might service learning be better integrated into this course in the future?
If you have devised techniques to evaluate student learning in service experiences and assignments that could be adapted by other political science faculty, consider contributing a description to the APSA's Service Learning site, or send the address of your website on which the techniques may be found. Be sure to communicate the results of your student service learning evaluations to the students, your faculty colleagues and administrators, and participating community organizations.