Service Learning Connects the Dots

It’s interesting when things come into your range of vision seemingly all at once.  I’m beginning to pay more attention to coincidences and take note of the potential message they might have.  Sometimes it pays to listen.

I recently attended my youngest daughter’s college orientation.  One of the Parent workshops I signed up for was on study abroad programs, and being the Mother of an International Studies major, I thought this would give me some insight into what I was in for in the near future.  One of the programs that stood out to me was a Service Learning semester in Galway, Ireland.  I had not heard specifically the term “Service Learning” and was intrigued.  I thought this would be something for her to look into afterall it was in Irelend, how cool would that be?   Fast forward a week or so and  as I’m doing some expanded research on Connectivism and learning models connected to the theory , what do I come across but this Service Learning concept once again.  (Here is where that voice kicks in saying “Hey learn more about this”.)  What I have found is that a Service Learning Opportunity must combine theory with experience, provide further instruction and meet a need in the community.   Often we think that we must learn something, then go and apply that knowledge to see if we got it right.  This strategy allows the learning and the practice to happen at the same time.  It brings it all together and enhances previous knowledge by making connections to other people and sources of information.   It goes beyond your own head allowing the student to think, act and learn from the process all at once often working as a team so everyone benefits from the experience in some meaningful way.

I can see how this fits with the concept of Connectivism.  The learning happens from a multitude of sources.  It requires the student to work with others, share information, problem solve and seek answers to challenges outside their immediate internal knowledge bank.  High schools have offered service learning opportunities from rehabilitating historical buildings to running soup kitchens and food pantries.  The students apply what they are learning across their curriculum and can include ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies, Art, Music and Foreign Language.  The project becomes a real world application that inspires and encourages students to think in new ways. Ways that traditional classroom instruction, in my opinion, has little room for. In this less structured environment, the student must think abstractly, adapt to challenges and seek help from those around them.  Collaboration is a big part of the experience, much like it is in the working world.

I love this idea.  I immediately started thinking about how I can include a Service Learning Opportunity (SLO) into my already accepted Degree Plan.  In speaking with my mentor, I will be replacing or at least modifying my Capstone Project with a SLO.  I think it is the perfect way to understand how the scope of my college learning, coupled with my outside experience will come together in a real working setting while at the same time gaining an understanding of social issues and an expanded learning.

For schools and colleges this opportunity can go far beyond a food drive or a clean up day.   It takes time, thought and commitment, but it is possible for every school to do.  This is an opportunity all students should have.  When will more educational institutions begin to embrace this concept on a grand scale?


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