Relationship Building in Service-Learning
Michele D. Kegley
It’s always about relationships. Without community partners we would not have service-learning opportunities. Doing “with versus for” someone requires finding out how one can work with them, not just for them. When I started incorporating service learning into my classes I didn’t even call it service- learning. I simply wanted my students to apply their learning by working within their community to apply and share their skills. Of course, I could have assigned them partners, but I asked them to find organizations/partners they felt they had a connection or wanted to form a connection with in their community. It’s also about passion. The more passionate a student is about the “work” they are doing, the more they tend to get out of the experience.
I have used three methods for building community relationships:
Faculty led—faculty/class instructor finds a partner to collaborate with on a project and assigns the students to complete the desired project. An example, faculty find an agency, agency communicates a need, faculty builds an assignment to fulfill the need and fulfill course learning outcomes. I have done this in leadership classes where students are assigned leadership roles to fulfill the assignment and write reflections on the experience.
Student led—students find partners and develop their own plan for fulfilling the learning outcomes of a project. Students are given the assignment of finding their own agency, communicating with the agency to determine the agency need, confirming with the faculty that this will fulfill the learning outcomes and completing reflections, papers, or presentations to demonstrate learning.
FAS co-led—Faculty and students (FAS) work together using their contacts and community databases to find community partners. In this method past partners, faculty contacts, student contacts and databases are used to empower the student to search for a partner they fill they could be of the most service. Utilizing databases such as Inspiring Service known as Cincinnati Cares in Cincinnati, Volunteer Match, and our own University Volunteer Database-Volunteer UC students can find partners in need of help. The faculty role is to provide the links of databases with instructions, often in the form of video, to demonstrate how students can use these search methods. Faculty also need to establish a method of follow-up either within their course calendar plan or assignments to help students establish a plan and timeline. The faculty and student develop a relationship of collaboration as well as the student and community partner.
The FAS co-led method has yielded great results, especially during the COVID pandemic. This is also an effective method in online courses that would like to incorporate service-learning into their curriculum. I worked with Cincinnati Cares staff to develop instructional videos to help students navigate the site. During the pandemic this allowed students to complete virtual service-learning projects. I have found that the more relationships I develop with community partners the more they become interested in allowing students to apply skills with their agency in a service-learning experience. It’s all relationships.
Michele D. Kegley, PhD, is an associate professor Business and Economics at UC Blue Ash College (UCBA), and Program Director & Faculty Advisor of Bachelor of Technical and Applied Studies. Her research interests include leadership, socioeconomic stability, service-learning and online course design. She seeks to engage students in active learning about the world in which they are economic citizens.