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A 2016 book by University of Wisconsin at Madison professor Randy Stoecker makes an interesting critique of service-learning at universities, one that I've heard before, particularly in an interview I conducted with professor and activist Corey Dolgon. The critique is basically this: service-learning does a poor job of helping communities, and in some cases may do more harm than good.

The book is titled Liberating Service Learning and the Rest of Higher Education Civic Engagement (Temple University Press), and in it Stoeker argues that the reason for this poor job is mainly that service-learning projects are heavily focused on student learning outcomes and are less focused on the outcomes for community members. Teachers have many ways to measure student learning. Doing so is one of our primary functions. But when it comes to measuring outcomes in the community, often the measures are relegated to the numbers of people "served" or numbers of contact hours, and are not more qualitative measures.

There are good reasons for this. Qualitative measures can be difficult to obtain, since they often play out over time periods longer than the semester when students are present. Community organizations whose primary functions would ostensibly include measuring improvements also have difficulties making these sorts of measures, and also rely on numbers served instead.

Stoecker makes an analogy to point out the semester-length challenge. If fire departments ran like service-learning programs, the fire fighting would end at a set time regardless of whether or not the building is still on fire. Another point on this same analogy: firefighters would only fight fires near the station, when in fact the need may be farther flung.

But there's another key difference between a community and a classroom which Stoecker points out: classrooms are places designed for experimentation and failure. Learning takes place through trial and error, conducted within a laboratory that is sealed from the public sphere until results are in. Our communities are no place for this type of experimentation. Indeed treating them as such could replicate the negative effects of systems and structures that contribute to the problems communities face.

Efforts to address the gap between measuring student outcomes and measuring community outcomes are being made. Andrew Seligsohn, president of Campus Compact, notes that a group called Democracy Collaborative is currently developing ways to measure the impact of campus service projects on communities. But he acknowledges that we aren’t close to where we need to be.*

Stoecker argues for an approach to community engagement that empowers communities, as opposed to an approach that views service through the lens of charity, and the recipients as needy, instead of as people caught within an unjust system. Seeking safe and uncontroversial routes, schools tend toward a model of simply helping those in need, and avoid supporting the messy politics of student activism. This approach, Stoecker notes, too often replicates power imbalances, with schools naming the community need and providing outside help to those seen as lacking resources to help themselves.

I would add that this critique is not a call to abandon service-learning, but rather to rethink our approach, especially those of us who have been involved with the same community organizations and have conducted the same projects for several years. Since we as teachers mainly determine the outcomes for our projects, there’s nothing stopping us from revising those outcomes to focus more on communities: on actively listening to members, on talking with them about past efforts and their successes and shortcomings, on advocating for systemic change through policy, or through public pressure in the form of protest. These are forms of student learning as well, as important as, and certainly tied to, outcomes of personal growth, awareness, empathy, and critical thinking. Instead of students learning from the teachers, and from the “experience,” perhaps teachers and students should learn from the people of the community as well.

*Andrew Seligsohn and Randy Stoecker were interviewed by Ellen Wexler of Inside Higher Ed, and information from her article is used in this post.

by Karen Nichols

Blackboard is sponsoring a series of webinars around the world to mark the 6th annual recognition of Global Accessibility Awareness Day on May 18, 2017. Please follow this link to register for any of the 8 free sessions.  Remember that accessibility features, especially in online and hybrid courses, help all students!

Global Accessibility Awareness Day--Be Part of the Discussion
Global Accessibility Awareness Day--Be Part of the Discussion

 

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Last fall, Xavier faculty member Dr. Mark Gstohl, of the Department of Theology, led an interesting service-learning project in partnership with A Studio in the Woods, a nonprofit artist retreat and learning center located in New Orleans. Working with artist Jacqueline Ehle Inglefield as part of a residency series called "Flint and Steel: Cross-disciplinary Combustion," the two built a shrine to the bottomland hardwood forrest, the purpose of which was to "reignite a reverence for nature." To link thematically with Dr. Gstohl's Comparative Religion class, the shrine referenced religious scriptures and past spiritual practices. The shire was meant to "encourage contemplation of the global impact of habitual consumption and waste and how our spiritual relationship with the natural world may influence our individual acts and determine our collective impact on our environment."

For their part, Dr. Gstohl's students created handouts and posters detailing how various religions approach environmental issues, and presented their research at A Studio in the Woods' "Forestival" last November. The shrine also was displayed at Xavier's Art Village. Thus, this project engaged students with the community on several levels, artistic and environmental, fostered awareness of environmental issues in the community, and contributed to the creation of public art, which nourishes the spirit of the community. The project provided an invaluable cultural experience for the students, introducing them to intersections of art, public space, and environmental justice, while immersing them in theological history, demonstrating the ability of service-learning to achieve unique academic and civic outcomes.

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The "Flint and Steel" residencies, designed by Tulane, who manages A Studio in the Woods, seek to link artists with invested academic partners to "inspire each other in the development of new work, to excite the public, and to fuel social change. creative discourse." The residencies align with the larger purpose of A Studio in the Woods to pair "land preservation with intimate artist residencies centered on environmental challenges and connecting artists to the local community." Originally purchased in 1968, the site, in a remote wooded area in the very eastern corner of New Orleans' "west bank" of the Mississippi River, evolved organically from a site of wetlands preservation to a tranquil artist retreat, where "artists can reconnect with universal creative energy and work uninterrupted within this natural sanctuary."

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Dr. Gstohl serves as Head of Xavier's Department of Theology, and has served previously as Faculty-in-Residence for service-learning, and as Fellow in Xavier's Freshman Seminar program, where his passion for social justice and commitment to Xavier's mission have greatly benefitted the Xavier and New Orleans communities, as exhibited through service-learning projects such as this one.

-Jeremy Tuman

*Quoted text is from materials published by A Studio in the Woods and by Dr. Gstohl.

vote

Today is election day in the U.S. On college campuses across the country we see a direct connection between the purposes of universities and active and engaged citizenship, as many campuses serve as polling places, and many semester-long student, faculty, and university initiatives to increase knowledge of and participation in our democratic process today bear fruit. But even though a day like today clearly reminds of this connection, today also reminds us that this connection is not meant to be a one-time event, every four years. Our universities do have obligations to contribute to a healthy, functioning democracy, and to prepare students to become active citizens and knowledgeable leaders and participants in our democracy. While these obligations are met in many ways across the campus, nowhere is this role fulfilled more directly and effectively than in service learning.

Secretary of Education John B. King recently noted a need for a, "broader definition of civic duty.... I ask teachers and principals and superintendents to help your students learn to be problem solvers who can grapple with challenging issues, such as how to improve their schools, homelessness, air and water pollution, or the tensions between police and communities of color."

Thus, we see the need for one's education to contribute meaningfully to the betterment of our communities and our national society codified in our national discourse, from the top down, in ways perhaps unprecedented in our history of education. While these purposes may have been imbedded in our educational system at some point long ago, we see now a renewed focus and urgency, as the challenges presented by globalization, wealth and income inequality, systemic racism and oppression, mass incarceration, and climate change are recognized as the existential threats they are.

Yet at this time of renewed focus and conviction, we are faced with a decline in the civic knowledge of of our incoming freshmen. Heather Loewecke, a senior manager at Global Learning Beyond School, notes in a recent blog on the website Education Week, that Only 24 percent of high school seniors scored proficient or higher on the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics exam. What's more, a college education isn't necessarily rectifying the deficiency. Loewecke also points out that "a 2016 Annenberg Public Policy poll reflected that American adults know very little about the US government, with the majority of respondents unable to answer basic questions. For example, only 26 percent of respondents could correctly identify all three branches of the government."

In a way these disparities between our goals for civic education and our results mirror, or perhaps are just another indicator of, the myriad social inequities we now face. Either way, the situation is cast into stark relief on a day like today, when what seems to be a high-functioning democracy is observed in the bustling and frenetic energy of a presidential election day on college campuses nationwide. And while the spectacle and pageantry of Election Day can fill even the most cynical among us with a certain sense of hope, we must hold fast and remember the difficult challenges that lay ahead once the confetti settles. Today is a time to participate, but also a time for we as educators to recommit ourselves to the civic education of our students, and to fully teaching the critical skills in thinking, communicating, reasoning, and problem solving such an education entails.

-Jeremy Tuman

by Karen Nichols

Photos have become such an integral part of Twitter and now they can be accessible to the visually-impaired.  Earlier this week, Twitter added the capability of including descriptions of your photos (you may know the feature as alt text).  This is a great way to reach more people and this new feature serves as a reminder that we should always use "alt text" when we post photos.

Here's how to enable this feature on your Twitter account:

"Enable this feature by using the compose image descriptions option in the Twitter app’s accessibility settings. The next time you add an image to a Tweet, each thumbnail in the composer will have an add description button. Tap it to add a description to the image. People who are visually impaired will have access to the description via their assistive technology (e.g., screen readers and braille displays). Descriptions can be up to 420 characters." https://blog.twitter.com/2016/accessible-images-for-everyone

So don't forget the alt text the next time you include an image in your tweet!

Two bluebirds conversing
Two bluebirds conversing

by Karen Nichols

Feedback Computer Key In Blue Showing Opinions And Surveys

Faculty Focus, a publication I value a lot, posted an article on January 8, 2016 explaining the benefits of screencasting feedback to students.  Dr. Ron Martinez, the author, talked about his solution to providing students one-to-one feedback about their essays in his oversized class.  He was seeking a way to give the personalization when he could not individually meet with every student about every essay.  Using Screencast-o-matic, he was able to provide that personal touch.

There are multiple screencast apps out there, and we offer Camtasia Studio to our faculty.  However, there's a bit of a learning curve and faculty have to trek over here to our office and schedule time in advance in order to use it.  I shared this article on screencasting feedback with my colleagues here in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development.

Dr. Jay Todd, our Associate Director, has already experimented with it in his English composition class.  Here's his feedback about screencasting feedback:

I used Screencast-O-Matic to make a video for my classes yesterday, since I waited until the last minute.... It worked pretty well, although the default quality of the video it posted to YouTube was significantly lower than I prefer. The free version doesn't allow any editing and includes a watermark, but the Pro version is only $15/year.  It has a much easier learning curve than Camtasia, at least the recording part.

So it seems that reading Dr. Martinez' article and downloading Screencast-o-matic may be useful, especially if you don't care to type pages of correction notes.  One caveat from Dr. Martinez is that screencasting your feedback is not necessarily a timesaver. I hope the fact that you can work outside of office hours, does give you more flexibility in how you distribute the time needed to provide such personalized feedback.  Let us know if you decide to try screencasting and what you think of it.

(For more information on various types of helpful feedback, see Janice Florent's recent blog post:  Give Students Feedback that Helps Them Learn.)

by Karen Nichols
The University of London and the Dublin Institute of Technology both launched on 1 December their respective 12 Apps of Christmas. It's not too late to sign up. These are free online courses, aimed at students and instructors of all ages who are interested in learning more about integrating mobile learning technologies into their studies or classes. I have to admit that I was disappointed on December 1st when the University of London revealed the first app--Google Translate. I thought I knew all about this app, but I was surely wrong! Their presentation was easy to follow and well-illustrated. I truly had no idea that sound files would work on Google translate. Each app includes educational applications and actual activities for you to try of which there are several for Google translate. So check out the site and see if you may be interested in participating in reviewing the apps and these mini-courses and providing feedback. 15-20 minutes a day are kindly requested for you to give feedback to them. Here's the link:
http://www.openeducationeuropa.eu/en/news/new-edition-successful-12-apps-christmas-online-courses-students-and-teachers

And here's a demonstration of Google translate and the song LaBamba!

by Bart Everson

I don't think I've mentioned it previously, but there's a new book out which has a couple Xavier connections.

The book is Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina from UNO Press. It collects numerous writings that were shared online in the aftermath of the flooding of New Orleans, and the devastation of the Gulf Coast, from 2005 to 2007.

One contributor is a Xavier prof, the noted theologian and biblical scholar Michael Homan.

Please Forward

The other Xavier connection? Well, that would be yours truly.

We've got a copy of the book here at CAT+FD for your perusal, so stop in and take a look.

If you're interested in using the book in your teaching, read on...

We've been contacted by a handful of teachers and professors who have added Please Forward to their course syllabi. If you, or someone you know, might be interested in using the book in the classroom, teachers and professors can request a review copy by emailing unopress [at] uno [dot] edu and putting "Please Forward for Classrooms" in the subject line.

Footnoote: This is a topic of particular interest to me; see also my series on The Role of Blogs in the Rebuilding of New Orleans

by Karen Nichols

A few interested instructors and I are experimenting with various video conferencing apps and software now like Google + Hangouts, Microsoft Skype, Apple Facetime and the fairly new Firefox Hello.  Firefox Hello has a very useful feature right off the bat.  It doesn't require you to install software nor set up an account with log in and password.  One person enters, gets a link, then sends it to the other person with whom s/he wishes to video chat.  You are required to use Mozilla Firefox as your browser, but it doesn't matter if you're used to skyping and your friend or colleague is used to Facetime.  You don't have to install then sign up for each other's videoconferencing service.

Screen-sharing is also an option with Firefox Hello.  You can share photos, discuss travel plans, collaborate on a project and myriad other activities.

Firefox Hello also boasts WebRTC-grade encryption to ensure your privacy.

I love the fact that a student and I wouldn't have to exchange personal information like phone numbers for Facetime, nor set up yet another account for another app, but I don't see a way to video conference with more than one person at a time and for a class, that can be a drawback.

Nonetheless, I'm happy to share with you this snappy little video from Mozilla Firefox about Firefox Hello and you can decide for yourself if this is a service that can meet your needs.