Jan. 13, 2022 -- Global Service-Learning - How do we create courses where communities benefit as much as students?
How do you design international service-learning projects to foster the best outcomes in partner communities? That's the question we tackle in our new open-access paper in the International Journal of Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement - https://doi.org/10.37333/001c.31383
So what did we find?
We identified four types of best practices that could help set a strong foundation for the best possible community outcomes - principles for partnerships, for curriculum design, for project implementation, and for core principles to underlie it all. In total, we propose 18 guiding principles for project design to support practitioners in creating and maintaining justice-oriented, stakeholder-driven projects.
Part of the reason I'm so excited about this outcome is the story that inspired the paper: In 2015, I joined a Purdue project in-progress that was working with three communities in the Dominican Republic to establish community-scale safe drinking water. The project was bumpy, to say the least. There were moments of real, extraordinary success - and moments of failure. In my three and a half years with the team, we worked with community members to install three new water treatment systems and redesigned an older pilot system. We facilitated installation of solar panels in local schools and supported local water education. When I graduated from Purdue and left the project, the solar panels were an unqualified success. The education had been well-received, but "success" was difficult to qualify. Water treatment, which was the original goal of the project... Well, it seemed to depend on the month. In most cases, the systems, which are located at local schools, are used for students while school is in-session. But even years after installation, they are struggling to fulfill the "community-scale" vision the project set out with. When we figured out things weren't going according to the design we agreed to with community leaders, I went looking for explanations. I found a robust literature on international service-learning which thoroughly explained how to design projects like ours for student success. Yet, I could find very little explaining how our project might have been approached differently to foster community success - and here's the rub. As educators, we want our students to succeed, but international service-learning without community success is just neocolonialism. So more than 4 years ago, I set out with colleagues at Purdue to figure this out - we decided that int'l service-learning was, in many ways, the intersection of int'l development and service-learning. So, we reasoned, if we synthesize best practices from both fields...
The result of that review and synthesis is this paper. https://doi.org/10.37333/001c.31383
This is the first project I have led that emerged fully from my own questions, and I am so proud of the huge team that came together to make this project a reality.
International service-learning can be a profound and transformational educational experience - it was for me. But it's up to us as educators to make sure that it is not an extractive and neocolonial educational experience. As Eric Hartman and colleagues say, projects must serve the dual purpose of service-learning - reciprocal benefit for students and community. I am hopeful that these principles of practice will help more teams to make that dual purpose a reality.