Service-learning adds new dimension to student, faculty life

Explore, inspire, achieve—the key words in the new marketing campaign launched by the University this fall also “fit perfectly” with the philosophy of service-learning, says Dr. Jane Rosser, director of the newly created Office of Service-Learning.

Dr. Jane Rosser
Dr. Jane Rosser

“Service-learning really gets into the question of how to be a citizen in a democratic society,” Rosser said. As part of President Sidney Ribeau’s Engaged University initiative, “it is part of the continuum of ways in which we’d like our students to engage with the community and provides a context for them to ask the bigger questions about citizenship,” she said.

Beyond benefiting the community, participating in service-learning also greatly benefits students by giving them the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning. “We know that we learn more by doing,” Rosser said. One of the core ideas is to “use service-learning to more effectively deliver the course content. This is a different way of teaching,” she added.

This type of engagement also helps students make the connection to the role of the discipline in practice. For example, students in Dr. Bob Midden’s chemistry class test water samples from local wells. They learn the methodology and basic chemistry involved, but “they also know that their work matters to the lives and the quality of life of people in Wood County,” said Dr. Mark Gromko, interim provost.

Bonnie Fink
Bonnie Fink

Likewise, Bonnie Fink, interim director of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology, recalls the commitment and sense of responsibility her technical writing students felt when they worked with her as volunteer editors and writers on grant proposals for nonprofit organizations.

“Service-learning has been demonstrated to be very effective at getting students engaged in learning,” said Gromko. “Because they can see the significance of what they’re doing to important social problems and causes, they can be drawn into subject matter with an enthusiasm that’s difficult to achieve in the classroom.”

Service-learning also offers instructors and students the opportunity to become closer as they work together on meaningful projects, Fink added. “It allows faculty to model the behavior we are trying to teach.”

Service-learning defined
As defined in part by the Service-Learning Committee and with the president’s approval, service-learning at BGSU is a “curriculum-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students (a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs, and (b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of curricular content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of personal values and civic responsibility." The entire definition, which expands on this first paragraph, is adapted from R.G. Bringle and J.A. Hatcher’s A Service-Learning Curriculum for Faculty.

Gromko emphasized, “This is not a free-standing program but one that is well-integrated with other programs. The service-learning office, the BG Perspective staff and the BGeXperience program are working closely together to deliver a curriculum that gets students involved with community partners. It’s an excellent pedagogical strategy with advantages you can’t find in other ways.”

Campus resources provide support
The incorporation of service-learning into courses must be driven by faculty, Rosser said. “My job is to create the structures to enable and support faculty who want to teach this way. Faculty may have questions such as ‘Where will I have the time to develop the course? Who will help? And can I teach it every year?’ The office will help with those issues,” she said. “We want to create a space of possibilities for those who are interested.”

The service-learning office can also help find external funding and connections with the community, and provide assistance with publishing, grants and scholarships. “There’s been a huge explosion of publishing opportunities around service-learning, both in general and by discipline,” Rosser pointed out.

The office can also work on such needs as transport and infrastructure, she said, but she must hear from faculty what support they require. A goal is to develop an advisory council of faculty with experience in service-learning and those who wish to become involved.

The CTLT will play a key part as the home for professional development. Fink said she is excited to be working with Rosser and faculty members to provide the “structure and the venues” for faculty who want to incorporate service-learning into their curricula. Faculty can collaborate to learn together, and the many who have been doing service-learning in their courses can contribute their expertise.

“This is such a valuable learning tool,” Fink said. “Students today are different, and classes are transforming to meet their needs. Students really want to be linked to the outside world, and this is a way for us to work with the community to really apply the things we’re doing here as far as learning outcomes and our core values.”

The University is fortunate to have a wealth of expertise and resources that faculty and campus organizations can draw upon. Partnerships for Community Action, the Center for Innovative and Transformative Education and the Wood County Americorps office, where Rosser was formerly the director, can help with community connections, as can the offices of campus involvement and student affairs.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel” in order to increase the level of service-learning at the University, Rosser said.

Open house presents grant opportunity
An opportunity to develop a service-learning course will be presented at an open house from noon-1:30 p.m. Wednesday (Jan. 31) in 316 Bowen-Thompson Student Union. Sponsored by the service-learning office, Jen Gilbride-Brown from Ohio Campus Compact will be here to share information about Great Cities, Great Service mini-grants.

The $5,000 mini-grants are available for the development and implementation of certain academic service-learning courses, to be based on community-identified needs to increase the "connectedness" that urban youth feel with their communities. The proposal deadline is March 1.

For further details and an application, visit or contact the office at 2-9865 or The Office of Service Learning is located in 309A University Hall. For more information, call Rosser at 2-9288.

January 29, 2007