Service learning has become an increasingly important component of higher education in Indiana and across the nation. At Indiana University Northwest, and across Northwest Indiana, professors and their students engage in a multitude of learning activities that also benefit groups and individuals in the community.
On Thursday, Jan. 29, the Northwest Indiana Consortium for Community Partnerships
(NWICCP) and the Indiana Campus Compact sponsored the half-day seminar “Put
Service in Your Learning and Learning in Your Service.” Held at IU Northwest,
the program attracted nearly 100 area college educators and non-profit representatives
who wanted to learn what it takes to develop successful service-learning collaboration
between university classes and community organizations. The NWICCP membership
consists of Calumet College of St. Joseph, Indiana University Northwest, IU
Northwest Non-Profit Institute, Ivy Tech Community College - Northwest, Purdue
University North Central, United Way Regional Volunteer Cente, and Valparaiso
University. Substantial support was also provided by
the Student Leadership and Volunteer Center at Purdue University North Central,
the IU Northwest Center for Regional Excellence, and the IU Northwest Center
for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.
“This is something that is becoming very well-rooted in higher education, at all different kinds of institutions, in all different types of disciplines, and also at a much larger scale internationally,” said keynote speaker Julie Hatcher, Ph.D., who is associate director of the Center for Service and Learning at IUPUI. “What’s been very fascinating in my work … is seeing how this concept is really taking hold in different places across the globe.”
Despite a continued upswing in service learning on Indiana campuses, the percentage of college students in the state participating in service-learning activities still lags behind the national average, according to 2007 statistics detailed in the Campus Compact Annual Membership Survey. Only 20 percent of Indiana students were reported to have participated in community-service, service-learning, or civic-engagement projects during the 2006-2007 academic year, as compared to 30 percent nationwide. The hours per week that those students committed to those endeavors averaged three hours for Indiana students as compared to the nationwide average of five hours per week. And the average number of service-learning courses offered at Indiana colleges was 26, versus the national average of 36.
Even so, 86 percent of Indiana respondents reported that their institutions’ mission or purpose statements clearly support policies that drive community service and civic engagement through service learning, as compared with 90 percent nationwide. And 71 percent of Indiana respondents stated that their institutions’ presidents or chancellors provide fiscal support for service learning, as compared with 78 percent nationally.
Hatcher credited Northwest Indiana’s higher education community for being proactive in its attempt to bring greater organization and collaboration to service-learning initiatives through groups like the NWICCP.
“We have a lot of resources at IUPUI. But we don’t have what you have here,” she said. “I think that you’re sitting on a very rich asset … in terms of the partnership work that you’re beginning to do in a regional way. We have a number of campuses in Indianapolis that are very interested in service learning and civic engagement … but we sort of still sit in our little box at IUPUI and say, ‘Oh, I heard they’re doing that over there at the University of Indianapolis.’ We have yet to organize in this way.”
Hatcher explained that, at IUPUI, the official definition of “service learning” is “a course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs, and b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of personal values and civic responsibility.”
Hatcher said that service learning would apply to most any discipline. She cited the example of a ballet teacher she once met who had asked her students to teach ballet to the members of a senior center.
“It caused them to be much more attentive to the technique they had in the class,” Hatcher said.
An important goal of service learning, Hatcher explained, is to create a state of perplexity in students. It is uncertainty, she said, and the need to make decisions and think through problems lacking predetermined solutions, that lead to genuine learning.
“What we find with our college students is that they don’t like to be perplexed,” Hatcher said. “They like to know that this is what they need to read, this is what is going to be on the test, and they would like the review questions before the test. That’s how many of the college students that we’re getting want the class to run.
“When I first started in service learning, there was a part of me, as the teacher, as the educator, as the person responsible for what was going on, that felt like, ‘Wow, you’re perplexed, let me help you figure out what’s going on!’ What I have come to see, as a service-learning instructor, is that it’s the very perplexity that is the core of learning.“
For teachers who take on service-learning classes for the first time, patience and perseverance are necessities, according to Hatcher.
“It takes about three semesters before you, as a faculty member, are going to be feeling good about it,” she said. “The first semester, you’re winging it.”
But, she added, the payoff for students is substantial, and the community also benefits, both from the immediate act of service and from the knowledge that this service creates for the students who carry it out.
“I would say we have far more evidence now that endorses the reality that this is a certain type of teaching and learning that reinforces learning for students,” Hatcher said.