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Saturday, April 24, 2021

Supporting Digital Service-Learning through Campus Collaboration | Student Success - EDUCAUSE Review

Expanded online and remote learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic allows campuses to support and collaborate on digital service-learning projects, creating opportunities to expand service-learning and, in doing so, play a pivotal role in enhancing the learning of students, faculty, and staff for years to come. 

Lance Eaton, Educational Programs Manager at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University and an instructor in Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies at North Shore Community College and Danielle Leek, Dean of Online Learning at Reynolds Community College and an instructor in the MA in Communication Program, Johns Hopkins University argues, The expansion of online and remote learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn staff in instructional design, academic/information technology, accessibility services, the library, and other campus support services into new spaces. 

Photo: Brenik / © 2021

One of those new spaces is service-learning and community-engagement programs. Traditionally grounded in physical face-to-face opportunities, staff in these programs are now revisiting their work to figure out how to continue in the digital realm. This transition has created a moment to build important cross-campus collaborations and contribute to transformational relationships among students, faculty, and communities outside the college or university.  

Service-learning and community-engagement programs and courses arrived in full force in the 1980s and 1990s as an evolution from volunteering activities and as an expansion of the way academic institutions, especially colleges and universities, sought to position their role in the broader society. Rather than seeing a higher education institution apart from the communities in which it exists, those involved in service-learning and community-engagement programs look for mutually beneficial opportunities to enhance one another's work (or learning). Often, these projects and relationships took place in the community beyond the walls of the institution and represent high-touch interactions among students, faculty, and service-learning partners. 

What distinguishes digital service-learning (DSL) is the integration of digital technology into the performance and delivery of service-learning, creating opportunities and complications that faculty may not have previously considered...

Final Considerations

In November 2020, EDUCAUSE Vice-President Susan Grajek and members of the 2020–2021 EDUCAUSE IT Issues panel reflected on the role that technology will play in the recovery of higher education post-pandemic. With expanded access to COVID-19 vaccinations, the Fall 2021 term may emerge as the starting point of this new era. The panel's observations on what will be needed to restore, evolve, and transform our campus operations highlight the importance of taking purposeful steps to foster connections between key support areas and faculty involved in DSL. Footnote4

First, high-impact DSL courses and programming can build the collaborative relationships that are needed to restore campuses to the level of online learning flexibility and sophistication that both students and faculty will expect in a post-pandemic environment. Because these courses were so often grounded in face-to-face delivery, maintaining the ground gained over the past year is essential.

Second, investing in service-learning courses to ensure that they retain their digital footprint can help evolve campuses, in regard to both equity and online learning. Service-learning pedagogy, when enacted with critical reflection, challenges campuses to resist practices that contribute to inequality. When coupled with digital learning tools, service-learning pedagogy increases understanding and the ability to facilitate community engagement in online spaces.Footnote5 Online learning moves from being an opportunity for digital literacy to an avenue for socially-just community engagement.

Finally, building robust DSL processes can transform campuses by modeling agility and design thinking for cross-campus collaborations.

In short, by seizing this moment to support and collaborate on DSL projects, campuses can create relationships and opportunities to expand service-learning and, in doing so, play a pivotal role in enhancing the learning of students, faculty, and staff for years to come. 

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Source: EDUCAUSE Review