An integral part of any educational course is ensuring students are engaged in learning the objectives and materials presented. Typically, lecture and learn formats for teaching provide little for the student to interact with. Service learning can eliminate this problem. Service learning, also known as community engagement, can enhance both students and the community by providing course learning goals with community service.
Experiential education, where learning happens through what is known as “action and reflection,” allows students to achieve real objectives for the community and provide a deeper understanding of skills for themselves.
A typical service learning project is integrated into a course or series of courses in which there are established learning and community action goals. Service learning engages faculty, students, and community in a collaborative partnership. The project must apply course content to community-based activities and gives students the experiential opportunities to learn course content in a real world setting.
In the fall of 2014, Ivy Tech’s Columbus campus’ medical assisting capstone class, for their service learning project, decided to establish a scholarship for medical assisting students in collaboration with the Ivy Tech Foundation. The objectives the students were to achieve were a greater understanding of the need for interpersonal skills, networking, and self-promotion.
Students were proactive in reaching out to the community for donations, collaborated with vendors for auction items, and practiced necessary interpersonal skills in promoting a silent auction of those donated items. An initial goal was agreed upon, and in the end the students exceeded it by 25 percent.
A vital part of service learning is reflection. Upon completion of the project, students write about their experience and what they believe they gained from it. In the reflective portion of their
project, the majority of the capstone students felt it was of great benefit to them to be able to get out into the community and promote both themselves and the medical assisting program.
Integrating service learning into an existing course does not have to increase faculty workload. It is important that faculty act only as advisor/mentor, since this is the students’ project. Grading rubrics should be provided to the students, outlining point value for each component of the project so there are clear objectives in place, but other than that, students should run the show.
Some of the benefits of service learning for students: improved ability to apply what has been learned to the real world, increased essential critical thinking and problem solving skills, and greater interpersonal development. Perhaps the most important benefit for students is successful completion of the course and continued student retention.
Dawne Wise is chairperson of the medical assisting program at Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus.