Denver Day 3

by Agnes Mijnhout

In the morning a group went to visit the Center for Community Engagement & Service Learning (CCSEL) of Denver University (DU). Denver University is a private university which is dedicated to the public good. Cara Marie DiEnno (Associate Director CCSEL) and the director of the Honours Program, together with an honours student introduced their concept of service learning, which they call community-engaged scholarship. They work together with the communities. Their definition is:

” Enhance academic learning through reciprocal relationships with communities that offer opportunities to advance critical thinking, developing civic skills, and address public problems.”

CCSEL works for the whole university. They encourage faculty to (re)develop courses with service-learning components and offer a two-day training course for faculty. Service-learning is no requirement, neither for students nor for faculty, but faculty receive a stipend for taking part in the training and a stipend for developing courses. There is one exception though: service-learning is a requirement in the minor Intercultural Global Studies.

Characteristics of service-learning at DU
CCSEL sees service-learning as something that goes further than putting in a few hours of work for a non-profit organization, there should always be an academic component. Service-learning should contribute to the learning objectives of the course, and is therefore not suitable to every course. There is a diverse array of subjects in service-learning courses, and they often involve students doing research and advising organizations. There is an ongoing discussion if service-learning can only be geared towards non-profit, or if profit organizations can be involved as well. Service-learning is about critiquing the status quo, redistributing power, about privilege and oppression. These elements can be addressed in profit organizations as well, although probably more easily in small (social) enterprises, than in e.g. Walmart.

In answer to a question about how to motivate students to take part in service-learning courses, they mentioned that faculty can indicate if their course has a service-level element, and that students sometimes are not aware that they have enrolled in a service-learning course. Service-learning courses show interesting results, though. An example that was mentioned was a research methods graduate course in Psychology, where one group took the regular class, without a service-learning component, and the other group the one with a service-learning component. Students in the latter group indicated that they were much more confident in applying research in actual practice.

In 2013-2014, there were 111 course with a service-learning component, and 2,048 students enrolled in them. Annual reports are available (scroll down).   Denver University has between 10.000 and 11.000 students in total, half of them are graduate students.

CCSEL works with service-learning associates: students that assist faculty in service-learning courses. Asked how projects for service-learning were acquired, we were told that there are about 65 organizations that approach DU on a regular basis looking for student volunteers. This is the place for faculty to find contacts for service-learning. DU has now also started ‘science shops’ (community-engaged scholarships) where organizations that do not easily have access to research, can have their research questions answered by students and faculty (cf. ‘wetenschapswinkels’ in the Netherlands).

In service-learning, critical reasoning is developed and students are invited to think about their role in society, preparing them for a possible role as change agent.

15718019151_8ce06d22ba_zFaculty and service-learning
The training course for faculty covers an overview of the history of service learning in the US, ensuring that all parties (students, partners, faculty) benefit, equitable risk sharing (feeling responsible for long-term commitment), learning objectives, civic skills, how to develop service-learning assignments and reflective assignments, how to develop their relation with community organizations and finally, how to use service-learning activities in their career (as these activities are sometimes seen as a risk for tenure).

There is no standard assessment of service-learning courses. Faculty assess the students’ results in accordance with the learning objectives.

Service-learning and honours
Denver University has an honours programme that admits 100 students a year, and has a total number of students between 300 and 400. The programme is loosely structured, classes are smaller, discussion based and geared towards a broad liberal arts experience, culminating in a final project/thesis. Students are forced out of their comfort zones, because they also have to take courses outside their major subject. There is a strong emphasis on critical thinking skills and communication skills.The programme is not additional, except for the final project/thesis.

The programme also has courses with service-learning elements, but as in the regular programmes, service-learning is no obligation. Study abroad is not required, but DU has and extensive study abroad programme for all students. On completion of the programme, the student receives a university honours and distinction degree. 60 to 65% of the honours students finish the programme; the additional final project/thesis often being the reason to quit.

In the application process for the honours programme, about 1 in 2 students is admitted. DU stresses intrinsic motivation (intentionality) in their selection procedure, a high GPA is not enough. If students are not admitted, they may try again after their first year. It turns out that more students from underrepresented groups join then, probably because their focus in the first year was on gaining entrance to the university.

starsAsked about the difference between service-learning students and honours students, the outcome was that honours students are generally more self-directed. Also they are better prepared and more adventurous. Both groups have great freedom, but the honours programme has more of an academic feel.

Students that take part in service-learning form a close-knit community, as do the honours students. To a certain extent, these communities overlap. There is an honours floor in the housing for students and about 30% of the students choose to live there. There is also a student room, The Cave, which the students that came to this meeting visited afterwards. There are several honours societies that students can join.

by Robert de Bruijn

NCHC Session Beginning In Honours: Large Universities
A few of the issues raised in this session by newly minted directors, deans and academic advisors were the following;
* budget is down while demand for results is on the rise
* retention rate/ yield of honours programs typically experienced as low as 30% for a 4 years honours program
* engaging alumni
* communications and choice of media
* community development where commuter campuses are concerned
* recruiting practices
* resourcing and sourcing courses/ educators

On the last issue, some colleges/ programs paid up to $8,000 to a professor or their home department for providing a course in the honours program. This was the maximum figure quoted. Others cited $0 paid for a course. The mode seemed to be having a fixed price compensation scheme regardless of the professor or department.Recruiting practices, criteria and growing numbers of students was an issue for many. A related issue was the lack of proportionate investment in programs while the university administration did enjoy trotting out honours students as poster children of their education system.

Many of the larger universities experienced problems with honours student community spirit, especially in the last 2 years (junior and senior), when there was less engagement with coaches. The issue was primarily caused by students not living on Campus but at home, called commuter campuses. The relation to Utrecht is clear. When students live and work together intensely more community is developed. When people go home after class or off to work community is weakened.

Undergraduate alumni engagement is hardly a known phenomena although many of the universities present professed that it has been an issue on the agenda to get going on, for some years. A few tips; start small and engage the parents of the alumni.

Retention rate or the study yield of honours was the greatest cause for concern. The NCHC has a statistical database which is yet to be made public on these numbers. One of the major factors in not finishing the honours is apparently programs with a thesis to end the program. There are also significant male to female differences. Significantly more than half of women finished while significantly less than half of men finished the programs. This was related to hours studied.

Lastly, questions of strained budgets. The economic crisis has continued to hit public universities hard with some having seen a significant reduction in state funding. While at the same time their institutions have ambitious plans for honours programs. No answers were offered on efficiency and/or effectiveness improvement measures that universities are deploying.

From a content point of the view, the single most intriguing suggestion for generating quality courses was to run a competition in the university for lecturers to propose a course based on a theme and connect a prize to it. The theme mentioned was that of the World Cup football in Brazil and that all submissions were to use this theme in some way in whatever discipline they represented. For example; security was translated into a course on stadium security. This enabled the honours program managers to generate buzz, and have a wide pick.

by Caroline Maessen

Visit to University of Colorado Denver – Alternative breaks advisor
A dialogue with and two working students, Adam en Ash.

Megan J. Frewaldt, assistant director student life for communicate engagement, enlighted us on the university of Colorado Denver’s approach to community engagement and service learning. She was accompanied by two of her work students: Adam, community engagement assistant and Ash, graduate assistant.

They have different kind of programs where students can volunteer in community services. For example, students lead one or two week trips with small groups (8-10 students) to help in community projects either in the US or abroad (e.g. Guatemala). The leading student is trained in leading such an group. This is an approach to talent development.

They also support faculty whenever a class needs volunteer opportunities. In the pre healthcare track they provide contacts for first years for what we would call short term community internships. In order to guarantee a degree of quality, they established a definition of service learning with principles that courses must meet to be acknowledged as ‘service learning course’.

Students may have various reasons to apply for community service. Sometimes (as the pre health track mentioned above) it is obligatory, but many students act to built up their resume. A volunteer fair is organized with mainly non profit and not for profit organizations where students can meet up with interesting project partners.

CU Denver has a relatively large population of minorities (mainly latinos) and funding is a big problem for them. Not only for their tuition fees, but also for food and shelter. A lot of students are homeless.
The student affairs department therefore has a donation based food pantry that students can use once a week up to a certain number of items. In Denver the rental market for housing is pricy and since the 2007 housing crises it is taken over by professionals that sold their houses. The result is that students end up on the streets.

As a result of the above, students often are intrinsically motivated to engage in community service. They understand the problems because they have been in similar situations themselves. Students want to go back to their old neighborhoods to help. This is quite different when compared to CU Boulders student population. There community service is more based on charity and philantrophy.

The model CU Denver uses for community service learning is derived from North Western University’s model of ‘asset based community development’. Starting points are assets and strength instead of deficits. In their approach they invest a lot of time on learning students about social justice. In a systemic way of thinking they learn about power, privileges and oppression.
The service based pedagogy is one of critical thinking and reflection. The community service is also based on collaboration and reciprocal engagement. Both the students groups and the community enters a project as equals and create solutions together. It emphasizes sustainability as in prolongation after the students have left the community.

Community service learning help students to empower. They are quite enthusiastic and everyone has his talents. Service learning provides the opportunities to further develop a community mindset in that they are urged to engage in a bias free approach.

In summary there are two sides of community service learning. On the one hand the development of the community based on co-creation and equality and on the other hand the development of the self and self identity.

Community service learning is one of the ways CU Denver embodies experiential learning.
In their view experiential learning is ‘everything you learn outside the traditional classroom and contributes to academic knowledge’. As examples they mention research projects, internships and service learning. From these the volunteer projects and student breaks are organized by the community service learning center as part of student affairs. The undergraduate research projects and internships are on the side of academic affairs and are organized by the experiential learning center. They have the ambition tho work more closely together for example on standardized training programs for faculty and students.

by Herry In den Bosch
This afternoon we paid a visit to Ron Tzur of the University of Colorado. He was an evaluator of the project “A bright IDEA”. The basic idea is to treat all children in class as if they were gifted children by creating an environment where they can behave as being gifted. “The results were amazing.” If you treat kids as gifted they begin to behave as gifted, also the kids of underrepresented groups. The most important outcome is that kids learn and that teachers are happier.

Teachers undergo regular and intensive training, energizing their profession and their classrooms by weaving together teaching strategies based on the work of national education experts. In this way the knowledge, skills and dispositions of teacher schange  so they believe children can learn. After training, Bright Idea teachers are asked to design a curriculum customized for their classrooms. In short: Theory (change the philosophy of teachers), planning and practice and thereby designing a new instruction. Ron Tzur: “Stop thinking deficiency. Never give up on any child. Then the children never give up on themselves. I have a true belief!” Learn more on this project.



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