By DIANE SHINGLEDECKER
From the Inside: Thoughts on Place-Based Education and Service-Learning at a Community College
Sometimes starting from scratch and going where no one has gone before is exciting; but a lot of times, it is just plain overwhelming! Initiating a place-based education project with a brand new community partner or in a class that’s never incorporated service before can be just what you need to re-invigorate your teaching; other times it seems too out of reach. Maybe you really want to add community engagement to your class, but you feel there are just too many pieces involved to pull it off.
For those times when you just don’t want to go it alone or start from the very beginning, try jumping into a project that already exists on your campus: some event or venture that has already been initiated and has room to grow. For example, my college has a program called “Everybody Reads” which focuses on one book a year in conjunction with our county library. Together, we select a book over the summer that will be featured in both country library events as well as in campus events and classes throughout the upcoming academic year. Each book is selected for its focus on a topic that is pertinent to our community.
This year, the book is Evicted by Matthew Desmond. The book follows the stories of multiple families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who have been negatively affected by the housing crisis in that city; a situation similar to the housing crisis that exists in our local community. Through the county library, book groups are discussing the book, the author is coming to speak, and forums are being held to educate the community about the issue of housing insecurity. On campus, all kinds of classes are incorporating the book into their assignments.
It’s relatively easy to incorporate a reading assignment from the book and have a class discussion about social issues if your discipline allows for this. But what about other classes that can’t include this type of assignment? Many atypical disciplines can get involved through community engagement right on-campus. This program is a college-wide opportunity to get students from a variety of disciplines involved in work that is central to our community. For our school, it is providing the foundation for instructors to come together and collaborate around a place-based education project that is spanning terms and allowing students to act. Here’s what’s happening:
A group of sociology instructors are having their students read Evicted and then develop a survey for our student body that focuses on their own housing issues and concerns as well as their view of our city’s housing crisis. Once the survey is designed, computer science students will develop an online version of the survey. From there, students in an alternative high school program on our campus, “Gateway to College”, will help get the survey out to student body through tabling in the cafeteria and kiosks in the library, along with working through clubs such as the Women’s Resource Center, the Multicultural Center, and the student government association. This will help these students, who are on the periphery of our campus life, play an active role in the project and get involved on-campus.
Once all the data is collected, statistic classes will analyze the results at the beginning of the next term. (These math classes will also “sneak” in some readings from Evicted as will the computer science class.) Statistics students will work to display the data in visually appealing formats. After this, all the students who participated in the survey project will come together to present the findings in open forums across our college’s campuses. These forums will be open to the community, and town officials will be invited to attend. It is our hope that the forums will become brainstorming sessions that focus on the actions we can take to address the results through follow-up projects and legislative proposals.
This is a great way to weave social action into our curriculum without having to start from scratch! The Everybody Reads project was already there waiting for more faculty to get involved. This is just one example of an existing campus project that had the potential for more. I know there are many other similar projects on my campus and on yours. Can you think of some projects at your school that could be the springboard for exciting community engagement in your classes? I have a few more brewing ideas that I’ll share in the future. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about yours!
Diane Shingledecker is the District Service-Learning Faculty Coordinator specializing in Career Technical Education, as well as, a Computer Applications Instructor at Portland Community College in Portland, Oregon. She is an enthusiastic alumni of Community Works Institute’s (CWI) Summer Institute on Service-Learning and a regular contributor to Community Works Journal. She has been incorporating service-learning into her classes for the past 13 years and helping other faculty do this for the past 3 years. She is a participant in Portland State University’s Graduate Certificate Program in Service-Learning.
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