April 20, 2016

Day 1 AM – Service Learning in Undergraduate Geosciences: A Workshop

Posted by Laura Guertin

This post is part of a mini-series where I share my experience at the Service-Learning in Undergraduate Geosciences workshop (pre-meeting, Day 1 AM, Day 1 PM, Day 2 AM)

The first morning of the “Service Learning in Undergraduate Geosciences Workshop” opened with a welcome from Cathy Manduca, Chair of the Organizing Committee. Cathy commented that service learning is such an important topic right now, with one of its many benefits getting students to move from “thinking beings” to “doing beings”. Cathy continued with service learning as an important strategy to diversity the people connecting with geoscience (broadening discipline connections for students and faculty). She reminded us that over these two days, we have a very specific charge – to address a set of seven questions negotiated with the National Science Foundation (found in my pre-meeting post), and to produce a summary of our discussions.

The first presentation was given by David Szymanski of Bentley University, titled “Why is service learning important in geosciences?” Some bullet points from David’s presentation include (and please keep in mind that David teaches at a school focused on business):

  • Service learning and civic engagement (which there is confusion among these terms – what they are and what they aren’t) gives the potential to teach and apply disciplinary and transdisciplinary concepts in the context of civic life
  • Geosciences, to the public, is among the least overtly-relevant science to the public (“we are just rocks”); yet, we are among the most important in terms of applications to societal problems (“wicked problems”)
  • Moving towards “reciprocal integration” for any/all students of business and the arts and sciences in higher education. There are four modes of thought for liberal learning (c.f. Colby et al., 2011): (1) practical reasoning; (2) analytical thinking; (3) multiple framing (the world is not black and white, multiple things can be true at the same time); and (4) reflective exploration of meaning (not having to be told why they are looking at this problem).
  • Strengthening the role of geosciences in public decision-making is hard. Proactive work is the only action that earns us a seat at the table. But we also need the voices of non-STEM advocates (business majors, English majors, etc.) for the geosciences or we’ll fail (we’ll never be able to address resource development, climate change, etc.).
  • With the right service-learning experience, non-science majors can see the importance of geosciences. In a final reflection paper for students, here’s a possible direction… can one person make a difference? And does that person have to be a geoscientist?

One resource mentioned by David is on the PRiMEtime blog: 5 Key Messages from Businesses to Business Schools Around Sustainability

We then transitioned into Session I: Understanding the Breadth of Service-Learning Implementation Across Disciplines. The speaker for this session was Linda Silka from the University of Maine, sharing “The Promise of Service Learning: Outcomes and Challenges.” Linda’s talk is based upon the white paper she wrote on Service Learning in the Geosciences: Opportunities for Innovation (available as a PDF). This 30-page paper is a must-read for those interested in this workshop topic. The paper is divided into sections that include what is service learning and why is it valued, learning from what others have done (innovation is essential), fifteen common service learning challenges, and looking forward and next steps. Below is the list of challenges Linda identified, and she includes a full discussion of each in her paper.

Fifteen Common Service Learning Challenges

Challenge 1 – Lack of Training in Service Learning and the Challenges of Getting Starting
Challenge 2 – Identifying Appropriate Topics for Service Learning
Challenge 3 – Finding Community Partners
Challenge 4 – Getting Students Interested
Challenge 5 – Tapping into Ongoing Streams of Activities
Challenge 6 – Identifying What Novice Students Have to Offer
Challenge 7 – Ensuring that Service Learning Topics Help Students Develop Deep Disciplinary Knowledge
Challenge 8 – Students have Busy Lives and Little Time for Service Learning
Challenge 9 – Dealing with Large Classes
Challenge 10 – Dealing with Online Classes
Challenge 11 – Fearing that Problems are Bigger than What the Discipline Can Offer
Challenge 12 – Finding, or Creating, Support for Service Learning
Challenge 13 – Ensuring that Habits of Service Learning Remain with Students in their Post-Graduate Lives
Challenge 14 – Bringing All the Parts Together
Challenge 15 – Linking to High Profile Events that Matter to Partners

Finally, the participants broke up into groups to reflect on learning goals as they relate to service learning.

  • What have been your experiences/observations about service learning? What is valuable about service learning to your students, faculty, institution, and community? What has gone well in your service-learning experience? What needs to be improved?
  • What are the barriers to the adoption of service learning within the geoscience profession? What barriers are there to adoption of service learning at your institution? Brainstorm strategies for overcoming these barriers.

This is a useful exercise for those not in attendance at the workshop, too! This helps each of us identify what is being done well in our own contexts, and what areas need attention.

This wrapped up the morning session, before Session II: Understanding What is Known about the Impact of Service-Learning Experiences on Students from Historically Under-Represented Populations.