Logistics and Service Learning

Alaa Fleifel | Logan Rusch | Leo Musso | Ali Grimes | Liz Berger | Sarah Tirnanic

Service Learning: The teaching and learning methodology that connects classroom curriculum with identified community issues and needs.

Community Based Research (CBR): Research that strives to be: Community situated, Collaborative, and Action-oriented.

Bascom Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

A main goal for many colleges is to create strong relationships with their respective neighborhoods to enhance their communities as a whole. This concept is represented at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by what is called ‘The Wisconsin Idea;’ an idea that education should influence lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom. However, The Wisconsin Idea contains a major flaw, failing to acknowledge the importance of campus and community partnerships. While communities may benefit from students, alumni and professors sharing their education and knowledge with them, it is also important to recognize that UW-Madison has a lot to gain from listening to the community. When a college fails to listen and learn from members of the community before sharing their own ideas and perspectives, campus and community-partner relationships are hindered. The priority often shifts from the community to the outside-source attempting to implement change.

Faults in these relationships have been highlighted through Service Learning courses, which are unique and growing in popularity. When a person thinks of service learning, they often think of structured hours of community service. However, this understanding of service learning is not completely accurate. Students are generally expected to travel into the surrounding community for their partnerships, have little to no input on who they work with, and must schedule time with community partners outside of their class schedules. These courses are focused on connecting universities to their surroundings. Service learning allows students opportunities not available in classroom settings including working one-on-one with a community partner to address social issues, learning a new skill, and/or gaining experience in a new field. To further investigate the obstructed relationships between universities and community partners, students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison revisited research done by Randy Stoeker.

Using community based research methods, Stoeker’s findings on service learning were re-examined. In his book, Unheard Voices, Stoeker challenged assumptions about service learning between higher education and community partners, and presented many ways in which the partnerships could be improved. Our community-based research class mimicked Stoeker’s original research by hosting focus groups and one-on-one interviews with community partners to see what had or had not improved in the last ten years. From focus groups early on, we found consistent themes that were spread across eight categories: Access to UW, capacity, fit, relationship, student training, logistics, burden on community members, and inclusion of community members. It is important to note that students conducted interviews and research; some of which had prior relationships to community partner interviewees. This blog examines the research done through a logistics lens.

Logistics: Frameworks related to student and partner interactions and procedures in relation to time, availability, transportation, and space.

With this definition in mind, we identified three consistent themes that are a challenges in partnerships between community organizations and universities; time mismatch within partnerships, a lack of transportation and availability of physical space.

Pertaining to time, we focused on the challenge created by the conflicting schedules between students and community members. The general findings show the inability for both parties to build capacity due to their gridlocked schedules; students with set class times and community-partners and their strict operating hours. One interviewee stated, “Schedules are really packed, and there are not that many blocks of time open which is what you need for it to make sense to come all the way out here.” Unlike the dominant narrative, most time spent with community partners happens outside of the student’s service learning class. Thus, students don’t often have large chunks of time to devote solely to community partners. A lack of direct time with an organization is not conducive to a beneficial relationship to either party, but consistency goes a long way. The article “College students’ academic stress and its relation to their anxiety, time management, and leisure satisfaction” by Ranjita Mishra, Michelle McKean attests that as long as students can best manage their time and responsibilities, volunteering actually becomes more consistent. Time management links to a beneficial and consistent service learning experience.

Along with conflicting schedules, transportation was a common theme throughout the interviews. Ideally, students would have easy access to transportation to their respected community partners, however, many organizations operate outside of the campus bubble. The campus bubble can be described as the grounds of a college or university and a small border around that space. Unless necessary, students generally stay within the borders of this area and give little thought to the community outside of the bubble. Students working with community partners off-campus must utilize the bus system, their personal cars, and/or their bikes to commute. Problems arise with public transit as it is unreliable and operates at specific times. This was supported by a community partner who said, “Students can’t gracefully get here in the middle of the day because the bus doesn’t come straight here”. Groups on campus, such as Badger Volunteers, have attempted to remedy this problem by providing free taxi services to students associated with the organization. Unfortunately, not all service learning students are involved with this group. In a study conducted at the University of Florida, researchers Alex Bond and Ruth L. Steiner found that both affordable and free transportation for students aided the overall undergraduate volunteering experience. Students saw many more benefits when their needs, including transportation, were met as they weren’t as stressed.

80-Bus-Route in Relation to Location of Community Partners Interviewed

Lastly, we looked at the availability of space in relation to campus. A lack of accessibility was mentioned by multiple partners who pointed to limited visitor parking. Partners also felt the university had disregarded the resources the community has to offer off campus, such as meeting places. “I just wish that they knew we were here and that we do a lot of events…the university has a lot more money to bring people here and so to kind of share the wealth by planning more um, events or more talks or more forums,” a partner noted. By opening our campus up to community partners and taking advantage of the space they’ve worked hard to obtain, a closer relationship between parties could be established.

With the help of community based research we were able to find flaws in current partnerships between higher education and community organizations. When we treat a partnership as a two way street much more can be achieved for the groups involved. In order to help solve this issue, a potential solution would be to establish an agreed set of guidelines prior to the start of the partnership between the community partner, student and professor. The guidelines would include a block set of time, prearranged transportation, and an open channel of communication. By acknowledging the importance of time, space, and transportation, we create a more positive outlook for service learning as it continues to gain popularity.

Sources:

Bond, Alex, and Ruth L. Steiner. “Sustainable Campus Transportation through Transit Partnership and Transportation Demand Management: A Case Study from the University of Florida.” Berkeley Planning Journal 19.1 (2006): 125–42. Web.

Misra, Ranjita, and Michelle McKean. “College Students’ Academic Stress and Its Relation to Their Anxiety, Time Management, and Leisure Satisfaction.”American Journal of Health Studies 16.1 (2000): 41–51. Print.

Stoecker, Randy, Elizabeth A. Tryon, and Amy Hilgendorf. The Unheard Voices: Community Organizations and Service Learning. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2009. Print.