Thursday, January 17, 2008

Technology and Spanish Community Service Learning

Hands-on, experiential learning is what makes community service learning so effective. However, technology can vastly improve the efficiency with which instructors and directors can tackle the administrative tasks.

Here are some technology tips:

  • Create a simple webpage with clear instructions. For this semester I provided a bullet-point list for students to follow. Click here to see.

  • Spell out everything, even if it seems obvious to you. For example, I told students several times and in several venues that only those working at the Refugee Center and BTWashington School would have orientations today; all other organizations would arrange their own orientations at their own times. Students were still confused. Finally, a sent out a group e-mail with orientation details for each and every community partner organization. The questions then stopped.

  • React to feedback. I couldn't understand why students had so many questions about the BTW orientation. Finally, I looked back over what I had written. I never actually said that the BTW orientation was AT BTW. No wonder. I'll fix that next semester.

  • Have students self-schedule. I uploaded the community partner schedules document to From there, I "invited" all students to be "collaborators" on that document. They were able to access the document, write their name and e-mail address at the appropriate place/time, edit their choices when they changed their minds, and do this all in real-time.

  • Do a test-run. In future semesters, I will upload an empty document to and ask all students to write their names. That way, any student with technical difficulties can find out before the "race" to schedule themselves at their favorite organization at their most convenient time.

  • Share the administrative load. Once students had self-scheduled, from I invited all my community partners to be "viewers" of the document. That way, the community partners could simply copy and paste the names and e-mails of the students working with them and e-mail them with further details about their work and schedules.

  • Use just one e-mail account. To set up a document at you need a gmail account. (You don't need one to be "invited", however.) I never read my gmail account. But since that address showed up when I sent messages from, students replied to it, even though I told them to use my UIUC account. I was going crazy checking two accounts. So I decided to have all gmail messages forwarded to my UIUC account. Here's how to do that in gmail: click on "settings" in upper-right corner; click on "Forwarding and POP/IMAP" on upper-horizontal bar; fill in the correct information for "forwarding."
I managed to organize almost 130 students, 4 TAs and 10 community partners within four (extremely intense!) days using the technological strategies above. One of the best things about using google docs was being able to work from the office and home on the same document.


Update: Sometimes you still need to just pick up the phone. I called Julie Healy to see how the orientations had gone at BTW. She told me that their school starts at 9:00, but my schedule listed it at 8:30. How had I missed that for so many semesters?!?! And she said that it would be better to have students turn in their criminal background check forms as early as possible, even before the semester starts (the way I did it before).

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