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Academic Civic Engagement Pedagogy

Principles of Good Practice in Academic Civic Engagement Pedagogy


Principle 1: Academic Credit is for Learning, Not for Service

Credit in academic course is assigned to students for the demonstration of academic learning. It should be no different in academic civic engagement courses. Academic credit is for academic learning, and community service is not academic in nature. Therefore, the credit must be for the performance of service. However, when community service is integrated into an academic course, the course credit is assigned for both the customary academic learning as well as for the utilization of the community learning. Similarly, the student's grade is for quality of learning and not for the quality (or quantity) of service.

Principle 2: Do Not Compromise Academic Rigor

Academic standards in a course are based on the challenge that readings, presentations, and assignments present to students. These standards ought to be sustained when adding a community service component. Though experience-based learning is frequently perceived to be less rigorous than academic learning, especially in scholarly circles, we advise against compromising the level of instructor expectation for student learning. The additional workload imposed by an academic civic engagement assignment may be compensated by additional credit, but not by lowering academic learning expectations. Adding an academic civic engagement component, in fact, may enhance the rigor of a course because in addition to having to master the academic material, students must also learn how to learn from community experience and merge that learning with academic learning, and these are challenging intellectual activities that are commensurate with rigorous academic standards.

Principle 3: Set Learning Goals for Students

To optimally utilize community service on behalf of the course learning requires more than merely directing students to find a service placement. Faculty who are deliberate about establishing criteria for selecting community service placements will find that the learning that students extract from their respective service experiences will be of better use on behalf of course learning than if placement criteria are not established.

We offer three criteria as essential in all academic civic engagement courses. First, the range of service placements ought to be circumscribed by the content of the course; homeless shelters and soup kitchens are learning appropriate placements for a course on homelessness, but placements in schools are not. Second, the duration of the service must be sufficient to enable the fulfillment of learning goals' a one time two-hour shift at a hospital will do little for the learning in a course on institutional health care. And, third, the specific service activities and service contexts must have the potential to stimulate course-relevant learning; filing records in a warehouse may be of service to a school district, but it would offered little to simulate learning in a course on elementary school education.

We also offered three guidelines regarding the setting of placement criteria. First, responsibility for insuring that placement criteria are established that will enable the best student learning rests with the faculty. Second, the learning goals established for the course will be helpful in informing placement criteria. And, third, faculty who utilize the volunteer services office on campus or in the community to assist with identifying criteria-satisfying community agencies will reduce their start-up labor costs.

Principle 4: Provide Educationally-South Mechanisms to Harvest the Community Learning

Learning in any course is realized by the proper mix and level of learning formats and assignments. To maximize students' service experiences on behalf of course learning in an academic civic engagement course requires more than sound service placements. Course assignments and learning formats must be carefully developed to both facilitate the students' learning from their community service experiences as well as to enable its use on behalf of course learning. Assigning students to serve at a community agency, even a faculty approved one, without any mechanisms in place to harvest the learning therefrom, is insufficient to contribute to course learning. Experience, as a learning format, in and of itself, does not consummate learning, nor does mere written description of one's service activities.

Learning interventions that instigate critical reflection on and analysis of service experiences are necessary to enable community learning to be harvested and to serve as an academic learning enhancer. Therefore, discussion, presentations, and journal and paper assignments that provoke analysis of service experiences in the context of the course learning and that encourage the blending of the experiential and academic learning are necessary to help insure that the service does not underachieve in its role as an instrument of learning. Here, too, the learning goals set for the course will be helpful in informing that course learning formats and assignments.

Principle 5: Provide Supports for Students to Learn How to Harvest the Community Learning

Harvesting the learning from the community and utilizing it on behalf of course learning are learning paradigms for which most students are under-prepared. Faculty can help students realize the potential of community learning by either assisting students with the acquisition of skills necessary for gleaning the learning from the community, and/or by providing examples of how to successfully do so. An example of the former would be to provide instruction on participant-observation skills; an example of the latter would be to make accessible a file containing past outstanding student papers and journals to current students in the course.

Principle 6: Minimize the Distinction Between the Student's Community Learning Role and the Classroom Learning Role

Classrooms and communities are very different learning contexts, each requiring students to assume a different learner role. Generally, classrooms provide a high level of learning direction, with students expected to assume a largely learning-follower role. In contrast, communities provide a low level of learning direction, with students expected to assume a largely learning-leader role. Though there is compatibility between the level of learning direction and the expected student role within each of these learning contexts, there is incompatibility across them.

For students to have to alternative between the learning-follower role in the classroom and the learning-leader role in the community not only places yet another learning challenge on students but it is inconsistent with good pedagogical principles. Just as we do not mix require lectures (high learning-follower role) with a student-determined reading list (high learning-leader role) in a traditional course, so , too, we must not impose conflicting learner role expectations on students in academic civic engagement courses.

Therefore, if students are expected to assume a learning-follower role in the classroom, then a mechanism is needed that will provide learning direction for the students in the community (e.g. community agency staff serving in an adjunct instructor role); otherwise, students will enter the community wearing the inappropriate learning-follower hat. Correspondingly, if the students are expected to assume a learning-leader role in the community, then room must be made in the classroom for student to assume a learning-leader role; otherwise, students will enter the classroom wearing the inappropriate learning-leader hat. The more we can make consistent the student's learning role in the classroom with her/his learning role in the community, the better the change that the learning potential within each context will be realized.

Principle 7: Re-Think the Faculty Instructional Role

Regardless of whether they assume learning-leader or learning-follower roles in the community, academic civic engagement students are acquiring course-relevant information and knowledge from their service experiences. At the same time, as we previously acknowledged, student also are being challenged by the many new and unfamiliar ways of learning inherent in academic civic engagement. Because students carry this new information and these learning challenged back to the classroom, it behooves academic civic engagement faculty to reconsider their interpretation of the classroom instructional role. A shift in instructor role that would be most compatible with these new learning phenomena would move away from information dissemination and move toward learning facilitation and guidance. Exclusive or even primary use of the traditional instructional model interferes with the promise of learning fulfillment available in an academic civic engagement course.

Principle 8: Be Prepared for Uncertainty and Variation in Student Learning Outcomes

In college courses, the learning stimuli and class assignments largely determine student outcomes. This is true in academic civic engagement courses too. However, in traditional courses, the learning stimuli are constant for all enrolled students; this leads to predictability and homogeneity in student learning outcomes. In academic civic engagement courses, the variability in community service placements necessarily leads to less certainty and homogeneity in student learning outcomes. Even when academic civic engagement students are exposed to the same presentations and the same readings, instructors can expect that the context of the class discussion will be less predictable and the content of students' papers will be less homogeneous than in course without a community assignment.

Principle 9: Maximize the Community Responsibility Orientation of the Course

If one of the objectives of an academic civic engagement class is to cultivate students' sense of community and social responsibility, then designing course learning formats and assignments that encourage a communal rather than an individual learning orientation will contribute to this objective. If learning in a course is privatized and tacitly understood as for the advancement of the individual, then we are implicitly encouraging a private responsibility mindset; an example would be to assign papers that students write individually and that are read only by the instructor. On the other hand, if the learning is shared amongst the learners for the benefit of the corporate learning, then we are implicitly encouraging a group responsibility mentality; an example would be to share those same student papers with the other students in the class. This conveys to the students that they are resources for one another, and this message contributes to the building of commitment to the community and civic duty.

By subscribing to the set of 10 pedagogical principles, faculty will find that students' learning from their community experience will be optimally utilized on behalf of academic learning, corporate learning, developing a commitment to civic responsibility, and providing learning-informed service in the community.

(Adapted from Praxis I: A Faculty Casebook on Community Service Learning, edited by Jeffrey Howard, 1993)