Students enjoy deep inquiry in service learning classesby on Aug 4, 2017
Service learning, with a decades-long tradition at Gavilan College, offers students, faculty and its communities the chance to infuse traditional textbook and classroom learning with real life experiences.
Pioneered at Gavilan by history instructor Leah Halper after her first sabbatical, instructors pair real world applications of service learning with theoretical constructs. Students report personal, academic and professional growth after completing classes with a service learning component. Instructors note better attendance and involvement in the classes that incorporate service learning.
In Spring 2017, instructors of 13 different classes included a service learning component. The disciplines ranged from biology and communications to environmental science, history and sociology. An online political science class even included a service learning component.
English instructor Scott Sandler, along with Halper, translates the theoretical service learning into actionable, measurable goals for faculty who want to implement service learning in their disciplines. Sandler serves as faculty liaison and Halper as community liaison.
Currently more than 30 nonprofit and municipal organizations in each of the district's communities have joined the college as partnering agencies to support student service learning. From the standpoint of the student, the instructor, the agency and the college, each contributes and benefits.
"Students who work at food pantries, literacy centers and homeless shelters get a better idea of who people in our community are like," said Sandler. "Service learning helps reduce the stereotypes students have about other people. It's not just limited to the four walls of the classroom."
Students learn to stretch. Working with an agency client population base unfamiliar to students reinforces connection to the academic material taught in the classroom. "None of this occurs without a lot of deep reflection with students, challenging their assumptions," said Sandler.
Incorporating service learning benefits the faculty as well as the students. They learn about the issues facing the community in which they teach, especially if they live elsewhere. Faculty also see how service learning adds richness to the concepts being taught, making the teaching more meaningful.
The next service learning training for 2017 will be conducted in August.