Service Learning Institute Sparks Teacher Transformation

The Service Learning Institute at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis has helped me make a good service learning course in Communication and Diversity even better for future students.

INDIANAPOLIS– The last time I spent five straight days in Indiana was in the Summer of 2003 where on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University I participated in a weeklong workshop for journalists who were becoming full-time journalism instructors.

By design, that event was to be transformative as it helped those of us used to covering politicians and feeding breaking news to an audience of thousands become teachers whose primary concern was the learning of the dozens who show up in our classes each academic term.

Eight summers later I’m back in Indiana and I’m attending what’s shaping up to be an equally transformative event.

Instead of just focusing our teaching “Connecting Campus with Communities” has two components that serve to change how we as facilitators of learning  prepare learning experiences (the Service Learning Institute) and the approach we are scholars take in our scholarship (the Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis Research Academy)

In Good Company 

The collective wisdom about service learning in this room was like nothing I've ever experienced since I started teaching. I look forward to staying in touch with these service learning colleagues as I travel to service learning and civic engagement conferences in the next few months and years.

Co-sponsored by Indiana Campus Compact and the Center for Service and Learning here at IUPUI, the Service Learning Institute has placed me in the company of like-minded instructors who are committed to making the community a part of their teaching and learning experience.

Instead of just faculty, the attendees at the Service Learning Institute were administrators of service learning on campuses of various sizes and faculty who are teaching at both teaching-oriented universities and research universities.

The diversity of our experiences was notable.  But, even as we learned about the role of college and university tenure and promotion in service learning or strategies for building better relationships with community partners, there was time for specific development of teaching strategies in my own course.

Small Group, Big Impact

Breaking away from a group of more than 30 educators to a team of five was a vital part of taking what has been a good mass media course focused on diversity that has sent several dozen University of Alabama students into Alabama communities for learning and making it better.

Even though Donald Braid (left) is from Butler University here in Indianapolis, the Butler basketball team never came up in our conversation. Stephanie Dickey from Wright State, Ana Lopez Goshen College, Wojciech Tokarz from St. Francis Xavier University and Megan Thornton (front) all helped me improve my service learning course.

My faculty group included those both in the U.S. and Canada who are all teaching courses with some aspect of diversity of culture as part of the objective.  I came away from a better understanding of what it’s like to teach in the Humanities while also developing better approaches to facilitating writing instruction in my course, which is “Writing” intensive.

There are times when the teacher needs to be the learner so that his or her students can learn more and better stuff (as the saying goes).   That’s happening as a result of the small group of faculty who operated as a team to critique my teaching approach and feed me with ideas for making future courses better.

The result will be a better service learning course in 2012 and in years to come.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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