MARCH 28, 2007

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ECU first in state, few in nation to embed service-learning in curriculum

Imagine collecting a ton of dog food to help abandoned animals. How about amassing 3,000 cans of fruit and vegetables, or just reading to elementary school youngsters?

Those projects were organized by East Central University students in a principles of management class, but what could that possibly have to do with learning about management?

Such projects are part of service-learning, an additional method of teaching and a form of experiential learning that goes well beyond a textbook and benefits the community at the same time.

Next fall, East Central University will become the only university in Oklahoma and one of the few in the country where service-learning will be embedded into the academic curriculum. All beginning freshmen will be included in the new 30-hour requirement which can be met by taking two regular courses with a service-learning designation. Current students will not be affected.

“Virtually all the students who graduate from ECU will receive a service-learning experience as part of at least two of the classes they will take at the university,” said ECU President Richard Rafes.

“There are only a few schools in the nation where virtually all the students get that experience,” he said. “That’s different from many schools which only offer service-learning as an option.”

The new requirement does not mean any extra classes or work for students, Rafes said. This will only replace or enhance projects students already are doing.

“Service-learning was approved by the Faculty Senate and I appreciate the importance the faculty is placing on this initiative,” he said.

ECU’s service-learning classes can be either general education classes, courses required for a student’s major, or electives.

“Service-learning is a teaching method,” said Dr. Pat Fountain, ECU’s director of service-learning. “It ties community service and reflection to academic learning to meet community needs and help students practice what they are learning.”

It must meet an identified need as well as provide an opportunity for students to examine the connection between what the textbook says, how they were able to apply that to meet a community need and then better understand the material they are learning, he said.

Fountain has incorporated service-learning in his classes for several years. Why not do a project, he reasons, which includes those aspects, rather than just read about it in the textbook? That’s where such projects as collecting dog food and canned fruit and vegetables come in.

One group of students got a list of things a local family needed, including diapers, baby formula and charcoal.

“One student wondered if the charcoal was for the family to have a picnic,” Fountain said. “She didn’t realize that’s how the family cooked because they had no electricity. Her eyes got big and she said, ‘You mean there are people around here with kids who have no electricity?’

“I promise you,” he said, “in 20 years, what will they remember about ECU? Not chapter 16 in their textbook. They will remember how they used what they were learning to help someone.”

Contact: Jill Frye, ECU, (580) 310-5650