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Adrienne M. Holloway

Assistant Professor, School of Public Service

Course: MPS 573 Urban Community Development

Describe the course in which you used service-learning.

This course provides students with basic concepts of community (local) development through the discussion of urban issues and other topics and the application of concepts through field research. Specific techniques in social area analysis, neighborhood change and other topics will be explored in an effort for students to gain perspective on strategies to improve conditions of densely populated community areas. In addition, through course content, students will be able to gain a solid foundation for designing and implementing solid community development practices.

Students should understand that success in the course requires mastery of a wide body of information about the City of Chicago, which serves as our “urban laboratory” throughout the term. This is not an appropriate course for students who are unwilling or unable to commit to memory technical information on various assessment models and techniques relevant to community development.

What’s your understanding of service-learning?

A Service Learning course creates an environment for students to learn and develop experientially derived knowledge through active participation in organized service. Students have the opportunity to do meaningful service that meets community-defined needs, relating to a particular course's learning objectives. In cooperation with a public benefit or community organization, students will develop and carry out a service project and reflect upon its implications.

Why did you choose to use service-learning in this course?

The chosen course was a natural selection as a service learning course due to its focus on community. Students were presented with community development theories as a foundation to understanding how communities evolve, develop and change. Add to theory is the presentation of skills and training in working with community stakeholders. Service Learning elements allow for the theory and practice being presented in the classroom to take on a different level of importance via the commitment to working with a community organization. In essence, students were able to quickly apply course learning to community organization projects while also enabling them to witness theory and practice operate in a live setting

What were some of the benefits of doing so?

Service Learning allows for students in this course to truly understand the intricate balance of meeting the needs of various stakeholders while maintaining as a focus, the betterment of a community for all involved.

What were some of the challenges of doing so?

The most significant challenge is selecting organizations that are prepared to work with a graduate student on a meaningful project from the onset of the course. Oftentimes, organizations were still figuring out what they wanted to have a student work on at the beginning of the course, with the final decision occurring at least 1/3 of the way into the course, leaving little time for the student to truly contribute valuable work project to the organization.  Other times, organizations would consider students as interns, thus not engage or involve them in the activities of the organization.

On the flipside of the coin, some students are not truly interested in being as “hands on” as a service learning course will require. Therefore, the students' level of engagement is low and work product, less than stellar.

How well did students’ community experiences complement the academic learning in the course?

For the most part, I cleared projects with service learning partners in advance of student assignments to ensure that they aligned with course teaching and objectives. For instances where students secured their own partnerships, I provided them with guidelines to use in finalizing project selection with chosen organization

How well did students’ community experiences encourage critical thinking about social issues?

We discuss, in depth, myriad social concerns as part of course content. Community experiences that exhibited elements discussed in class were often shared by students within course dialogue. 

What learning strategies did you use to enable students to demonstrate to you that they achieved course learning objectives?

Students were required to submit a final paper at the end of the course that included organizational research, service learning reflection and a report of work product produced for assigned organization. Students also delivered presentation of their course project in class where community partners were invited to attend.

What do you consider to be the impact of teaching with service-learning on your students?

I have enjoyed working with local organizations within the Chicago area and the experience has deepened my awareness and understanding of the challenges they face and rewards received working at their respective communities.

Please share a story about your service-learning course?

Most memorable, in a general sense, is the appreciation received by students of the service that their assigned nonprofit provides for their respective constituency. This real, hands on experience is often the first opportunity they have had to witness intimate operations of the nonprofit world and it provides them a perspective far beyond what they learned from course material.

What advice would you give to faculty considering using service-learning in their course(s)?

  • Preselect organizations far in advance of course start date.
  • Meet with organization contacts to discuss potentially viable and appropriate projects for your class.
  • Frequently check in with both student and community partner through the duration of the course to ensure that the partnership is working well.
  • Make sure to develop a tangible student assessment for course learning that will be of interest, if not of value, to the community partner.

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