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Faculty Development Center

Teaching a Service-Learning Course

Research universities provide a variety of opportunities to students for hands-on, problem-based learning experiences. But students at UMBC are also fortunate to have the chance to enroll in courses that develop their problem solving-skills by specifically combining scholarship and service to the larger community. The Shriver Center helps faculty enhance courses through integrating a service component that expands students’ skills in applying their knowledge of a discipline to community activities. These service-learning courses are popular with students who, as Michele Wolff, Director of Work and Service-Learning notes, often say they have been “life-changing” educational experiences. For faculty, service-learning courses can reinvigorate the teaching enterprise while often providing new avenues for research. If you have ever considered teaching one of these courses, now is the time to contact the Shriver Center, which is once again accepting applications for course development grants.

Nationally, service-learning courses have gained popularity in recent years and a body of research on these courses shows that they can effectively develop a variety of skills; the theoretical knowledge covered in class must be applied in community settings and then reflected on and evaluated. The point, as one team of researchers puts it, “is to link personal and interpersonal development with academic and cognitive development.” (Janet Eyler and Dwight E. Giles, Jr., Where’s the Learning in Service Learning, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.)

Service Learning courses have been offered at UMBC since 1995, when the Shriver Center’s grant program for course development began. Now, each year faculty are offered development grants which allow them to redesign existing courses or develop new courses. In the past six years over a dozen different classes have been offered—some annually—in such diverse disciplines as Theatre, Chemistry, Political Science, Psychology, and American Studies.

Faculty who have taught these course are enthusiastic about their effect on students. Professor James McKusick, chair of the English Department, was one of the first faculty members awarded a grant, which he used to design English 386, Adult Literacy Tutoring. According to McKusick, the goal was to create a course with rigorous academic content, using research in the field of adult literacy, and also integrate meaningful fieldwork—in this case, the tutoring of adult learners—into the course. The Shriver Center was integral to making the course happen, he says, since they provided essential student interns who helped coordinate the fieldwork. “Help is there; all you need to do is ask for it,” he says. All of the grant recipients met together in a symposium during the summer to develop their projects and learn more about service-learning options. For McKusick, this chance to share experiences and discuss his course was one of the best parts of receiving the grant.

The Shriver Center’s grant applications for developing new courses for next year are usually due in April. Creating an effective service learning course can be challenging, but both the Shriver Center and the Faculty Development Center provide support in course design as well as in implementing the service-learning component. For more information on these grants contact Joby Taylor, Project Coordinator (1343) or Michele Wolff, (2493).