Provost’s Office Working on “S” Designation for Service-Learning Courses

The Provost’s Service-Learning Office is working on a plan to give an “S” designation to approved courses with a service-learning component.

The application process was piloted this spring by nine faculty members, each representing a different college.

The university already has many courses that employ service-learning, and the service-learning office is developing mechanisms to enhance the support and recognition of faculty who do this work. The next step will be designating courses with appropriate content and outcomes as service-learning courses. This will entail adding an S to the course numbers so students can easily spot them in the course catalog, and they’ll appear similarly on transcripts so employers can take note.

“Service-learning aids in critical thinking, complex problem solving, appreciation for diversity, connection of theory to practice, ability to work on a team, and a more nuanced understanding of course content,” said Kelly Ellenburg, campus service-learning coordinator. “We’re hoping that more students will be able to find these courses and have these transformative learning experiences, and that eventually when employers see the S it comes with an understanding of skills and competencies associated with these experiences.

The designation process is still being finalized by the Undergraduate Council. Ellenburg expects that it will take some time to make the process official, but that the designation should appear in the course catalog by academic year 2016–17 or 2017–18.

“Applying for the S designation will mean making a case for how the course demonstrates the three components of service-learning—meaningful and relevant service with a community partner, enhanced academic learning, and purposeful civic learning for the students,” Ellenburg said.

Reflection must also be part of the course. Defined as the “intentional consideration of an experience in light of particular learning objectives,” reflection is sometimes called “the hyphen in service-learning because it connects the service and the learning,” Ellenburg said.

Here are some examples of courses that piloted the application process this spring:

Law 948 Externship

This class puts students—licensed to practice law under the supervision of a practicing attorney—in local public defenders’ offices. Students spend about twenty hours a week doing legal research, arguing motions, making jail visits, and “doing what lawyers do.”

“The course attempts to translate what we do in law school into what they will do as practicing attorneys in a way that reinforces academic and technical skills, as well as the moral, ethical, and philosophical obligations attorneys have,” said William Mercer, one of the professors who teaches the class.

The community benefits because the students are helping out in offices that are chronically busy and understaffed.

Education 100

In this introductory education course, students are placed in area schools where they work with classroom teachers to identify needs, design interventions, and carry them out.

For instance, one student designed a game to help kids improve their reading.

“By increasing students’ competence and confidence in designing, implementing, and assessing their service-learning projects, we hope they will have a better understanding of the challenges they will face as future teachers,” said Dulcie Peccolo, director of student services for the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences and one of the instructors of this course.

Sociology 495

Sociology 495: Social Justice and Community Service works with a community partner each semester; this spring it was Redeeming Hope Ministries, which advocates for Knoxville’s homeless.

Students were both volunteers and researchers, using sociological tools to analyze and draw conclusions about what they observed. The goal wasn’t to learn how to solve homelessness, but rather to try to understand why homelessness is a problem nationwide.

“The course transforms students as they recognize the connection between privilege and responsibility, and at the same time feel empowered to work for change. It’s also important because it’s a way of improving the community,” said Professor Sherry Cable.

Architecture 483

The College of Architecture and Design has long had partnerships with the Nashville Civic Design Center, the Nashville Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the Nashville Metro Planning Department so students can work with real clients to solve design problems, pitch ideas for new development, and produce solutions for residents.

“The students really enjoy working with a real city, having architects and developers–the best there are–and having civic leaders come to reviews, look at their work, and appraise their ideas,” said Thomas “T.K.” Davis, the course instructor. “And some of those ideas actually take hold.

Perhaps the most notable impact of this course has been the development of the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga—an idea generated by a UT student working at the college’s Urban Design Center in Chattanooga.

For a full profile of courses taught by the S pilot faculty, visit the Office of the Provost’s Service Learning page.

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)

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