Tuesday, June 16, 2009

College Students of 2020--Will They Take Spanish Community Service Learning Courses?

by Ann Abbott

What's your first impression of the young woman in the photo: is she studying?

I think most people would say "no." But in just a few years, a cell phone and a laptop might be precisely what students use to study.

I am on the LAS Online Committee. Our charge is to understand how we can increase our College's (not the university's) on-line offerings. The goals are to increase access to our students and to generate revenue. (Cynics, stop right there. The College is serious about quality; money is not the sole motivator.)

There are a lot of talented people on the committee, and I learn a lot from listening to all of them. At yesterday's meeting, Barbara Hancin-Bhatt shared a new report from the Chronicle about College Students of 2020. As Barbara pointed out, the changes in how universities teach are big and the time frame is small. Two points from the executive summary seem particularly salient for Spanish community service learning (CSL): value and convenience.

First, two quotes from the Executive Summary.

"Students’ convenience is the future. More students will attend classes online, study part time, take courses from multiple universities, and jump in and out of colleges. Students will demand more options for taking courses to make it easier for them to do what they want when they want to do it. And they will make those demands for economic reasons, too. The full-time residential model of higher education is getting too expensive for a larger share of the American population. More and more students are looking for lowercost alternatives to attending college. Three-year degree programs, which some colleges are now launching, will almost assuredly proliferate. The trend toward low-cost options also will open doors for more inexpensive online options."

"The conversion to more convenience for students will multiply over the next decade. To some degree, those situations are already happening, and they will be amplified as time goes on:
• Students will increasingly expect access to classes from cellular phones and other portable computing devices.
• They may sign up to take a course in person, and then opt to monitor class meetings online and attend whenever they want.
• Classroom discussions, office hours with a professor, lectures, study groups, and papers will all be online."

Value. Students and parents are right to question the value of their tuition dollars. I believe there are many ways to answer their questions, but the value of Spanish CSL (when done well) seems obvious: (1) you improve your Spanish, (2) learn about Latino cultures by actually interacting with people from those cultures and (3) gain real-world, pre-professional experience. However, the onus is on us (say that three times fast!) to explain that value to students and parents. Like I've said before on this blog, students tend to see their CSL work as "just" volunteering. We need to show them how to actually highlight their accomplishments in the community in terms that educators and employers value.

Convenience. This is trickier. Spanish CSL isn't particularly convenient. In fact, it can be downright inconvenient for students who must trek off campus (if the students of 2020 actually live on campus), maintain a regular work schedule (no showing up late or not showing up at all if it isn't "convenient") and push themselves past their comfort-levels (speaking--and making mistakes--to native speakers). However, I am already convinced that technology can enhance how we deliver Spanish CSL work as well as how we teach the students. I can envision teaching one of these courses on-line. Sure. I also think that their on-line interactions with their classmates and me can be just as rich as face-to-face interactions. For example, my Facebook friendships are just as rich as my face-to-face friendships. The medium can even enhance our communication in some ways. But the actual time in the community has to be built around commitment, not just students' convenience.


  1. I think we might be doing all that before 2020... I mean, all the cool kids have iPhones already, my friend was looking up her textbooks the other day on her phone.

  2. You're right, Carolina! (I'm not cool...I don't have an iPhone...yet.) So soon your friend might go from looking up the textbooks to actually reading them on her phone.

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