New Semester, Same Challenges

With the Fall 2021 semester underway, we begin a new school year under very familiar challenges. It has been over a year since ACC shut down to face the Covid-19 pandemic, and although we’ve seen some success with vaccine distribution ebbing the crisis, we are still in the midst of mutations. The ongoing pandemic has forced ACC to continue adapting to an ever changing campus landscape, and the same is true for service-learning.

In this issue, I will highlight yet another virtual success story from our Spring 2020 semester, connect you with virtually accessible service organizations, and share an exciting programmatic development to hopefully tide you over until service-learning can return in full gear!

Spotlight on Virtual Success Stories

In our last issue, we highlighted the story of Michelle Landrum, Department Chair and Professor of the Applied Community Dentistry course here at ACC as she reflected on implementing a virtual service-learning project for the first time. In today’s issue, we will review another Professor who faced the challenge of virtual service-learning head on during the 2020-21 School Year, Terry Hunt in Communication Studies.

Not only was Professor Hunt integrating virtual service-learning into his course for the first time, he was also trying his hand at service-learning generally for the first time, making this project an exceptional undertaking. He was not swayed by the challenge, though, and ended up implementing an astounding project that received rave reviews from students and community partners alike.

Expanding Community Horizons

As a Communications Studies professor, Hunt aimed to engage his students in a virtual project that would help practice and refine their own public speaking skills. The best way to do this, he proposed, would be through coaching others in public speaking. We thus worked on recruiting community partners who 1) could work with his students remotely, and 2) were in need of speech coaching. My task was to identify such partners within the greater Austin community, but I struggled to find opportunities that really fit the bill.

A double edged sword, the virtual environment limited our collaboration with some nonprofits because of a lack of accessibility. However, it also enabled us to reach out to partners that we’d never anticipated working with before – partners outside of Texas. Through connections at UT, I was able to get in contact with Chicago Debates, a speech and debate focused nonprofit working with high schoolers in the Chicago area. Not only were they remotely accessible, they were thrilled at the idea of having Professor Hunt’s students come on as coaches! We weren’t completely divorced from the Austin community, though. A second partner I was able to connect Professor Hunt with was Austin Speech Labs, a local nonprofit that works with stroke victims to help them recover their speaking abilities.

Tips for Successful Remote Implementation

With partners in tow, Hunt was prepared to implement his project. This didn’t come without challenges, though, as remote service schedules had to be constructed, and students had to buy into the idea of required service. “The students showed an appreciation for having the opportunity for service-learning given in the class,” reflects Hunt. “Many are a bit hesitant, at first, but really benefit from applying the skills and knowledge learned in the class to a “real-life” situation.”

Once students had bought in, Hunt notes that it was critical to accommodate student needs in order to keep them engaged. “Be flexible and provide a variety of ways for students to engage with self-learning. Some will want to engage more with the organization than others, and all will benefit from the course remaining flexible to match the needs of the individual students.”

Rave Reviews

By helping students see the value in their service, and granting flexibility as they adapted to an online project, Hunt was able to successfully implement his remote service project. Both Austin Speech Labs and Chicago Debates expressed an interest in working with ACC in a future semester, and Chicago Debates even shared the following quotes from participants to show just how well received the partnership was:

  • “I was impressed by the students’ time-management and presentation skills, and it made me think about the difference that it would have made in my own career if I had had access to extracurricular activities similar to this.” -Aisha N.
  • “The Chicago Debates service-learning was fun to do. The people were nice and helpful. I would do it again.” -Benjamin S.
  • “I feel Chicago Debates is a great platform for young minds to cultivate their inner voice and the skill of critical thinking.” -Vincent H. P.S. (Vincent was brand new to judging and received nominations for outstanding adjudicator at one of the Chicago Debates tournaments!)

Professor Hunt’s ability to adapt to student needs and generate a meaningful project in a virtual environment demonstrates a deep passion for his practice and commitment to student success. It was a joy to see Hunt engage with this challenge, and ultimately, knock it out of the park! You can hear more from Professor Hunt about his experience here. 

Virtual Service-Learning Partners

Inspired by Professor Hunt’s story, and ready to give virtual service-learning a shot? If you’d like to incorporate a Covid friendly service experience into your course, we’ve got you covered! On ACC’s Student Volunteer Hub, we’ve cultivated a list of local community organizations that facilitate remote service opportunities.

Of course, you’ll also want to click around the web page to learn more about all of the local nonprofits our program works with. Please share these resources widely with your students, as we’d love to increase student traffic to our Hub to help direct students toward these opportunities! Additionally, feel free to share my information with any students you may come across who are seeking volunteer opportunities!

The Service-Learning Section Type Designation is ALMOST HERE!

Now for the biggest news to hit the service-learning program since its inception – our proposal for a service-learning section type designation has been formally approved by the CORE Committee! This means that, in the near future, we will be able to formally designate service-learning courses within our course catalogue! If you’ve been a long time participant in our program, you know just how long we’ve been working on this, so we’re very excited to be able to share this progress report with you!

From here, we in OEL will be working on contacting Department Chairs to alert them of this designation’s existence and parameters. Only Level One Service-Learning Fellows will be eligible to have their courses formally designated. This means that if you have not completed our Service-Learning Training either over the Summer or Online, you will not be able to apply this designation to any of your course sections. We are limiting accessibility to this designation in the interest of upholding best practices and institutional standards around service-learning. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns about this forthcoming designation.

Begin Your Service-Learning Fellowship Pathway

If you’re interested in becoming a Level One Fellow and implementing your own service-learning project, our Online Training is open all year long! In this training, you will learn the fundamentals of service-learning project development and implementation and walk away with your own fully developed course plan.

This training fulfills the Level One requirement for the TLED Service-Learning Fellowship, qualifies you to teach a designated service-learning course at ACC, and will earn you 10 hours of professional development and a $200 stipend. The Institute is fully asynchronous, meaning you can complete it all at your own pace. Once enrolled, participants will be added to the Blackboard Course to begin their training. Spots are filling up fast, so sign up today!



Learning by doing

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