Saturday, February 28, 2004

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about service learning. I have a service learning component in my Theology 1120 course, Introduction to Biblical Studies. I have often been asked what this course has to do with service learning. In the end I have to conclude probably not too much directly. But I still feel that it improves my course, even if there isn't a direct link. I can see how health sciences would benefit more directly from service learning because students could visit aids patients for example and see first hand how the disease effects lives. Or some French students I know have been doing service learning where they volunteer at the French consulate. That makes sense. I am committed to making the world a better place, and so I thought this meant that service learning could help me do that. I also thought that service learning was a great way to make my courses fit with Xavier's mission, which is "the promotion of a more just and humane society" . . . and to prepare "students to assume roles of leadership and service in society." So, about two years ago decided to implement a service learning component into my 1000 level classes. I had students pick a biblical verse that would improve the world and then implement it through a service learning project which involved at least 12 hours of volunteer work. Some students joined me working with Habitat for Humanity. Others volunteered in assisting people fill out forms for housing, with senior citizens, after school programs, etc. This got to be very complicated, and this semester I just decided to have everybody volunteer 8 hours with me at Habitat for Humanity. Mark Gstohl, a colleague and friend of mine, once eruditely observed that when he did service learning, he was aware that clearly there was service, but he wasn't sure how much learning there was involved with this project. For the most part I agree, but I feel there is learning involved, it's just that it doesn't necessarily directly relate to biblical studies. But maybe the Saturday we spend working is more important overall than learning the difference between the Leningrad Codex and the LXX. I've thought about this quite a bit as of late. One thing that I've noticed is that I have a better relationship with the students who volunteered with me at Habitat for Humanity. They've seen me work putting on a roof, and I've seen them work pretty hard as well. I also saw them devour all the lunch before I had a chance to get off the roof. That was nice. That Saturday helped me get to know the students better, and they got to know me also. We could interact outside of the classroom. This is mostly good, but now when I have to give students I like bad grades on papers it is painful to me. Next semester I will be teaching four sections of 1120, and that would mean if I do the same thing with service learning I would have 120 students to look over one Saturday. That's a bunch. Maybe I'll break it into two, or try something different with two sections. Recently I got some certificate from the service learning office here on campus recognizing my work with them. That was thoughtful. That's it for now, I'm off to grade papers arguing whether or not Moses is a good role model.


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