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Reflecting on Service-Learning in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
M. Gail Hickey has gathered together a valuable resource in Reflecting on Service-Learning in Higher Education. The chapters provide a vast collection of best practices and important principles to consider when engaging students in academic service-learning. The book is divided into three sections focusing on different perspectives for reflection: Community Partnerships, Classroom Practice, and Diversity.
Although the first section is titled “Reflection on Community Partnerships,” it is really more a reflection on institutional commitment to building community partnerships. The section has two provocative chapters that take the reader through a reflection on just what impact an educational institution should have within its surrounding community and how service-learning can help the institution attend to the voices of the community in which it is placed. Sherrie Steiner’s principles for implementing reciprocity provide a great framework for institutions and faculty to consider while developing service-learning curriculums. Joe D. Nichols asks important questions about the focus on research and specialization at the expense of community and civic engagement and draws from multiple sources to foster reflection around alternatives to faculty recognition of such public work.
“Reflecting on Classroom Practice” is the second and largest section of the book. Each chapter offers a perspective on how service-learning has worked in a particular context. This collection of cases from fields as varied as education, sociology, fine arts, and dental hygiene offers a myriad of suggestions for how to structure a curriculum that incorporates service-learning. There are suggested rubrics, logistical considerations, a solid bibliography with each chapter, and suggestions for what worked well and how one might improve the process over time. Readers will find this section full of ideas, suggestions, and methods focused on building a curriculum, partnering with community members, and methods for reflection with students.
The final section, “Reflecting on Diversity,” pushes even further into the questions that come up when students engage in service-learning with diverse communities. Here the case studies offer insights into how students perceive and articulate the impact of their service-learning on their growing sense of their own contextual lenses and the lenses of those with whom they work. Faculty and administrators are invited to anticipate the types of responses their own students will have in an effort to foster positive reflection and growth in the students that is fruitful for the partner communities as well.
One concern with the book is that community partners are not represented as writers of the chapters. The effort to shed light on the importance of effective community partnerships and the responsibility of higher education institutions to develop service-learning curriculum in partnership with the surrounding community is important. The inclusion of the voices of partner communities as authors could have added to the depth of the book.
Reflecting on Service-Learning in Higher Education is a resource that will be appreciated by high school and university faculty and administrators. The questions raised and the suggestions shared will be useful for any institution looking to begin or strengthen their commitment to service-learning in higher education. Institutions, faculty, students, and the communities with which they partner will all benefit from M. Gail Hickey’s invitation to reflect.
Teaching as Scholarship: Preparing Students for Professional Practice in Community Services
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This book brings together faculty reflections on pedagogy and inter-professional collaboration from a broad range of disciplines within a single institution in Toronto: Ryerson University. While a single institution may appear to provide only a limited contextual perspective, the nature of the varied disciplines represented here provides a diverse set of resources, drawing from early childhood studies, nursing, disability studies, social work, sociology, city planning, and midwifery. Though the fields of theology and religion are not represented among the contributors, educators in theological and religious education will resonate with the need to better equip students for inter-professional engagement.
Though all contributors are from the same institution, the commonality or coherence among chapters ends with the institutional affiliation of the authors. The editors note the book’s lack of coherence, and justify this by saying that the “frontiers” of community-services-related learning “are not neat, formulaic, or easy to navigate” (5). For this reason, reading this text cover-to-cover can be a disappointment, since the chapters are not of equal quality, nor do they create any obvious structure or overall argument.
That said, there are gems in particular contributions for those interested in learning about teaching techniques and reflections that draw from critical pedagogies and integrative approaches, bringing the best of new theories in education. For instance, in “Drawing Close: Critical Nurturing as Pedagogical Practice,” authors May Friedman and Jennifer Poole bring together insights from Indigenous studies, Black feminist thought, maternal pedagogies, and mad studies to argue for a way of being in the classroom that promotes a nurturing relationship between student and teacher, challenging the Enlightenment and Western ideals of independence as a goal of education. These authors call for a suspension on neoliberal concerns for risk and lack of efficiency, instead arguing that an interdependence approach requires the risk of blurring the distinction between teachers and students (96). If a reader of this book were to choose one chapter to read from among the many contributions, this would be the chapter to focus on, and the bibliography provides additional resources to pursue.
Other chapters included interesting suggestions and interventions in education, such as “Educating for Social Action among Future Health Care Professionals” which focused on a learner-centered model for course creation. This chapter includes appendices for how the authors Jacqui Gingras and Erin Rudolph were able to craft a course with considerable input from students regarding course themes, which assignments they would have to complete, and what grading rubrics would entail. Other chapters (3, 8) draw from narrative theory and describe the way students are taught to listen to the narratives of clients as well as to their own personal narratives. While this book’s chapters are not equally helpful, the insights available in a few choice chapters are worth the read.
Teaching Civic Engagement
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This collection of fourteen essays, most of which originated from a faculty workshop on Pedagogies for Civic Engagement sponsored by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, is divided into three sections. The collection represents a variety of perspectives and the authors engage that diversity through a distinct set of questions. “What is the civic relevance of the academic study of religion, considered on its own terms and in its increased diversity? What unique contributions does religious studies offer the public sphere, especially when seen as separate from the work of religious communities who concentrate on religious belonging? How might the disciplines dedicated to such study offer a distinctive shape and response to the civic mission of the contemporary university?” (xiv-xv). Further uniting the individual contributors’ perspectives are their insights offered towards the development of a model of civic engagement that answers these questions.
Section I describes the CLEA model of civic engagement. The employed acronym is drawn from the terms complexity, location, empathy, and action. The terms refer to dimensions, better still, capacities essential for civic participation emerging from the “virtues of civility, reasoned deliberation, and commitment to the common good” (xiii). The intellectual capacity needed for democratic society is evident when persons achieve awareness of the complexity of the world, especially a view of the world beyond the way the powerful control the interpretation of social reality (8-10, 14, 25). As democracy blossoms into pluralism, the person who would be a responsible citizen must exhibit awareness of his or her social location and point of view relative to that of other persons (15, 27-28). Beyond awareness of difference, he or she must have empathy, namely a sense of connection to others as all are (or should be) in pursuit of the common good (15-16, 31). The responsible citizen must act on what he or she has come to know as true (16, 34).
In Section II, various strategies for teaching civic engagement are described. Among the various methods used for teaching civic engagement is reflective writing which is summary and evaluation of different points of view relative to one’s own view (49, 50-53). In critical assessment of texts and media, students learn to interrogate symbols, internet (websites), newspaper and news programs, visual and performing arts, and various forms of entertainment (49, 53-54, 88-89, 95) but also learn how they may be used responsibly (100-102). Field trips are immensely helpful aids in teaching (49, 54-55, 77-80, 119-121). Another method of teaching civic engagement is community-based learning which involves teachers and students going into the community as well as representatives from the community visiting their classroom (49, 55-56, 66-71, 110, 112, 136-137). Engagement may also be taught through students’ involvement in community service projects designed to address a need or problem in a community (49, 57, 110, 112). Ascetic withdrawal, for example, in the form of abstinence from or limiting use of cell phones, smart phones, email and texting, impulse buying, consumption of fast-food, use of products made through exploited labor, may enable students to empathize with other persons adversely affected by American consumerism and to discern and cease the unhealthy habits they have formed through compulsive behaviors (93-94, 151, 155). Successful teaching requires creativity in the selection of instructional methods as well as discernment of the combination of methods, two or more, that will lead to achievement of specified learning objectives (58-59).
Section III goes further into defining civic engagement and locating it within the curriculum. Civic engagement is defined as participation in political processes such as voting, development of relationships, and collaborations or partnerships that lead to policy that contributes to the common good (165, 167, 170, 175). Civic engagement is not only local and national but also global (184). It is connected to, inseparable from, the idea of social justice (185). Also, it is connected to advocacy, not taking a political position but rather “taking a side in a debate and arguing for it” (209-210). Disagreement about the relation of and distinction between religious studies and theology is resolved in the consensus that both function best as means for analysis and critique of societal and cultural traditions that result in privilege and inequality (236). Whether in religious studies or theology, the course offered in civic engagement is an opportunity for students and teachers to practice democracy (17, 188-190, 246-247).
In spite of the charge that the described teaching methods are difficult to grade and are not academically rigorous (37-39, 218-220), this volume of essays merits consideration. It is a rich resource on instructional methods. The combined essays offer a substantive definition of civic engagement. Most importantly, the collection correlates teaching method to the cultivation of capacities needed for life in democratic society.
Engaged Teaching in Theology and Religion
Date Reviewed: August 3, 2016
There is wide agreement that student-centered pedagogies yield deeper student engagement and stronger learning outcomes than more traditional “sage-on-the-stage” teaching does. Learning shines when students are invited and equipped to integrate course content with their own experiences, insights, and prior knowledge. In this volume Renee K. Harrison and Jennie S. Knight reflect on personal experiences in the classroom, explore pedagogical theory, and provide examples of applied practices to create a map of the key elements of engaged pedagogy. The map, divided into four sections, moves from the selfhood of the teacher to teaching methods and course content to community context and engagement.
Harrison and Knight begin with a premise: that the enterprise of teaching involves the very personhood of the teacher. Either we can acknowledge this and cultivate an awareness of our strengths, blind spots, and biases, or we can ignore it. That deep learning involves the very personhood of students is another key premise. Nurturing this two-pronged awareness – that teachers and students do not leave their wider selves at the door of the classroom – is the necessary ground of engaged teaching. Whole persons are welcomed into the classroom and empowered to reflectively integrate course content with who they are.
Sections two and three explore how form and content can either undermine or buttress one another and how, even when teachers aim for the latter, they may unwittingly miss the mark. For example, in classrooms in which more democratic teaching practices are employed, course content may still hew closely to a traditional textual canon, with marginalized voices tacked on at the end. Or content may offer a wide range of perspectives while teaching methods minimize student voices. Ideally, democratic pedagogies and a widened canon reiterate one another.
If the goal of learning is not just knowledge acquisition but transformation and if we are inviting students’ whole lives into the process, attending to communal context is likewise crucial. The authors thus cap the volume with strong advocacy for community-based learning (CBL). They discuss the logistical and pedagogical challenges of incorporating community work into courses and illustrate why it is well worth the effort. They offer tools for implementing such work, while acknowledging that sustained success in CBL requires significant institutional buy-in that some teachers may not enjoy.
In fact, a particular strength of this volume is its honesty about engaged teaching practices, which while considered innovative in pedagogical circles, are still perceived in many academic circles as less rigorous and less respectable than more classic methods. Harrison and Knight lament that this should be so especially in theological-religious education, where the integration of curricular and worldly knowledge is paramount. Should engaged teaching not be the norm? Recognizing that teachers will need to calculate risks depending on institutional context, they counsel courage for the sake of students’ whole-person integrity – and of the credibility of theological-religious education.
The wisdom conveyed in these pages is clearly hard won, over the course of many years across varied institutions. In distilling their experiences, Harrison and Knight offer their readers a real gift. However, while teachers can benefit from the ideas, strategies, and examples laid out in the book, they should not expect to change their own teaching methods and courses overnight. Rather, this volume invites teachers to an ongoing practice of engaged pedagogy that requires continual self-reflection, awareness of institutional and classroom contexts, a willingness to take creative risks, and a commitment to engaging one’s students as whole persons. It is a compelling invitation indeed. For those who prize transformative pedagogy, this volume weaves the best of theory and practice in teaching theology and religion – accessibly, comprehensively, and indeed engagingly. Highly recommended for undergraduate, seminary, and graduate teachers alike.
Learning Through Serving: A Student Guidebook for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Across Academic Disciplines and Cultural Communities, 2nd Edition
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
First published in 2005, Learning through Serving is a collection of critical thought on the nature of service-learning, as well as a practical field guide for educators looking to expand their skills in this arena. Cress, Collier, Reitenauer, and their colleagues at Portland State University seek to respond to the organic growth of service programs in contemporary higher education – both curricular and extracurricular. Fundamentally, the authors consider service-learning as a liberatory pedagogical tool that induces students to take control of their own learning, and deconstructs the banking model of schooling (famously attacked by Paolo Freire) that remains dominant in much contemporary education. Learning through Serving is intentionally transdisciplinary, and will certainly be helpful for religious studies or theology educators who employ community-based learning or service-learning models. The wealth of experience the authors share, their diverse voices, and lucid consideration of socially-engaged pedagogy yield great value for those seeking to deepen their practice of service-learning.
The authors’ goals are to assist educators and students in thinking through their community service experiences, in the interest of holistic conscientious formation: “In sum, the book is about how to make academic sense of civic service in preparing for students’ roles as future citizen leaders” (xix). Although some readers might balk at the emphasis on “leadership” – and even the use of the term “service” itself – the authors consider a variety of leadership styles suited for different contexts, and make considerable effort to attend to questions of privilege and social justice. This is interspersed throughout the text, but the authors also dedicate a full chapter (“Creating Cultural Connections”) to addressing these issues explicitly.
This guide was constructed with the intention that it would be read in the context of an academic class – thus the chapters are arranged to build on one another throughout the course of a semester. Learning through Serving is composed as a textbook, placing great emphasis on clarity and structure, without sacrificing substance for the sake of readability. The different chapters oscillate between hands-on course planning and more theoretical treatments of civic engagement and democratic philosophy. The new edition makes a particular effort to attend to the global interconnectedness that increasingly defines contemporary digital realities. Service-learning courses have traditionally cultivated porous boundaries between “town” and “gown,” but in an academic climate that increasingly embraces remote student enrollment, service-learning benefits from critically considering how it might adjust to accommodate – and even take advantage of – new developments in university structure, while empowering students to be responsible citizens.
Cress and her colleagues are experienced enough to know that, in practice, service-learning courses rarely go as planned, and that for a variety of reasons, instructors may have to adjust their approach mid-semester. Ultimately, the service component of a class aspires to be interwoven into the fabric of the more formal coursework, integrating the two elements into a mutually-enhancing, symbiotic whole. Learning through Serving offers a wealth of pedagogical advice for service-learning courses, but also situates service-learning within a larger commitment to civic engagement and building a more just society. It contains invaluable nuts-and-bolts course planning assistance, and gives wise counsel on how to develop enduring, reciprocal community partnerships that build capacity for the long haul.