To Individualize, Make it Personalized: Creating Project Based Service elearners

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1 To Individualize, Make it Personalized: Creating Project Based Service elearners Mara Kaufmann, N.D., MSN, APRN Associate Professor, Center for Distance Learning State University of New York, Empire State College Thomas P. Mackey, Ph.D. Interim Dean, Center for Distance Learning State University of New York, Empire State College In working with adult learners online there is a need to explore innovative models for service learning that emphasize the individualization of experiential practice and the resultant authentic, deep and transformational learning which occurs. This approach empowers the learner to design, develop, implement, and assess their role in the community, while sharing knowledge about these experiences using a range of emerging social technologies. Within the context of an online course or independent study, it is possible to build a network of independent service elearners working in the community. The student s reflections about these individual experiences are found in textual and digital narratives and synthesized through online journals, journey papers, multimedia projects, and blogs. In turn, this work is shared within online discussion boards, collaborative wikis and through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Historically, higher education service learning definitions, research and practices have arisen from the campus based land grant institutions and their partnerships with the surrounding communities. The working adult college student whether in urban or rural New York, Texas or Tanzania benefit from and provide benefit to his or her community, be it in the state, nation or global environment. Although service learning research often focuses on face-to-face initiatives, students in online environments are civically engaged in service to their identified communities as well. At SUNY Empire State College service learning is embedded in online courses, or through independent studies that are collaboratively designed through learning contracts between mentors and students. This work allows self-directed learners to make connections between experiential practice and scholarly learning, with a particular focus on location, community, and established or emerging service areas. The Adult Service elearner To offer the adult elearner individualized service learning opportunities, the institution must operate with a student centered focus and apply the tenets of andragogy (the teaching of the adult learner). According to Malcolm Knowles: The five assumptions underlying andragogy describe the adult learner as someone who (1) has an independent self-concept and who can direct his or her own learning, (2) has accumulated a reservoir of life experiences that is a rich resource for learning, (3) has learning needs closely related to changing social roles, (4) is problem-centered and interested in immediate application of knowledge, and (5) is motivated to learn by internal rather than external factors. (cited in Merriam, 2001, p.5) In many ways, Knowles offers an ideal framework for service learning that is based on independent, selfdirected learning, and the ability to solve problems. Today s adult learner interested in pursuing service learning is engaged with the community as a highly motivated individual, willing to make connections between the social context of the organization and the learning that occurs online. This work is both Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 1

2 individual and collaborative, offering learners the chance to pursue meaningful community connections and opportunities, while creating a network of peer support and engagement based on real world practice. The white paper on education by Intel (2009), The Positive Impact of elearning, and the assumptions of andragogy align well with serving individuals of all ages while describing new paradigms and detailing best practices in education and elearning. According to this perspective, the student-centric paradigm, students increasingly become independent, self directed learners who master higher-level critical thinking, problem solving, and collaborative skills (Intel, 2009, p.3, Figure 2.). This defines a skills set that is integrated and impacts student learning in several key ways. The white paper also asserts that students learn at their own pace, repeating material to reinforce learning, or delving into additional material to enrich it (Intel, 2009, p.3, Figure 2.). Knowles first two assumptions are incorporated in the student centric paradigm of elearning put forth in the paper. Students engaged in elearning are independent and continuously make connections between life experience and online study. His third assumption also aligns with this approach since service elearning takes place in a social context that is continuously changing. Knowles fourth assumption describes the adult learner to be problem-centered and interested in immediate application of knowledge. This assumption is addressed in the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) paper titled Authentic learning for the 21 st Century: An Overview, (2007) which states: Students say they are motivated by solving real-world problems. They often express a preference for doing rather than listening. At the same time most educators consider learning-by- doing the most effective way to learn. (Lombardi, 2007, p.2) Authentic learning which began in the time of the guilds and the first apprentices has come to life in the 21 st century with the advent of the Internet, learning technology and most recently with social media and Web 2.0. Adult learners pursue education online while working one or more jobs, caring for their families, or while serving in the reserves or active duty in the military. They require a flexible academic program that is integrated with their existing experiential knowledge base. The scholarly activity must meet the challenges of higher order thinking and the synthesis of information, while promoting an experience that deepens and transforms their lives. It must provide the creativity and critical thinking necessary to apply and solve real world problems. Service learning enhances online study by providing a real world context for learners to engage with ideas, putting theory into practice, and sharing the results of this work with peers. Web 2.0 and Social Media The use of project based learning, case studies, internships, externships and service learning are all ways to incorporate experiential, authentic learning into the course and curriculum. The application of these methods work well in the campus based environment of a traditional institution. Service elearning is accomplished online through Web 2.0 technologies that allow for asynchronous collaboration and individualized learning which is then shared with others. Emerging technologies such as blogs, wikis, social media, and Google Wave provide online tools for creating and sharing knowledge. According to Ray Schroeder, Google Wave in particular is an innovative format for enhancing collaboration through an apps-style format that integrates multiple gadgets and bots such as embedded mind maps, audio messages, flexible discussions, chat, and video conferencing (Schroeder, Mulligan, & Conlan, 2010). According to Schroeder et al., the essential value of Google Wave is the opportunity to foster media-rich collaborations both synchronously and asynchronously among those who may be in close proximity or at a physical distance. This may be the next generation Web 2.0 tool that moves beyond , online discussion, and mobile apps, and it could be applied in service learning if used effectively, especially since it supports instant journaling and reflection. Prior to this innovation we have seen the implementation of Web 2.0 in service-related projects. For example, at SUNY Empire State College a collaborative wiki provides a group of students with the means to build a case study detailing the nursing process for a range of clients suffering from a variety of illnesses and disorders such as asthma, diabetes, Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 2

3 insomnia, or depression. In addition, an open resource such as WikiEducator offers an environment for a community of educators to share approaches and best practices related to teaching and learning in a range of modalities. Blog and wiki formats also provide interactive social tools for students to produce knowledge and to share experiences about service learning. Mackey and McLaughlin (2008) described the use of blogs and wikis in an undergraduate honors course at SUNY Albany that required a service learning component. In this course, students created individual blogs and collaborative wikis to support learning that took place in the community (Mackey & McLaughlin, 2008). In this blended course, the wikis were collaboratively developed and provided an open online space for students to share observations, conduct field studies about the organizations, upload presentations, and post images and videos about the community experience. While this was a successful project in a blended mode, the predominant challenge with fully online service elearners, is designing flexible projects that align well with the busy work and life schedules of adult learners. Asynchronous online environments allow students to manage their own time while making meaningful contributions to their communities. One of the most salient features of online learning is that it allows learning to be place and time independent (Vrasidas & Mclsaac, cited in Merriam, 2001,). Whether incorporating their real world experience into the learning environment or applying their scholarly learning to their real worlds, the project, internship, externship or service learning experience must be achievable and meaningful to add value. Online Collaboration The collaborative dimension of online learning environments allows for the shared design of learning activities. This reflects best practice that involves faculty, students and community partners in the design of service-elearning. (Donnelli-Sallee, Dailey-Hebert, & DiPadova, 2008, p.123) For instance, in an online nursing leadership course at SUNY Empire State College students were required to complete a project where leadership competencies were developed, applied and then reflected on in their journal. In discussing the assignment with individuals in the course the diversity and uniqueness of each student became apparent and the following is a sample of their personalized service learning projects. One nursing student had been to Cameroon, Africa with a planned return trip, she continued to work with a group there to develop their rural health system while she worked and lived in New York. Another nursing student who was in the army reserves and had young children, chose the little league organization as an area where he could apply his leadership competencies and serve the community and stay involved in his children s lives. Looking at her work place where a new emergency department (ED) was being built, another student chose to address the needs of children who accompany family to the ED by researching ways to create space and supplies to occupy them during the long waiting. Children s carts were the answer where supplies, reading materials, games etc could be housed and rolled to an area close to the family. This after-hours project qualified as service learning and the leadership competencies she developed and utilized became evident in her journaling. In this course the scholarly learning was being applied to the real world communities of these students and joined them in enriching their own and the lives of others. The learning remains the focus and the service provides an experiential project that can create social change, meet needs, enhance lives and promote health and wellness. The service can be a short or long term commitment, direct or indirect for individuals, groups and communities. Though a student may have been involved for a long time with a specific non-profit, there is always more to learn and apply to their respective areas of service. Their service project can involve their spiritual and religious communities as well, where serving anew on committees and taking on new roles will afford them new learning opportunities. The development of independent studies and learning contracts with faculty provide opportunities for elearners to design their own community service projects or volunteer roles in existing community projects making these self-defined project based learning opportunities both individualized Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 3

4 and personalized. Volunteering to work at or joining in events and fundraising for the local historical site, museum library, Girl Scouts, food bank, community garden and literacy council are all possibilities and the learning can be from the perspective of one or a multitude of disciplines and/or be interdisciplinary, depending on a student s role, experience and the learning outcomes sought. The discipline of online study can generate recommended or suggested service learning projects for distance students to engage in locally or they can organize a service learning project for completion at a distance. Joining international students in their service learning projects becomes an option when the service learning projects are shared using social networking and multimedia tools. This approach creates a global perspective supporting the idea that best practice builds diverse communities of inquiry across disciplinary and geographical boundaries (Donnelli-Sallee et al., 2008, p.125). Emerging social technologies make this larger network of knowledge possible, connecting learners with local communities, and then providing a means to report on and discuss the learning that takes place at each site. Reflection and Assessment The assessment of learning and the benefits of student s experience are observable in writings and other creative expressions of each student. Online learning environments are collaborative spaces for reflecting on knowledge gained through readings, personal experience and individual or group process. Web 2.0 and social media provide students with a means to capture these reflections and share with faculty and peers, while shaping a network of Service elearners. The use of electronic journaling for capturing the students learning experiences and the narrative that demonstrates the transformative and deep learning that occurs within the individual, reveals to the student, peers, and faculty the full impact of the service learning project. Considering this potential impact, service-elearning courses must be anchored by integrated outcomes and must include assessment measures that gauge discipline based and transferable skills and competencies. Multiple avenues for individual and communal reflection allow participants to construct new knowledge (Donnelli-Sallee et al., 2008, p.126). The journaling on weekly learning in courses where project based activities involving the elearners real world can also reveal what we call indirect service learning. This occurs when and where the individual working adult applies their academic knowledge and scholarship to their work environments and the results are beneficial for student and recipient persons, agencies and communities. For instance, indirect service learning occurs when a student studying transformational leadership and management applies the learning to her role as manager at work, creating organizational change that increases job satisfaction and retention along with providing higher quality care to the elderly population being served. Though not outlined as a service learning project the adult student s reflected learning outcomes provide a glimpse of the service provided to the work place, individuals and community it serves. This approach and many others define a framework for developing service learning online. In today s Web 2.0 environment, service learning is an innovative option for self-directed, independent adults interested in learning that intersects with community and nonprofit organizations. References Dailey-Hebert, A., Donnelli-Sallee, E. & DiPadova-Stocks, (2008). Service-eLearning: Educating for citizenship. Charlotte, NC: Information Age. Lombardi, M. M. (2007). Authentic learning for the 21 st century: An overview. Educause Learning Intitiative. Retrieved October 20, 2009, from: Mackey, T.P., & McLaughlin, J. (2008). Developing Blog and Wiki communities to link student research, community service, and collaborative discourse. In T.P. Mackey & T. Jacobson (Eds.) Using technology to teach information literacy (pp. 5-28). New York: Neal-Schuman. Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 4

5 Merriam, S. B. (2001). Andragogy and self-directed learning, New directions for adult and continuing education. No.89. Retrieved April 24, 2010, from: The positive impact of elearning. (2009). Intel Corporation White Paper. Retrieved October 20, 2009, from: Schroeder, R, Mulligan, B., & Conlan, S. (2010). Waving the Google Flag for inter-institutional class collaborations. ementor. No. 1. Retrieved May 3, 2010, from: About the Presenters Mara M. Kaufmann, Associate Professor, Center for Distance Learning, SUNY Empire State College. Address: 113 West Avenue Saratoga Springs, NY 12866, Phone: ext Fax: Thomas P. Mackey, Interim Dean, Center for Distance Learning, SUNY Empire State College. Address: 113 West Avenue Saratoga Springs, NY 12866, Phone: ext Fax: Copyright 2010 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 5

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