Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning: Fall 2010

by Ann Abbott

The latest issue of the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning arrived in my mailbox today. Although there are no articles specifically addressing foreign language service learning, the articles are interesting and point toward some bigger-picture issues.

  • Seider, Scott C., Susan C. Gillmor and Samantha A. Rabinowicz. "Complicating Students' Conception of the American Dream through Community Service Learning." A lot of very good CSL work takes place in religious colleges that emphasize social justice.  This article focuses on a "CSL program sponsored by the philosophy and theology departments at Ignatius University," and shows that, "students demonstrated significant declines in their belief in the American Dream in comparison to a randomly assigned control group. Qualitative interviews revealed that the program exerted this influence, in part, by providing participants with diverse opportunities to think critically about the availability of opportunity in the United States" (5). It's always good to see our educational efforts take aim at unexamined myths. I remember tackling this topic while teaching Lazarillo de Tormes.  After analyzing example after example of how environment determined his actions, most students still confidently stated, "You can be whatever you want to be. I know that because my grandpa [father, uncle, etc.] did that." 
  • Bowman, Nicholas A., et al. "Sustained Immersion Courses and Student Orientations to Equality, Justice, And Social Responsibility: The Role of Short-Term Service-Learning."  This article compares the learning outcomes for students who participated in a short-term CSL project versus those who participated in a semester-long project (like my students do).  They found similar outcomes in terms of students' "orientations toward equality, justice, and social responsibility" (20). However, the authors emphasize that this depends on high-quality course design, not the CSL immersion itself: ""This research underscores the need for thoughtful integration of course structure and best practices in service-learning. Short-term service-learning courses that involve sustained immersion, academic grounding, and opportunities for deep interaction with community members and diverse perspectives" (28).
  • Moore, Tami L. and Kelly Ward. "Institutionalizing Faculty Engagement through Research, Teaching, and Service at Research Universities."  Suffice it to say, the research university to which I belong, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, has a long way to go in institutionalizing service learning.  This article's "[m]ajor findings highlight supports and barriers for faculty involvement in community-engaged work, and thereby link directly to discussions of the structures and leadership required for changing  institutional policies and practices related to integration and engagement" (44).  Their specific findings and recommendations could form part of a road map for universities like this one, instead of just trying to patch together a public engagement profile when a big report is due or for an accreditation process.
  • Vogel, Amanda L., Sarena D. Seifer and Sherril B. Gelmon. "What Influences the Long-Term Sustainability of Service-Learning? Lessons from Early Adopters."  Similar to the previous article, this one focuses on the role of service-learning throughout an institution and specifically "explore[s] the factors that influenced sustainability, including facilitators, challenges, and strategies for success" (59).  Again, this growing body of research on the institutionalization of service learning shows that it takes commitment from high-level administrators plus supporting infrastructure, such as a campus-level service-learning center.

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