Limitations in the Pursuit of Education
Although there is a significant body of research pointing to service learning as a High Impact Practice, HIP, (Kuh, 2008) for college students, there has never been a formal, institutionalized Service Learning Program at Modesto Junior College. A limited number of faculty members in diverse subject areas have always used volunteer service learning activities in various forms in their courses; however, neither the faculty members nor their students have benefitted from any formal or organized Service Learning Program resource tools to support this innovative, experiential approach to contextualized teaching and learning.
About the Problem
At Modesto Junior College or MJC, there is no web or app-based, easy-to-access resource for MJC students participating in Service Learning projects that provide a comprehensive list, description of volunteer activities in the community or region, and a method to record and monitor their activities. Furthermore, there is no existing online teaching resource for MJC instructors who want to implement Service Learning activities in their courses. MJC does not have an ongoing and coordinated effort in place to connect local community organizations in need of regular volunteers with MJC students involved in Service Learning and for instructors promoting community engagement in their courses. Thus, local businesses and regional nonprofit organizations who coordinate and/or sponsor worthy projects have not been contacted to support Service Learning efforts at MJC. Without access to campus and community resources, very few MJC instructors incorporate Service Learning activities into their courses, limiting students' learning and developmental opportunities.
In the Fall of 2021, our project manager Kaitlyn, enrolled in an English 101 course at MJC involving Service Learning, and although she was able to complete her project about ocean acidification, she depended on her professor for guidance to identify and find experts and community service opportunities involving ocean acidification. The issue of the lack of Service Learning resources at MJC has always existed since there is not an office or department for this area at the college. Thus, students assigned to do Service Learning rely on their instructors to direct them to their volunteer activities and/or community needs, or they must find volunteer activities independently. Notably, in the Encyclopedia of Education Richard J. Kraft and Janet Eyler explain that Service Learning is “…only limited by the creativity of its practitioners…” and given modern technology, such as the internet, laptops, and phones, one of the most effective ways to further the implementation of Service Learning at MJC would be to create an online resource where students, instructors, and the community can network and collaborate.
Students are primarily affected by the lack of resources for Service Learning activities because they are bound to classrooms and lecture halls instead of being encouraged to apply what they learn to the real world and reflect and grow from those experiences. Although modern technology can grant students opportunities to research careers and educational opportunities, there are often only a limited number of contextualized and experimental assignments built into college courses. This makes it difficult for new students and young scholars to experience hands-on activities to help them decide what they ultimately want to dedicate their life and career to. Experience is often regarded as one of the best ways for students to learn; however, students feel limited by their coursework in modern times. College students need more opportunities to apply the knowledge they gain from their courses to the real world and their future careers. Instructors are also affected by this because of the disengagement between students and instructional content incorporating Service Learning. Without resources, instructors cannot fully provide quality information to students about Service Learning, and this impedes learning opportunities for instructors and students alike and limits the potential academic and cooperative relationship between a student, instructors, and the community. The community is affected because there is always an ongoing need for volunteers to address community problems and aid community members struck by tragedy. The lack of structured civic engagement opportunities impacts all three constituent groups, community organizations, college instructors, and their college students. By connecting students and instructors to the community and vice versa, all the constituents would be able to work towards creating a better and more innovative and engaged community.
This is an ongoing problem because there is always a portion of students assigned Service Learning in courses and/or who need volunteer activities for their resumes or career.
Service Learning has been used as a teaching approach at the college by a variety of instructors, and as a result, the problem of not having resources for students has existed potentially for decades.
The lack of Service Learning resources and opportunities for students affects the community by disconnecting the college from the community and ultimately prevents the students from becoming civically minded citizens. Most young people and students are taught what defines an active, morally upright, and driven citizen; however, many are unable to put what they have learned into practice which creates a deficiency in a portion of the community population who are unable to contribute to society because they do not understand their role as both a community member and citizen.
The lack of participation in the community and the need for volunteers is perceived as a problem for the community at large, but the issue of the lack of resources for Service Learning at MJC is not because there is not enough information circulating within the community about the benefits and positive outcomes of MJC integrating and institutionalizing Service Learning in the college curriculum and as an institutionalized college program.
This is not necessarily limited to certain geographic areas; however, the immediate area around any community college or universities could feel the effect of untapped and insufficient resources because local communities are further separated and segregated by disengagement.
The stakeholders are the students and instructors of Modesto Junior College and the surrounding communities within the Yosemite Community College District. Students want an updated curriculum with more dynamic, experimental, and contextualized learning opportunities that engage and motivate them to apply learning. Instructors would like to see their students grow exponentially through the opportunities they provide. The community at large and community organizations specifically are continuously in need of volunteers to serve and to help coordinate and execute efforts to improve the state of the community.
Addressing the Problem
For decades, many universities and colleges in the United States have incorporated Service Learning into their curriculum. Julie Fox, Director of the Office of Service Learning, Academic Internships, and Civic Engagement at CSU Stanislaus shared in a recent interview with Team Community Catalyst that all 23 of the California State Universities have Service Learning Programs, which reflects the importance of this teaching and learning approach in the California higher education system. In addition, a U.S government website that supports the creation of effective youth programs entitled youth.gov states on their that describing Service Learning that “…more than 4 million students from more than 20,000 schools participated in Service-Learning”. (“Service-Learning”). Thus, an effective solution for MJC would be to create a website resource explaining and promoting Service Learning to students and faculty, as well as connecting MJC directly to community organizations in need of volunteers. This website would be a product of service for faculty to integrate Service Learning into their courses and for students to present and possibly pursue Service Learning projects of their own creation under the guidance of an expert. A Service Learning website would act as a resource and a networking tool for the faculty, students, and community organizations to connect and address real community problems.
The primary obstacle is informing students, faculty, and administrators who are unaware of Service Learning and its pervasive use in higher education and its benefits. In addition, another consideration is convincing stakeholders to consciously make the decision to embrace the unlimited possibilities of contextualized learning in higher education. Another obstacle would be engaging community organizations and leaders to participate in Service Learning by becoming partners with or sponsors of Modesto Junior College. One of the most challenging obstacles would be convincing the college to implement and institutionalize a Service Learning Program at Modesto Junior College because the college board of trustees would have to decide if allocating funds to maintain and staff the program is financially feasible and if the advantages of this approach to contextualized learning are worth the investment.
A successful launch of a Service Learning website for MJC students would be a major criterion of success because it directly solves the resource issue at MJC. Building a strong connection and partnership between Modesto Junior College and even just one community organization would be a significant success because it would create a streamline process for students, instructors, and the community to connect with and address community needs while students further their education. An increase in student engagement with their education demonstrated by increases in GPA, persistence, retention, and qualitative data (e.g., the Community College Survey of Student Engagement or CCSSE) would also be an indicator of success for the college.
Platforming Service Learning into the Community
We aim to deepen every student’s educational experience by enhancing the traditional method of teaching to promote a more contextualized learning experience. Not only will Service Learning improve the application of knowledge a student gains in a classroom, but it also develops a student’s civic engagement through local volunteer opportunities. As a result, we will not only see remarkable benefits in a student’s academic experience and progress, but we will also see an increase in social development, civic engagement, and problem-solving between Modesto Junior College students and the community. By participating in the community with the linkage of curricular learning objectives to off-campus volunteer activities, MJC students’ can better apply their learning and gain awareness, engagement, motivation, and productivity in a real-world context. Students of our generation strive to excel in a particular field and stand out in competitive job markets, and with a clear focus on community engagement, volunteer opportunities, and major-specific curated experiences, this can be achieved. Essentially, we want our solution to add life to what defines a “community” college, as we believe education should not be limited to classrooms and virtual lectures, but to civic engagement, career development, critical reflection, and understanding multiple perspectives from community-based learning.
At Modesto Junior college there are initiatives to address civic engagement. One of these initiatives, the college’s Civic Engagement Project has existed since 2004 and strives to promote civic engagement with a film and lecture series, Project Green, and voter education and registration. In addition, there are efforts to reform educational practices including: · a team of faculty working on “Guided Pathways” at MJC and delving into the idea of contextualizing education, · a team of faculty fellows who are a part of the Applied Creativity and Community Transformation Institution (ACCT) and are also working to incorporate hands-on, problem-solving, and contextualized education across the curriculum at MJC, and · the Academic Senate’s Professional Development Committee that is working to create a Teaching and Learning Center for the Faculty Professional Development which could provide a hub for innovative educational approaches and offer professional developmental training to educate many faculty members. In addition, there are statewide efforts. For example, in August 2022, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom introduced the Americorps and California For All College Corps partnership which released a statewide Service Learning Program that has been adopted by “...California Community Colleges, California State Universities, University of California campuses and four private colleges, among them UOP [University of the Pacific]...Sacramento City College, CSU Sacramento, CSU Stanislaus and UC Davis” (Ibarra). Finally and perhaps most importantly, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Curriculum Inventory System, there are 38 courses listed that focus on Service Learning and Community Engagement at California Community Colleges. This significant number of course-based Service Learning and Civic Engagement opportunities at community colleges around the state underline the importance of developing viable ways for community college students to participate in this approach to contextualized education and civic engagement. One prime example of a California community college implementing this approach is Evergreen Valley College (EVC). EVC’s Service Learning and Community Engagement Program Coordinator, Marjorie Clark, affirmed that their college’s Service Learning courses have supported student volunteers and community partnerships for decades. She added that they are in the process of restructuring their website to be a more concise resource to sustain and promote Service Learning and Civic Engagement activities. Where our solution differs from other colleges’ websites and pages is that our design will effectively communicate the concept of service learning to its users and facilitate a cyclic relationship between students, educational institutions, and communities.
Service learning benefits everybody involved in the process through a variety of ways. Students will make the choice to partake in practical real-world experience surrounding projects which will significantly improve their learning outcomes. Through students’ engagement and active roles in these services, they will achieve communication and leadership skills, ultimately benefiting them in their career growth. Exposure to these opportunities will develop student’s sociocultural and sociopolitical perspectives and understanding of the realities in which they live. This will provide them with an awareness which could motivate them to facilitate positive change. Most notably, the growth in practical skills like networking, public speaking, organizing, and interacting with community members could enhance students’ self-confidence and their future professional success. Thus, growing a student’s resume so that it stands out will open many doors to opportunity. The community benefits in turn by being exposed to the reality and modern perspective of their prospective scholars and youth. With the acceptance of students conducting Service Learning activities, communities reap the benefit of becoming inclusive and adding diverse voices to bring awareness to real-world problems that they feel are ignored. Educational institutions benefit from the success of their students turning them into premier colleges with innovative curriculum based on proven best practices in higher education.
Through months of learning how to program and delving into the detailed mechanics in the construction of a website from scratch, the team members have developed a prototype of our ideal Service Learning website with content describing Service Learning and its benefits for students’ personal and educational lives. The baseline technical aspects of building a website are divided into the front end and the back end. The front end is the user interface and can be described as what the user sees. Adrean is nearly finished with the front end design and polishing the aesthetic appeal. Kaitlyn is working toward constructing the website’s content to be thorough and appealing to all three constituent groups under the guidance and resources provided by Professor Annaliese Hausler-Akpovi. Kirill is working towards establishing partnerships between our team, local communities, and entrepreneurs who want to see students succeed. The back end encompasses the functionality of the website, essentially what the website does. Ben and Muhammad have actively collaborated to pull together the various aspects of the back end, such as the database and search filters. The team’s motivation for cultivating informative and appealing information is derived from the lack of awareness about Service Learning which offers a more dynamic approach to education. In addition, Prof. Hausler-Akpovi is working with the MJC Curriculum Committee to gain approval for her proposed Introduction to Service Learning course. Overall, we have begun to build institutional connections and collaborate with members of MJC’s faculty such as professors from different disciplines and administrative leadership. The response has been mostly positive toward the idea and implementation of Service Learning and we are working toward diminishing the doubts about Service Learning expressed by some members of the college. We have not made any official contact with community organizations regarding using the website because we feel it would be best to have an operable and user-friendly website prototype before contacting organizations. We want to increase our presentability and improve our collaborative processes when approaching community members. Therefore, as we develop as a team with vision and direction, we hope to cultivate the creation of a network of people in any sector who are interested in the improvement of education through Service Learning.
The two main categories for the implementation of our solution are: A) building and maintaining the Service Learning website for use by students, faculty members and community organizations, and B) gaining the attraction of community members and educational institutions to adopt or at the very least consider implementing Service Learning as a valuable educational tool to not only teach and contextualize course content but to also promote civic engagement. A.) Building and Maintaining the Service Learning Website (for use by students, faculty members and community organizations) In order to operate a website on a worldwide server, both the database and website itself require funding to pay for fees and subscriptions. In regards to gaining the attraction of community members and educational institutions, at the moment, we believe that how we present ourselves and the website design are both at the forefront of creating a cyclical relationship between students, communities, and educational institutions. With this in mind, as a team, we must continue to learn how to communicate effectively with different sectors, for example, stakeholders at the college and in the community. B.) Piloting and Institutionalizing a Service Learning Program at MJC In terms of the second category for our solution, piloting and eventually institutionalizing a Service Learning Program at MJC, according to Prof. Hausler-Akpovi, there are many steps involved. These include: 1. Establish a college committee comprised of faculty members, administrators, staff, students, and possibly community stakeholders who are charged with designing a plan for the creation of a “Service Learning Program” at MJC with a clear timeline/budget/and program outcomes as well as an outline of goals, a timeline, a list of roles/responsibilities for a program coordinator, a materials list, and a budget (e.g., similar to a grant proposal with its required elements). 2. Create and sustain partnerships with community organizations. 3. Pilot, assess, and continue to improve the website for students, faculty, and community members who use Service Learning. 4. Approve the new Introduction to Service Learning course. 5. Recruit and provide professional development for new faculty members. who will teach the Introduction to Service Learning course. 6. Find funding sources to support the new program. 7. Implement paid student mentors/ambassadors for Service Learning.
In 12 months, we aspire to have the Service Learning website in its first phase of use with a cohort of students participating in Service Learning activities. We plan to evaluate and assess the needs and usage of our three identified constituent groups. Thus, for our team, we would be in an editing and operating phase of development because how we operate the website to meet the needs of its users will evolve and change as we implement the website. The adjustments we make as the website is tested in a course setting will be in response to real-world applications and users’ experience of our platform and the Service Learning participants. In addition, we would be simultaneously working on the long-term sustainability of our website because our team members will be in the process of transferring to a four-year institution to continue their own individual pursuits of higher education.
The main material resource needed is funding for the website and the overall Service Learning Program. In terms of non-material resources, they are numerous and include: 1. Administrative leadership and support 2. Faculty leadership and Faculty member buy-in 3. Student leadership/ASMJC support and partnership 4. Community organization cooperation 5. Community donor participation
We are highly open to receiving any advice, constructive criticism, and redirection from experts ranging in service learning to website specialists because we would like to gather and process as many perspectives as possible to become a product of service.
Service Learning is not projecting students into jobs or professional environments, and it is not asking students to trade their time in community service. Service Learning grants practicality and purpose to the knowledge students have learned by contextualizing education. Thus, a clear division must be made between Service Learning and basic community service that is done independently without academic support. This distinction is necessary because of the unfortunate stigma which has developed around volunteerism.