Implementing Service Learning Labs across a Social Work Curriculum

Today, D. Scott Batey and I are presenting at the 16th Annual Conference of the Engagement Scholarship Consortium at Penn State about our work with service learning labs in the social work curriculum at UAB.  In this workshop, we will describe how we developed and implemented the service learning labs to date, discussing lessons learned from our planning process.  We hope to provide a model that participants can apply to their own institutions, and will share the next steps for our project, including implementation and assessment of the service labs.  Additionally, there will be time for participants to brainstorm with the presenters and each other. The learning objectives for this session include:

1. Understand strategies to plan & engage multiple partners in developing a community-based service learning project to support student & community outcomes.

2. Demonstrate how educators can duplicate the planning process for curriculum-based service learning projects at their institutions.

3. Appreciate the role of professional collaboration in the planning and development of service learning projects across a curriculum.

You can access a copy of the slides for the workshop PPT Slides for ESC Presentation.

Finally, here is the abstract for our presentation, titled Implementing Service Learning Labs Across a Social Work Curriculum:

Service learning has become an important component of higher education.  In addition to building community investment among a new generation of emerging adults, service learning increases community capacity to meet the many and varied local challenges.  These activities are closely aligned with the professional values of social work and social work education, and graduates of one undergraduate social work program have consistently voiced a desire for more practice opportunities.  To respond to these issues, we began a strategic planning process for integrating service learning into the professional curriculum.

We reviewed existing social work courses to determine key junctures to practically infuse service learning and community engagement activities across the undergraduate curriculum.  Our goal was to create connections and linkages for students as they progressed through the curriculum while addressing important community needs over time.  A clear linkage to service learning was identified for three courses:  The Social Work Values Lab (SW 222), Social Work Practice with Individuals and Families (SW 322), and Social Work Practices with Groups and Communities (SW 422).  This process also involved engaging our academic department, multiple partners within our university system, including the Office of Service Learning, in and community partners.  Ultimately, a proposal to incorporate service learning labs into the three identified courses was submitted to and approved by our Departmental Curriculum Committee.

To date, service learning assignments have been developed that match specific course objectives and content and the immediate needs of our community partner.  For example, a requirement of 32 hours of service learning observation has been incorporated into SW 222; implementation of a needs assessment of community partner clients is included in SW 322; and psycho-educational groups, held in the community and led by students, will be highlighted in SW 422.

Elucidating the synergy between service learning, community engagement, and social work education may result in streamlined training for undergraduate students and build capacity of community partnering agencies through partnership with multiple university entities skilled in addressing the most pressing social issues.

For this presentation, we will discuss lessons learned from the planning process, provide a model for participants to apply to their own institutions, and review developed service learning assignments.   Additionally, there will be time for participants to brainstorm with the presenters and each other. Next steps for this project will include implementation and assessment of the service labs. Feedback from the audience will be encouraged to help inform and shape the next steps for the process.

Author: Laurel Hitchcock

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