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Service-Learning: New Models of Creative Instruction for Successful Teaching Strategies in the Millennium

 

November 18-19, 2011
University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras and University of the Sacred Heart
San Juan Puerto Rico

Ruth Zealand, College of New Rochelle

Dorothy Larkin, College of New Rochelle

Jean Coppola,Pace University

Barbara Appehbohm Thomas, Westchester Community College

Wayne Tanna, Chaminade University

Introduction

Faculty from three colleges presented innovative service-learning courses in which programs were developed in the community to address specific needs of school-age children, senior citizens, and homeless adults.

The first of these unique programs was presented by Ruth Zealand and Dorothy Larkin from the College of New Rochelle. Their presentation outlined their inter-professional and inter-departmental course for education and nursing students entitled, Creative Conflict Resolution and Peer Mediation in Schools and Communities. The second innovative program was presented by Jean Coppola, Pace University, and Barbara Thomas, Westchester Community College, and highlighted their accomplishments in the field of gerontechnology. Finally, the third inventive program was presented by Prof. Wayne Tanna, Chaminade University, who discussed his institution’s success in connecting disadvantaged populations with qualified students who can help with the filing of U.S. income taxes.

Creative Conflict Resolution and Peer Mediation at the College of New Rochelle

This course, offered for the past two years to education and nursing students, was developed by the authors in response to rising incidents of violence and conflict in school and in healthcare environments. The objectives of the course are linked to national, state, and interstate professional standards, to core tenets of Creative Response To Conflict (Prutzman, 2011), and to peace education theories. They are:

  • Describe the fundamental concepts of conflict resolution and peer mediation in the schools.
  • Utilize communication strategies that support affirmation, cooperation, bias awareness, and conflict resolution.
  • Describe organizational strategies for facilitating integration of a peer mediation program.
  • Facilitate awareness of conflict resolution in a group experience.
  • Evaluate the process of conflict resolution and peer mediation in the fieldwork experience in pre-K, elementary, and secondary schools.

In response to the millennial students’ styles of learning, a variety of pedagogical methods are utilized to teach conflict and patterns of constructive conflict resolution. Several theories of learning are integrated throughout the course to facilitate aesthetic awareness and promote a deeper experience of empathy; they are: Carper’s (1978) multiple ways of knowing—empirics, aesthetics, ethical, personal, sociopolitical and unknowing (Carper, Averell & Clements, 2006); Gardner’s (2000) multiple intelligences; and Lincoln Center Institute’s Capacities for Imaginative learning (Imaginationnow.files, 2011). The following tenets of conflict resolution, adapted from Creative Response to Conflict (Prutzman, 2011) are emphasized:

  • Conflict exists and is a normal part of life;
  • We can grow through conflict;
  • We can learn the skills to solve conflict peacefully and continue to improve our conflict resolution skills;
  • There are usually alternative solutions to conflict, rather than one right answer;
  • Feelings are important;
  • We can strive to create fair-fair or win-win solutions when we use our conflict resolution skills to try to satisfy everyone’s needs; and
  • Appreciation and acceptance of each other’s differences can often prevent or reduce conflict.

The in-class format includes establishing norms for respectful and confidential communication, dialogue, lectures, group practice, and self-reflection. At the beginning of the course, faculty guide students to participate in a series of team-building and partner-sharing activities. These sessions facilitate students’ motivation and engagement. Subsequent sessions, interspersed with individual, dyadic, and group experiential activities, incorporate role play and simulation. Activities include practice of mindfulness, emotional regulation, and empathy building techniques. In addition, students experience drama, storytelling, and walking an empathy labyrinth (Weiner, 2006). Throughout the course, they explore others’ perspectives and points of view.

Specific communication activities support affirmation, cooperation, bias awareness and constructive conflict resolution. While students practice active listening and paraphrasing, other skills are learned, including mirroring one another physically and listening while striving to suspend judgment from preconceived notions. Students also identify their own triggers and defense mechanisms, and practice new learned techniques of coping. Historically, students grasp these concepts easily as they prepare to work with students in schools.

Readings on conflict and its resolution are geared towards children, young-adult, and adult readers. Students find developmentally appropriate books to read to students in preschool, a hospital pediatric clinic waiting room, and grade school settings. The literature helps expand students’ awareness of the concepts of conflict resolution. How to read aloud is modeled by faculty, and then generalized by students to their respective audiences in fieldwork settings.

After instruction and training, students begin their work with children. The first placement for all is a preschool setting. Then, students are assigned to an elementary school or an outpatient pediatric facility. The college students read and discuss stories of conflict and resolution strategies with the children. Subsequently, they teach mini-conflict resolution sessions that emphasize strategies the children could use. Classroom teachers report that these sessions are highly successful, and that their class members continue to practice what they learned from the college students.

The latter part of the course focuses upon peer mediation. Students initially simulate the mediation process in practice sessions. Students synthesize the content presented in the course as they take the roles of disputants and advocates/mediators who suspend judgment and ask open-ended questions, listen, paraphrase, refocus and reframe issues, and help disputants clarify and discover other possible perspectives and resolution strategies. Some students have reported that subsequent to instruction, they mediated in real life experiences.

Assessments for the course are based on classroom performance, fieldwork, reflective journals, quizzes, and a final research paper presented in class. The success of this course has been reported by administrators from each of the fieldwork sites, who have requested that future students from this course be placed with them. Moreover, education and nursing students have reported that taking this course made significant and constructive changes to their personal and professional relationships.

Intergenerational Computing at Pace University and Westchester Community College

In cooperation with and encouragement from the local county’s office of Senior Programs and Services, as well as reacting to the surging baby boomer population, this service-learning course helps senior citizens learn essential technology skills so the world will “not leave them behind”. Schools that have similar programs fall short by not infusing academic service learning and the depth of research into their programs. Students in these programs volunteer at non-profit agencies with little or no classroom training or readings. For the first several weeks of the Intergenerational Computing course, students prepare with readings in service learning, gerontechnology, and social gerontology. Thus, the students learn the consequences of the process of aging as it pertains to utilizing technology. The students also are trained for sensitivity towards older adults, as well as accessibility options in the Microsoft and Apple operating systems. Moreover, students learn about assistive technology adaptations and devices. After several weeks of readings, and intense training, students proceed to an orientation at the community partner. Community partners include senior centers, nursing homes, assisted living, and independent senior living residences. During the orientation, elderly residents who are interested in taking the computer course introduce themselves to the college students, and vice versa. A quick charismatic random pairing transpires between the older adults and college students. Paired students and older adults commence at least seven weeks of individualized lessons tailored around a core of base skills in addition to specific needs of the senior citizens.

As with most service-learning courses, the students reflect on their activities and learning. Student group assignments help facilitate teamwork for their term projects and tutoring sessions at the community agencies. Students also engage in weekly blogs based on their readings, and reactions to time spent with their older adults.

Pre- and post-research instruments are administered to the older adults, as well as the undergraduate students. Results show a statistically significant positive change in attitude and advocacy of the undergraduates toward older adults, in addition to improved cognitive functioning and quality of life in the older adults. This program has grown with various offshoot projects, partnerships with non-profits, and research collaborations across the country. One long-term goal of the program is to increase cognitive functioning in older adults via a website so any senior citizen, independent of the ability to afford cognitive brain exercise software, can improve their mental fitness.

For further information see the project website: http://csis.pace.edu/gerontechnology/

An Effective Community Partnership at Chaminade University

While attention is rightfully being directed towards many new ways of reaching Millennial students, technology, new ways of teaching and changing how we do things are neither the only nor the best ways to accomplish our real task as educators of empowering the future. With all due respect to these new ways of adapting to changing times, some of us still contend that “old school” is still the best school.

At Chaminade University, accounting and business students have assisted the elderly, homeless, and working-poor communities for over 25 years by providing free income tax preparation and financial literacy training. The current partnership with Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii began in 1998. In these service-based experiential learning settings, students develop technical competencies and gain better understanding of diversity and government policies that affect those who are poor or do not have a mastery of the English language.

Students and community volunteers continue to conduct tax clinics each spring semester at homeless transition, domestic violence, and emergency homeless shelters on the island of Oahu. Partnerships with the community include members of the for-profit, non-profit, and governmental sectors.

Student tax aides are usually accounting and business administration majors who enroll in tax classes. Preparation comes from both the special tax training classes that occur before or at the very start of the spring semester and continuing education that occurs in and out of the classroom. Other students are volunteers who have participated in prior years. Many volunteers come from different areas of the Hawaii community.

Students are tested for competency by the professor and the IRS. Students are given numerous assessments of their tax law and interviewing abilities. The training provided to students begins with a national certification examination administered by the IRS, and continues with structured reflections and tax law assignments. The students involved in this service-learning project demonstrated increases in proficiency in several areas of the academic tax and business ethics classes. They also score higher on course examinations than students that do not participate in the project. Practical assessment also occurs after completion of every tax return as IRS rules require two quality reviews, one immediately after the return is completed and a second prior to the electronic transmission to the IRS. In addition, the office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) conducts random “shopper” tests and has never reported deficiencies in performance of any of our program’s volunteers.

Intentional learning outcomes include technical skill development in doing a tax return, interviewing skills, research of tax law issues, collaborative working with other professionals, computer tax software application, and gaining a better understanding of diversity and government policy that affects those who are poor or who do not have a mastery of the English language.

The project is designed so that those acquiring services through the students learn how to do their own taxes and are enabled to assist others to do something at some later time. Clients assisted by the students also become teachers of the students. They teach the students their own kinds of wisdom, humility, and perseverance. And they teach all of us that so many live only too close to the reality of poverty in their lives, and, but for a few breaks, could be there as well. It seems experience is still one of the best teachers.

Effectiveness

The main community partners (United Way, Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii, the Family and Individual Self Sufficiency Program, The Hawaii Alliance for Community Based Economic Development and the IRS) conduct needs assessments and also administer quality assurance surveys to all users of these services. These external assessments report a high level of client satisfaction, with there being no difference in satisfaction between student volunteers and CPA and tax attorney volunteers that are also providing these services. Records for the past six years indicate that this project has helped individuals and families to receive over $1,000,000 in otherwise non-claimed refunds. Over the lifetime of this collaborative work, over $5,000,000 has been recovered for eligible individuals and families.

Students report that significant learning and social awareness has occurred. Student perspectives have been validated by their reflections, both those assigned as a part of the class and reflections publicly documented by the news media. Many students return after graduation to assist this population. Another indicator of success is the number of students who have found employment with CPA firms soon after graduation.

References

Carper, B. A. (1978). Fundamental patterns of knowing in nursing, Advances in Nursing Science 1(1), 13–24.

Clements, P. T. & Averill, J.B. (2006). Finding patterns of knowing in the work of Florence Nightingale. Nursing Outlook, 54, 268-274.

Gardner, H. (2000). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st Century. New York: Basic Books.

Lincoln Center Institute. Capacities for imaginative learning. Retrieved from: http://imaginationnow.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/capacities.pdf

Prutzman, P. (1981). Children's creative response to conflict. Peace & Change, 7: 77–79. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0130.1981.tb00454.x

Weiner, M. (2006). The Empathy Labyrinth. Retrieved from: http://www.theempathylabyrinth.com

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