USING SERVICE-LEARNING PROJECTS TO BRING SOCIOLOGY TO LIFE IN OUR CLASSROOMS
Francis Adu-Febiri, PhD
For the past six years I have built into my sociology courses the pedagogy of service-learning. Service-Learning is about teachers guiding their students to “best provide meaningful service to a community, agency or organization while simultaneously gaining new skills, knowledge, and understanding as an integrated aspect of their academic [or job training] program” (Cress et al (2005, p. 1). In effect, service-learning projects provide students opportunities to apply the concepts and theories they learn in Sociology courses to problem-solve for families, communities, institutions, organizations, regions, countries and/or the world. Service learning is different from co-op, practicum and internship in that students do the project while still taking the course; they do not have to complete the semester course before they participate in the practical activities.
I use the following processes to guide students’ service-learning project selection, design, implementation and reporting:
1. Students are asked to use their passion and any sociological concepts of the course to select what they see as a major need in Canadian or Global society and show why they think it is an important need.
2. Based on what they identify as the cause(s) and patterns of this need they propose a creative idea to meet the need
3. They produce a design that shows realistic tasks, logistics, timelines, etc., to make the creative idea visible
4. They implement the design to practically to meet the need.
5. They produce a reflective report on this project, using their reflections to assess any relevant sociological concept(s) and paradigm(s) introduced in this course.
There are two factors that have compelled me to make service-learning projects an integral part of my Sociology courses:
1. The apparent disconnect between sociological analysis of and practical solutions to social problems: For many years when I introduce my sociology students to the topics of poverty, social inequality and inequity, and other social problems the scathing question that students ask me was, what practical solutions does sociology provide to these issues?
2. Students’ disengagement from sociological concepts and theories: In my classrooms when I refer to sociological concepts and theories that students are expected to know from their previous sociology courses, most of the students are unable to recall their meanings and applications.
In order to resolve these two major issues in the teaching and learning sociology, I use service-learning projects
(a) as pedagogy to connect sociology to practical ways of transforming lives in the social world and
(b) to meaningfully engage students in sociological concepts and theories to consolidate their understanding sustainably.
Students have done many service-learning projects in my sociology classes. Projects range from microfinance for poor women entrepreneurs, feminine hygiene products for schoolgirls, and mobile phones for the poor, through Indigenous peoples diabetes awareness and community empowerment projects to various educational resources projects and vocational education in developing countries. These projects engage students to hone thinking application skills about concepts such as poverty, inequity/inequality, gender and patriarchy, sustainability, development, community, racialization, social construction, culture, political economy, human agency, and the human factor as well as sociological paradigms of functionalism, social conflict, interactionism, feminism, and structuration. In addition, students experience the practice of humanitarian qualities to develop deep connections with our common humanity.