The Faculty Center for Ignatian Pedagogy at Loyola university identifies four steps in the process of engaged learning: 1) Experience; 2) Reflection; 3) Judgment; and 4) Action/Commitment (http://www.luc.edu/fcip/ignatianpedagogy/). The mission of Loyola University, to "expand knowledge in the service of humanity through learning, justice and faith", is quite specific in calling students, faculty, and staff to serve the human family. Further, the university is launching a 5-year strategic plan that places transformational social justice at its core. The plan asks the university community to consciously "build a more just, humane, and sustainable world.
The university's commitment to Ignatian pedagogy, its core mission, and commitment to transformational social justice align closely with service-learning pedagogy. As a faculty member at Loyola University with these important commitment, we ask you to consider a service-learning pedagogy that enables you to engage your students in the core values and commitments of the university.
Service-Learning provides the community-based experience through which learning and critical reflection can take place. As students begin their community-based experience, we invite them to keep the following in mind:
- Encounter - take seriously the opportunity to build relationships with the residents of our communities. Service-learning is much more than completing a task; it is about entering into a new community and discovering the history, the strengths, the assets of that community and its members.
- Engage - encourage students to engage the context of the community where they will be serving. In addition to serving our communities, we want students to understand the history, culture, economics, and political realities of the community and the organization. An openness to contextual learning will help students learn about justice issues in our communities and ultimately encourage students to stand in solidarity with the community.
- Common Good - ask students to consider their actions in the community in the context of building toward the common good. How might service and action help to build the common good by building equity and access?
It is in preparing students for active engagement in the community and encouraging them to reflect critically on their experience that we open the door to transformational learning. We believe that students should leave the service-learning experience with a deeper and even changed understanding of themselves, our communities, and their potential to participate in the civic life of our communities, country, and world. Service-learning as pedagogy creates the opportunity for students to try on and live out the core principles and values of Loyola University in the world!
There are several ways to facilitate service-learning experiences or structure a class to engage students in a community-based learning experience. At Loyola, however, three distinct models are commonly used by faculty in service-learning. Regardless of model, all service-learning courses involve two common elements: 1) Student engagement in a service experience that is responsive to community priorities and aligns with course outcomes; and 2) Structured opportunities for reflection embedded in the course (assignments, discussions, final projects) that help students draw meaning from their community based experiences and connect them to course content.
Placement service-learning courses enhance student understanding of course content by offering them the chance to volunteer directly in the community at an organization whose mission aligns with the course's academic outcomes. For example, students in an accounting class may help low-income families fill out their taxes or FAFSA forms, thereby understanding the implications of tax policy first hand; students from a healthcare class might volunteer at a hospital or clinic to see principles of healthcare provision (and disparities in its execution) at work; students in an environmental studies class might spend time working to help local environmental groups restore the dunescape on the lakefront or remove invasive species from tracts of forest preserve so as to better understand the kinds of community effort necessary to improve sustainability in the real world. Courses of this type generally require students to spend at least 20 hours volunteering with the same organization/project in order to ensure that students have a significant and meaningful learning experience on site.
Project-based courses have students working individually, in groups, or as an entire class to generate a product that is useful to one or more community-based organizations. The project's deliverables are determined by the organization client(s) for whom the students work in the manner of unpaid contractors or consultants under the supervision of their faculty member. These projects may involve a substantive research component. Project classes generally do not require students to become formal volunteers with the client organization or to complete a specific number of "service hours." Instead, the project must be completed to the organization's specifications and on the agreed-upon timetable, usually within a single semester.
Community Education/Advocacy courses ask students to share course content with the broader community for purposes of informing them on issues and encouraging them to take action for personal or social change. Sometimes this involves students putting on events such as a health fair or a public symposium with the goal of disseminating important information and building networks of students, faculty, and community members to engage in further collaborative work. Other times, students create and publish materials (such as newspaper articles, magazines, web sites or electronic portfolios, videos, etc.) designed to make information more accessible to the general public. As with project-based classes, community education classes generally don't require students to become formal volunteers with client organizations; however, they often integrate community members' input and feedback at multiple points throughout the semester so as to make sure that the students' work is relevant, accurate, and audience-appropriate.
While excellent course design can lead to transformational student learning through a service-learning experience, the meaning-making or reflection that is at the heart of student learning is conditional upon student's ability and willingness to reflect on their experiences. The following principles and resources can help to guide faculty members as they design reflective elements for their courses.
Principles of Reflection in Community Based Learning
- All partners model, participate in, and benefit from the reflection process.
- Reflection activities are designed to connect off-campus experiences and classroom learning.
- Course outcomes provide a foundation for each off-campus activity. Each reflection activity has desired outcomes that relate to the course outcomes.
- Opportunities for reflection are intentionally designed, and integrated throughout the course, both in and outside the classroom.
- Community partners and faculty agree on the content and process (design, implementation, assessment) of reflection activities and assignments (at a minimum, those that involve the community partner).
- Opportunities for engaging in reflection in culturally relevant ways, that are meaningful for a diversity of students, are provided (e.g. artistic, more/less structured, affective as well as cognitive, oral, written).
- Reflection activities guide students in examining their own perspectives and assumptions about themselves, their community, and the organizations and people they are working with in the community, and the impact of these perceptions on their service.
- Relationships among power, privilege, prejudice, oppression, root cause of inequity, the service they are engaged in, as well as the academic content they are studying are intentionally explored.
- Reflection activities invite students to consider their goals as community/civic-oriented people.
- Reflection activities are designed to facilitate exploration of self, community and issues rather than ask students to develop pre-mature solutions to complex challenges.
- Each student is both challenged and supported throughout the reflection process.
Consider one or more of the following reflection strategies/tools that can facilitate critical reflection with your students:
- Critical incident journal: The following set of prompts ask students to consider their thoughts and reactions and articulate the action they plan to take in the future: Describe a significant event that occurred as part of the service experience. Why was this significant to you? What did you learn from this experience? How will this incident influence your future behavior?
- Three-part journal: Each page of the weekly journal entry is divided into thirds; description, analysis, application. In the top section, students describe some aspect of the service experience. In the middle section they analyze how course content relates to the service experience, and in the application section students comment on how they experience and course content can be applied to their personal or professional life.
- Highlighted journal: Before students submit their reflective journal, they reread personal entries and, using a highlighter, mark sections of the journal that directly relate to concepts and terms discussed in the text or in class. This makes it easier for both the student and the instructor to identify the academic connections made during the reflection process.
- Key-phrase journal: The instructor provides a list of terms and key phrases at the beginning of the semester for students to include in journal entries. Evaluation is based on the use and demonstrated understanding of the term.
- Double-entry journal: Students describe their personal thoughts and reactions to the service experience on the left page of the journal, and write about key issues from class discussion or readings on the right page of the journal. Students then draw arrows indicating relationships between their personal experience and course content.
- Dialogue journal: Students submit loose-leaf journal pages to the instructor for comments every two weeks. While labor intensive for the instructor, this can provide regular feedback to students and prompt new questions for students to consider during the semester. Dialogue journals also can be read and responded to by a peer.
- Directed writings: These ask students to consider the service experience within the framework of course content. The instructor identifies a section from the text book or class readings (e.g., quotes, statistics, key concepts) and structures a question for students to answer in 1-2 pages. A list of directed writings can be provided at the beginning of the semester.
- Experiential Research Papers: These ask students to identify an underlying social issue they have encountered at the service site. Students then research the social issue. Based on their experience and library research, students make recommendations to the agency for future action. Class presentations of the experiential research paper can culminate semester work.
- E-mail discussion: This is a way to facilitate reflection with the instructor and peers involved in service projects. Students write weekly summaries and identify critical incidents that occurred at the service site. Instructors can post questions for consideration and topics for directed writings. A log of the e-mail discussions can be printed as data to the group about the learning that occurred from the service experience.
- Ethical Case Studies: Case studies give students the opportunity to analyze a situation and gain practice in ethical decision making as they choose a course of action. Students write up a case study of an ethical dilemma they have confronted at the service site, including a description of the context, the individuals involved, and the controversy or even that created the ethical dilemma. Case studies are read in class and students discuss the situation and identify how they would respond.
- Service-Learning Portfolios: These contain evidence of both processes and products completed and ask students to assess their work in terms of the learning objectives of the course. Portfolios can contain any of the following: service learning contract, weekly log, personal journal, impact statement, directed writings, photo essay, products completed during the service experience (e.g., agency brochure, lesson plans, advocacy letters). Students write an evaluation essay providing a self-assessment of how effectively they met the learning and service objectives of the course.
- Personal Narratives: These are based on journal entries written regularly during the semester. Students create a fictional story about themselves as a learner in the course. This activity sets a context for reflection throughout the semester with attention directed to a finished product that is creative in nature. Personal narratives give students an opportunity to describe their growth as a learner.
- Exit Cards: These are brief note card reflections turned in at the end of each class period. Students are asked to reflect on disciplinary content from class discussion and explain how this information relates to their service involvement.
- Class Presentations: These can be three-minute updates that occur each month or thirty minute updates during the final two class periods during which students present their final analysis of the service activities and offer recommendations to the agency for additional programming. Agency personnel can be invited to hear final presentations.
- A Weekly Log: A simple listing of the activities completed each week at the service site. This is a way to monitor work and provide students with an overview of the contribution they have made during the semester.
The Center for Experiential Learning has developed partnerships with dozens of organizations across the Chicagoland area. Our goal is to generate and sustain mutually-beneficial relationships. Increasingly, the Center is emphasizing local partnerships with non-profits that have the potential to be sustainable and lead to measurable community outcomes. Pedagogically, we believe it makes sense to engage students through community organizations that have the capacity to build bridges between campus and our surrounding communities. These also contribute to viable and sustaining institutional connections between campus and community.
Community partners offer multiple opportunities for our students to experience how community organizations address emerging and seemingly intractable problems in our communities. Students may be able to participate in direct service experiences with children, senior citizens or refugee populations. They also may be able to join organizing and advocacy projects that address problems related to health, housing, education, or food access. They also may be able to put their existing or emerging skills and knowledge to use to support organizations through a research, media, or educational campaign. Our community partners represent a rich diversity of opportunities for our students to participate in and understand community realities.
Through this process, we ask our partner organizations to be co-educators of our students. This can happen in several ways:
- Organizational leaders come to your classroom to discuss their work on critical issues in the community;
- Organizational staff work closely with our students to help them understand both the organizational and community context of the student volunteer experience;
- Organizational staff work with our students to reflect on service experiences in ways that build the cultural competence of our students;
- Organizational leaders work closely with faculty members to develop experiences and activities that are embedded in the course syllabus and learning outcomes;
- Organizational leaders help faculty identify and understand important community priorities that can be addressed during the course.