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Karen Larimer

Assistant Professor, School of Nursing

Course: NSG 431 Health Promotion for Families and Communities

Describe the course in which you used service-learning.

NSG431 Health Promotion of the Family and Community. This is a foundational course in nursing and focuses on  social and physical determinants of health and foundations of delivering care. Examines issues, frameworks, theories and techniques relevant to health promotion for individuals, families and communities. Health disparities and social & cultural factors impacting health and wellness are examined and methods for assessing and facilitating cultural competence of providers and institutions are studied. The nurse's role as advocate for health promotion in public policy are addressed.

What’s your understanding of service-learning?

CbSL is a dynamic, collaborative process whereby faculty, students and community based organizations partner to link learning with service to the community.  Students are involved in meeting community needs while applying the experience to their personal and academic development as well as applying their academic learning to their community experience (bi-directional).  In the CbSL experience a student must have intentional learning objectives for the service and structured reflection on what is being learned that mesh with the course learning goals.  In this graduate education model, the outcome of the service should be enhanced student learning and a tangible product that is of value to the host community-based organization.

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

In Fall 2012 the School of Nursing faculty adopted Community-based Service Learning (CbSL) as a curricular innovation in its Masters Entry to Nursing Practice (MENP) Program.  This level of community engagement is deeply resonant with the Vincentian mission of DePaul University as well as being supported by the Pew Health Professions Commission’s recommendation that nursing programs include CbSL (Callister & Hobbins-Garbett, 2000). This pedagogical innovation, which is clearly distinct from the student’s nursing clinical practica experience, not only gives students an improved awareness of an individuals’ lived environment but also a comprehensive and first-hand exposure to the social and physical determinants of health in a community as emphasized in Healthy People 2020 (Healthy People 2020, 2014). 

What were some of the benefits of doing so?

The faculty believe that becoming a professional nurse should entail more than technical proficiency working at the bedside. Emphasis on nursing of whole person and her/his community is supported by the American Academy of Colleges of Nursing (AACN, 2010). It acknowledges that nursing students must learn beyond the classroom and simulation lab in diverse communities wherein much indigenous knowledge can complement the student’s education. Our goal is to produce nurses who are prepared to lead innovations to deliver quality care in diverse communities by knowledge of and sensitivity to socioeconomic and cultural dimensions as well as physical determinants of health.  Real life community experiences surpass hypothetical in class room case studies in the human connection and depth of experience and learning.

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

Papers with specific questions re: community work, reflection papers, and use communities as examples (e.g., case studies) in course discussions.

In what ways was the Steans Center involved with your course?

Integral to initiating site relationships, site placements, and development of faculty in understanding and implementing s-l as a pedagogy. Better fine tuning with the course syllabus.

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

Engaged with community, up to date in people’s lives;  I see for myself how students integrate theory and practice.  This is energizes me as an instructor.  It is so much better/easier to facilitate a course discussion about an experience than a reading alone.

Please share a story about your service-learning course?

A student was placed in a nursing facility and said "I fed a patient today, is that all I’m going to be doing for 2 years?"  What the student didn't realize initially is the lesson learned about the value of feeding someone: you have to be pleasant, ensure swallowing properly, talking to someone over food – understanding their a story as a human being.  Beyond that, it is up to them as graduate students to search out opportunities in collaboration with the facility to dive deeper into health promotion. By end of the first quarter that student was loving it.  The student had developed all kinds of plans and ideas for advancing the work.  A flower had blossomed.  Service-learning allow students to engage deeply, but also have latitude in their potential learning experiences.

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

Have to stay true to the vision of your service-learning. Keep repeating mantra. Then do for the students. The more you believe in it, the more it ripples out to students and other faculty. 

Is there anything else you would like to say?

It's not a pedagogy for the faint of heart. If you want to be comfortable in your academic career, service-learning is not for you. But the rewards are so worth it.

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