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Frequently Asked Questions by Faculty about Transformational Learning

Does service learning work or is it just a fad in higher education?

Service learning is very effective. Hundreds of investigations regarding its impact have been conducted over the past 25 years. Students who engage in service learning perform better academically. They have higher graduation rates and are more satisfied with their college experience. They become more engaged citizens and demonstrate greater cultural and racial understanding. They often develop socially, emotionally, and morally because of this work.

Is transformational service learning different than regular volunteering?

Both involve community service, but differ in a critical way. Service learning connects closely with the information in your class, whereas volunteer work doesn’t necessarily do so. Specifically, students engage in service learning when they can see the connections between class material and community outreach. In addition, service learning involves students reflecting on their work through assignments such as journals, papers, or other projects.

How many hours should students volunteer for transformational learning?

We generally recommend a total of 20 hours during the semester, although instructors are free to determine the amount that makes sense for their particular course. Students will typically distribute this time over the span of a few months, spending about 3 hours per week at the site. Previous research has shown that 20 hours is the floor for producing significant and enduring educational benefits. However, some instructors have chosen more time, and others have decided upon less.

Is it hard for instructors to use transformational learning?

Learning any new teaching technique does involve an initial adjustment, but most of your colleagues who have used transformational learning have explained that it was much easier than they originally thought. The Mansfield Institute will help you find sites for your students. We are happy to provide consultation and have grant programs that provide assistance, too. Keep in mind that you’d also be substituting the transformational learning and its related assignments for one of your current assignments (e.g., a term paper), so the amount of grading wouldn’t necessarily be any greater.

Should transformational learning be required of all students, or should they be given another option?

If transformational learning will be required as the sole option for your class, you will want to provide advanced notification to avoid later problems. Individual departments and the Mansfield Institute can appropriately designate classes in the course finder. Specifically, the attribute of "transformational service learn" can be selected for the class. In addition, instructors can state that there is a community service requirement for the class in the notes section of the course finder. Beyond the issue of notification, it is up to the individual

instructor whether there will be an alternative option for students. This largely depends on the goals for the class.

Do students have time to do transformational learning?

Many students at Roosevelt have multiple obligations, including school, work, and family responsibilities. Students sometimes express concern that they cannot find the time for volunteer work. Fitting in the 2 to 3 hours per week for a transformational learning requirement can be a challenge, but we have found that most can fit that in, and they are glad they did. In actuality, some students who were uncertain that they would be able to serve decide to continue to volunteer after the course ends. Instructors also can remind students that their class may not involve another activity that would have otherwise been assigned (e.g., extensive time conducting library research) to ensure sufficient opportunities for transformational learning.

Should all students perform service with the same community partner or should I provide them with different choices?

We have had instructors at chose both strategies. Professors find it easier to make connections between their course material and the site when all of their students are in the same location. It is also easier to coordinate when there is only one person that you need to contact in the community. On the other hand, allowing students to choose their site from a list of possibilities (or even propose their own placements for your approval) provides them with greater scheduling flexibility. Students can chose a location that is more conveniently located to their home or that connects better with their personal interests.

What sorts of assignments can I use to allow students to apply or reflect on their transformational learning experience?

As mentioned earlier, reflection and application are two critical ingredients that differentiate volunteer work from service learning. The most versatile written assignment is journaling. In addition to writing about their site activities, instructors can ask students to describe how their community outreach connects to course concepts in concrete ways. Other possibilities include designing a multimedia presentation that documents their site work, creating a document or product needed for the community partner, or leading an event on behalf of the community partner and providing related documentation. A lengthier list of resources for designing assignments can be found through the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse.

How do I incorporate social justice to convert service learning into transformational learning?

Most instructors begin by selecting partners that serve underprivileged people or socially marginalized communities. It is important that students understand not only the individual experiences of the people whom they assist, but also comprehend broader inequalities and policies that contribute to social injustice.

Transformational learning is enhanced when students engage in concrete actions to meaningfully address these social problems. For example, undergraduates in Jan Bone’s section of Writing Social Justice (LIBS 201) developed online and print resources for victims of domestic violence. Students in Kathie Kane Willis’s criminal justice class helped draft a state law to grant limited immunity to drug users who are overdosing and to those who reach out on behalf of a drug user in an overdose situation. Students in Maggie Leininger’s Art as Activism class developed public art co-created with homeless youth to raise awareness about the plight of these teens. Undergraduates in Steve Meyers’s youth violence seminar learned how to write letters to the editor of newspapers and advocated for responsive policy change. Roosevelt University students developed multimedia videos about promoting child literacy in Logan Square in Tammy Oberg de la Garza’s class. All of these illustrate how the Roosevelt University’s commitment to social justice can come to life through transformational learning.

Will using transformational learning take away time from my research? Will this help me achieve tenure?

Transformational learning can stimulate faculty members to pursue new avenues of research in partnership with community organizations. In this approach, university faculty use their research skills to address applied questions that are of mutual interest to you and to the community partner. This is called engaged scholarship and can lead to peer-reviewed publications that are valued for tenure. Because of its mission, Roosevelt also values community outreach that is integral to transformational learning.

Will I have to teach differently if I use transformational learning? Do I need to re-work my syllabus for my class?

Most faculty members report that they do use some class time to assist with the logistics of finding placements. However, most of the discussions about the community partnerships focus on how students’ experiences elucidate the class material. Discussions often become richer and more nuanced, given that students have first-hand knowledge based on their transformational learning work. Classes otherwise don’t necessarily need an overhaul. Service learning experts often equate it with the scope of changes that you’d make if you were to adopt a different textbook or set of readings for your class. Campus Compact has a database of syllabi using service learning that can provide you with ideas about how your class can be adapted. The Mansfield Institute also provides consultations to individual faculty members in order to help.

Do I need to ask my department or program chair for permission to use transformational learning?

The decision to use transformational learning rests primarily with the individual instructor. Faculty members often discuss this with their department or program area chair for purposes of coordination and to see if there are any unusual considerations, but transformational learning is a teaching tool that instructors can select in order to further the learning objectives for their class.

How do I know if I am doing transformational learning properly? What happens if I need help?

The Mansfield Institute is always ready to help. Whether you need feedback, consultations, placement ideas, or resource suggestions, we’re only an email, phone call, or a meeting away.