FAQ: What specific writing skills are learned through service learning, and how do they transfer to the professional/academic repertoire of competencies?
What curriculum models are available for service learning?
In the Stanford Model of service learning, students do a writing project for a non-profit agency such as an informative pamphlet, or a progress report. Students learn the power of persuassion as well as effective transactional communication(Bowden and Scott 216). Since the Stanford Model asks students to write with an agenda to gain support for an organization, or raise funds for a project, students practice communicating in different discourse modes (Bowden and Scott 4).
Writing as an agent of an organization takes the student out of the typical academic discourse, allowing them to apply the elements of rhetoric to practical endeavors. Communicating in a different discourse community refines competence by requiring the student to mold their persona to meet the needs thier audience. Students learn to be sensitive to the the clients of the organization, while also identifying problems and formulating creative solutions(Cardenas ?). Bowden and Scott suggest this comprehensive list of questions to help students analyze the needs of a new audience when writing for an agency (38-39):
- Who is your primary target audience? How complex and heterogenous is this audience? Who else is likely to encounter and use the text in its life cycle
- What are the rolles of your readers? Are they primary learners, implementers, decision makers, transitters, advisors, or some combination of these?
- Of what discourse communityare your readers members?
- How much knowkdege does your audience have about the subject of the text? How familiar is your audience with the problem?
- What are your audience's needs regarding the problem?
- What expectations will your audience have regarding the text?
- What values of your audience might help their attitude toward, and interpretation of the text? How can you appeal to these values?
- How motivated will your audience be to read and use the text? How can you increase this motivation?
- How is your audience likely to use the text?
In another model of serivce learning, students do community service work and then write refelctions about their experience (Bowden and Scott 2). Fiddler and Marineau favor the reflective aspect of service learning as the "bridge between the experience and the learning" (76). Students reflect upon thier experience throughout the project in order to reconstruct and make meaning from the learning experiences that occur while they are working.
An important goal of service learning is interpersonal development. Reflection leads the learner to what Eyler and Giles have refered to a type of interpersonal development as perspective transformation. Transformational learning refers to an inquiry, or discovery, that causes a person to question the way they perceive something (133). Reflective writing in conjunction with service increases the likelihood that the student will "learn to see social issues in a different way (137).
The third model presented by Bowden and Scott is considered more academic than the other two (3). Students research an issue and and then do community service for an agency that is related to their research. This model allows students to write about thier research with authenic experience. Undergraduate students need more authentic research experiences that are typically only available to exemplary students. Experiential research is more satisfying than soley doing te-xt based research, and can be related to higher student retention rates, making this service learning model desriable for frst-year writing programs (Grabowski 41).
In this model, students are granted the opportunity to apply what they learn through research to practice. There is an established connection between relating course work to practical application and academic improvement (Crews 10). The term "inert knowledge", coined by Alfred North Whitehead, refers to the way students aquire knowledge in order to pass a test, and fail to gain the kind of understanding that comes from application (Eyler and Giles 64). Knowledge is low on the taxonomical ladder of learning. Application of knowledge is where deeper understanding occurs because students use what they have learned to solve problems.
What are the Academic Goals of Service Learning
Eyler and Guiles have suggested that the definition of "academic learning" must be broadened to encompass new goals of higher education that relate to active citizenship, interpersonal growth, and active problem solving (14). Here are some of the things they suggest should be taken into account as academic learning:
- Application of learned material to real life situations, rather than recall on a test, to aquire critical thinking and problem solving skills.
- Self-Directed exploration of genuine interests to foster a passion for life-long learning.
- Development of active citizens who have a commitment to better the community, as well as an appreciation for diversity.