The annual Public Service and Outreach Conference will focus on academic service learning this year. The conference, to be held Jan. 27 at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education, is being co-sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Instruction. All interested faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and staff, as well as community members, are invited to attend. The registration form is on the PSO Web site (www.uga.edu/outreach). Columns spoke with Trish Kalivoda, associate vice president for public service and outreach, and Joe Crim, associate vice president for instruction, about the conference.
Columns: Before we talk about the conference, can you give me a definition of service learning?
Kalivoda: Academic service learning is an instructional philosophy and methodology that links a student’s academic studies to service in the community in order to deepen student learning and broaden the student experience, while at the same time helping communities.
Columns: Have we always had service learning but called it something else, like community service?
Kalivoda: There are many faculty members on campus who incorporate service learning into their courses. Some are familiar with the term and others are doing service learning but might not know that there is a body of literature that speaks to the pedagogical benefits of service learning. Service learning is distinguished from community service in that a service-learning experience links the community service to academic course work. Students are required to reflect, usually in writing assignments, about how the community service has had an impact on the student’s learning of the academic subject and on the student’s development as an engaged citizen.
Columns: Why is service learning a priority now at UGA?
Kalivoda: A number of factors have increased the visibility of service learning at UGA. Nationally, there are calls for universities to be more deliberate in developing civically engaged future citizens. At UGA, various committees and faculty groups are looking for ways to deepen and broaden the student experience both inside and outside of the classroom. Service learning provides the link to both-academics and civic engagement.
Crim: A good example of this linkage is our new initiative of learning communities in Creswell Hall. Incoming first-year students apply to participate based on a shared academic focus, for which they take courses together in the fall semester. In spring, participants then conduct a service-learning project coordinated by their freshman seminar instructor. The entire experience is intended to deepen the student experience, including academically based community involvement.
Columns: What is the campus doing to support service learning?
Kalivoda: We have formed a service-learning interest group that meets several times each semester. The Office of Instructional Support and Development is home to the interest group and has developed a service-learning Web site and established a service-learning resource library. We are working with Volunteer UGA in student affairs to see how existing community service projects can become service-learning opportunities. Ultimately, the hope is that the campus can support an office of civic engagement that supports faculty, identifies outside funding sources to help with projects, and matches community needs with faculty ideas for projects.
Columns: How do students feel about service learning?
Crim: In 2003, UGA participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement. The data indicate that students come to UGA with a strong interest in contributing to the welfare of the community. Moreover, increasing numbers of students reported community service or volunteer work from their freshman to senior years. Yet, compared to our peer institutions in the NSSE data, few students reported participating in a community-based project as part of a regular course. Although service learning clearly exists already at UGA, opportunities for its expansion apparently would be welcomed by students eager to do this kind of work.
Columns: About how many courses at UGA currently have a service-learning component?
Crim: In collaboration with the service-learning interest group, our office is currently conducting an inventory of courses that have some service-learning component, recognizing that instructors’ definitions may differ. To date, our compilation lists about 125 courses across a wide spectrum of colleges. This number surprised me and suggests that we need to find ways, such as this conference, to share information.
Columns: Who should attend the conference and what can they expect out of it?
Kalivoda: The conference is geared to faculty-academic, public service and clinical faculty-and to graduate students, undergraduates, and staff interested in learning more about service learning. The keynote speaker will be Ken Reardon from Cornell, who has involved students in community and economic development projects in distressed urban neighborhoods. There will be an exhibit and poster session to highlight service-learning projects and opportunities for service-learning projects. There will be concurrent sessions that explore various aspects of service learning in more depth.
Crim: We hope that the conference will be inspiring and beneficial both to newcomers, like me, and to more seasoned individuals. The program structure will allow participation at several levels. For a one-day outing, it should really be worth everyone’s time.