Deepening Service Learning

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Deepening your Understanding of Local and International Service Learning Programs.  
Strategies for Meaningful Program Design and Implementation.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Lilla Watson

Today, evidence is mounting surrounding the benefits of student engagement in local and international service learning programs.  Increased leadership ability, intercultural understanding, language skills, and greater knowledge of global injustices are commonly reported outcomes. Furthermore, research suggests that service programs foster an environment where cultural norms and pre held assumptions surrounding self and society are challenged.
While support for service learning programs as a vehicle for fostering student transformation is strong, new questions and criticisms concerning the impact of local and international programs have begun to emerge. These new questions focus not only on the impact for student participants, but on the undertheorized relationship between service programs, the communities they serve, and the service projects in which they engage.  In short, these criticisms can be summarized in three questions:

            1.  Are service programs exploitive?
            2.  Are service programs western paternalism?
            3. Do service projects truly benefit those in the host community/organization?

Deepening our understanding of the complexity of these questions and the various ways scholars and practitioners have responded will form the foundation of this workshop.

From our perspective at ALIVE Outdoors, effective service programs begin with choosing a partner organization grounded in sustainability and a strong belief in the importance of local involvement and ownership over field projects.
Second, to maximize learning, structured facilitation for participants is necessary for all three stages of service programs (pre-departure, in-field, and re entry).  For example, curriculum focusing on the development of a critical consciousness, redefining the word ‘help’ and providing pathways forward for students who have recently returned from these powerful experiences.           

This workshop will include mini lecture, experiential activities, group discussions and a review of relevant and current research.  Participants will deepen their understanding of the current criticisms and contradictions facing service programs and will leave with new curriculum and activities associated with all three program stages. We will also cover practical steps and key points to keep in mind when establishing local and international partnerships and discuss how service learning fits within the philosophy of experiential and outdoor education.  It is important to note that this workshop is not meant to dismantle service learning programs rather, propel us all to deepen the meaning and maximize potential of our programs. 

 We are looking forward to collaborating with you in regards to this important and vast topic area.

“Unless we take up the pieces of this project as we can, we may not only fail to effectively teach our students how to engage in just global relations, we may fall terribly short of our own deepest hopes for doing so.”   Robin Crabtree

Relevant Publications:
Sharpe, K., & Dear, S. (2013) "Points of Discomfort: Reflections on Power and Partnerships in International Service-Learning." Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 19.2, 49-57.

Breunig, M., & Dear, S. (2013). Experiential education, social and environmental justice pedagogies and globalization: From theory to praxis. In K. Paisley & D. Dustin (Eds.), Just Leisure (pp. 117-126). Sagamore: Urbana, IL.

Breunig, M., & Dear, S. (in press). An international service-learning adventure: A story of Martha’s trip to Peru. Adventure programming. Venture Publishing: USA.

Dear, S (2012):  Exploring Reciprocity in International Service Learning Programs.  MA Thesis Research, Brock University.

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