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CEES at the International Symposium on Service Learning

Service Learning

Thanks to a dissemination grant from the IUPUI Center for Service and Learning, researchers Jennifer Nelson, Jessica Davis, and Sarah Goss from IUPUI’s Center for Earth and Environmental Science (CEES) and the Department of Earth Sciences attended the 6th International Symposium on Service Learning (ISSL) at the University of Indianapolis. The symposium brought international researchers together in Indianapolis with the theme, Service-Learning as a Global Interdisciplinary Movement: Transforming Communities & Higher Education.  Jessica, Jennifer, and Sarah presented on “Service Learning: Connecting Students to Nature in an Urban Environment”.  The purpose of the symposium was to “promote global citizenship and the scholarship of engagement,” and offered the perfect venue to tell the story of the CEES service learning experience and our future vision for the center.

- Graduate Student and Summer Service Learning Scholar Sarah Goss and Department of Earth Sciences Faculty Jennifer Nelson share some thoughts on their participation in the conference and their ongoing research:

The value of ecologic education has been known as far back as the early 1900’s. Educational philosopher John Dewey said that “it is through what we do in and with the world that we read its meaning and measure its value” (The School and Society, 1915).  He differentiated between two different types of educational strategies, one that emphasized the quantity of the material learned as “a diet of facts” where the more information the better the education. Dewey’s preferred educational strategy emphasized quality to quantity, where working knowledge, analytical skills and applicability, and usability are taught.

At CEES, we follow this quality model, stressing local, place-based ecological literacy, problem-solving, and critical thinking. The goal is to seamlessly integrate the environment into curriculum through place-based education with the community partner as a cultural connection. Also, contact with the environment fuels the interdisciplinary and hands-on nature of our curriculum. We work in groups to emphasize the value of cooperation. As philosopher Dale Jamieson (Ethics, Public Policy, and Global Warming, 1992) said, “Collective moral change is fundamentally cooperative rather than coercive”

Over the past few months, Nelson, Davis, and Goss have led an investigation to evaluate how undergraduate students gain environmental knowledge through the service learning projects offered by CEES. Since 2010, CEES has served a total of more than 2000 IUPUI students for a total of 8216 hours of service learning. We serve at least ten courses in the School of Science, seven courses in the Liberal Arts, and two courses in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs with occasional courses in other schools. Nelson has been focusing on expansion of the service learning to online courses.  Nelson and Goss are continuing this research this summer with support from IUPUI’s Center for Service and Learning.

Service learning also supports the IUPUI RISE challenge as the S in RISE stands for “Service”.  Most CEES service learning projects are 3-4 hours in length, and in that short time we aim to educate students while serving the community through providing an ecological product such as the removal of invasive species, a river clean up, or native tree plantings. One student reflected that they “may only be ‘just one person’ but just the little things that we do on our own will help and even if you can organize a small group for a couple of hours once a month to collect trash along a local stream it can make a HUGE difference.”

Our research seeks to examine the value of our service learning product and further enhance student awareness and understanding of local and global environmental issues.  David Orr of Oberlin College, a national scholar on environmental education, speaks to value of environmental education in an interdisciplinary role. Orr suggests, “All education is environmental education by what is included or excluded, students are taught that they are part of or apart from the natural world” (Earth in Mind, 2004). In our research, we will explore how students understand the connection between local and global ecological education. A better understanding of student awareness and comprehension will allow us to develop models for classroom and online instruction in conjunction with a service learning project, further extending the reach of IUPUI’s RISE initiative and providing quality ecological education to a larger community.

The 6th International Symposium on Service Learning  not only offered CEES an opportunity to showcase the immersive service learning experience we provide, but also gave us the opportunity to explore other successful service learning projects, strengthening our understanding of the tenets of service learning. We engaged with researchers as close as Indiana and Michigan, and as far as South Africa and Russia. We learned that student engagement, no matter the scale of the project, comes from connection.

Community engagement, service, and education go hand in hand, especially in an urban setting and these connections create valuable and lifelong memories for students. IUPUI’s location within the city of Indianapolis provides strategic positioning for community partnerships, and CEES builds on this positioning and provides connected urban environmental service experiences. Whether students are learning about the environment or serving at a homeless shelter, engaged students walk away with better educational experiences.

Thank you to Dr. Mary Price and IUPUI’s Center for Service and Learning for their participation in and sponsorship of this scholarship of teaching and learning.

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