Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Towards community service learning in Biology

Today I met with the BIOL121 course coordinator and with representatives of UBC's Community Service Learning (CSL) and Learning Exchange initiatives. We're trying to develop resources that will let students in my first year Biology 121 classes get academic credit for helping teach biology to children in inner-city schools.

Last year about 65 of my students did this as an optional project. Their reports on their projects were worth 15% of their course mark, making their midterm and final exams count proportionately less. This year we don't have enough CSL/Learning Exchange support to coordinate independent projects with the schools, so students will be limited to doing the separately-organized "Reading Week" projects, which are planned and organized by graduate student volunteers.

But in future years I want to offer students opportunities for relatively independent projects. One component we will need is one or more teaching assistants who will guide the BIOL121 students in their interactions with the schools, themselves under the guidance of Learning Exchange staff. We're applying to the department heads for the funds to pay this TA (initially one TA for one year). The other approach is with UBC's CSL and Learning Exchange staff, who have the contacts to work with the school teachers to find out what kinds of projects they would value. (Otherwise our attempts at "service" will just be nuisances for them.)

The CSL and Learning Exchange people are wonderfully keen about this. Because a major component of BIOL121 is ecology, we can emphasize sustainability (one of UBC's big buzzwords at present). They also say that successfully incorporating community service learning into BIOL121 would be a powerful example to the rest of the UBC community.

1 comment:

Alia Dharamsi said...

Hi Professor!
I am very interested in helping with inner city schools- i have been deeply involved with a few schools and would appreciate any information on how/when i can help. If I can do anything to get the process started please let me know! I am behind this 100%!
-Alia Dharamsi