Element 1: Faculty Training and Designated Team Time
All faculty who participated in the CES program attended an in-person training Institute on service-learning and environmental education. The Institute provided instruction on: the basics of service-learning pedagogy; establishing community partnerships; managing service-learning projects; education on environmental challenges and sustainability efforts; student-learning outcomes and 21st century skill development; assessment tools; and reflection. During the Institute, faculty were given time to work with their own teams and develop an action plan for their CES courses/projects (approximately 4-5 hours). These action plans created systems to maintain campus/community partnerships, developed processes to train and support faculty to integrate environmental principles, and established tracking/evaluation methods. Faculty were also given the opportunity to share ideas with faculty members from other campuses to get initial feedback on their proposed project ideas.
Element 2: Establishment and Support of Interdisciplinary Faculty Teams
CES set out to provide a strong example of successful interdisciplinary collaboration. From the beginning, various stakeholders such as campus deans, community engagement officers or Campus Compact staff recruited faculty from different disciplines to comprise each team and collaborate on service-learning project(s). The recruitment ranged from targeting individual faculty members who had expressed interest in community-engaged projects to alerting the whole campus, including adjunct faculty, of this initiative. The campus sub-grant served as an incentive for faculty to work together to implement the community project and the starting point for collaboration.
To support faculty with their CES participation, each team had access to ongoing technical assistance support from Maine Campus Compact and the Campus Compact offices in each state. Each team also had a designated project manager who helped to coordinate efforts and ensure that grant benchmarks were being met. Some teams had a community engagement staff member serve as manager while others had one of the faculty on the team take on this responsibility. We found that a reliable project manager is central to team success. In future iterations, campuses could elect to offer added support and incentives to the faculty or staff member assuming this role. It was also observed that having institutional support such as a civic engagement office or dedicated staff on campus was helpful for faculty who were new to the service-learning pedagogy by providing connections to potential community partners and brainstorming initial project ideas.
For added support, each campus team also had access to a curriculum specialist who provided ongoing assistance (10 hours per campus) for faculty course development, resource needs, and project implementation. Although not all campuses utilized the curriculum specialist due to time constraints and scheduling conflicts, the teams that met with the curriculum specialist in-person explained that it was helpful to have designated time to work with their team and have an outside person facilitate and coordinate this interdisciplinary collaboration. It also seemed that many faculty used the curriculum specialist as a “resource hotline” by sending email requests for resources or scheduling a phone call to walk through an issue. Cumulatively, the framework, training and resources provided through CES addressed many of the common barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration.
Element 3: Incorporation of Student-led Initiative/Presentations
In a prior iteration of this model funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, administrators noted that the most successful community projects often included a student-led initiative, such as a presentation to a town council on contamination of local lakes, an interactive forum on environmental issues with middle school students, or leadership of an on-campus event featuring film screenings, activities, and roundtable discussions. Given this promising feedback, CES administrators decided to make the student-led initiative/presentation a required component of this program.
A tangible example of a successful CES student-led initiative is illustrated in a Sustainable Tourism Planning course from the University of Maine, where students developed a sustainable tourism plan for western Maine and presented it to their community partner, the Maine Woods Consortium. Students participated and led activities which included conducting attraction and service inventories; product development prioritization; market segmentation analysis; Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis; and stakeholder analysis. The information and activities conducted throughout the semester led to the development of a plan with suggestions for marketing, visitor management, and organizational management strategies.
As reflected in this example and others, the student-led course component allowed CES faculty to provide students with opportunities to harness their learning and leadership development through greater accountability for the community projects. Correspondingly, both faculty and students in CES courses provided overwhelmingly positive feedback about the student-led initiative/presentation. Among the faculty who responded to an open-ended survey question, 98% indicated that the student-led presentation or initiative met both course and community goals. Additionally, half of the faculty observed that the student-led initiative allowed the students to participate in real-world application of the course subject matter. For example, one faculty member’s course goals were for students to learn general principles of tree identification and to partner with a local non-profit organization to conduct a citywide survey of recently planted trees. The faculty member reported, “The students took ownership and pride in the surveys and guides, and (I think) surprised themselves by how much they knew about local trees when they were done. I have received feedback from the partner organization that our assistance was extremely helpful.”
On the student side, feedback was similarly positive. At the CES program’s outset, the hope was that the student-led initiative would provide students with more deeply rooted experiences that would strengthen their learning and 21st century skill development. Accordingly, the CES survey results revealed that these added program components did increase student self-efficacy, per self-reported findings. When asked about connections between the course materials and the CES program, specifically the student-led initiative or community presentation, 96% of student respondents reported at least one connection. Sixty-three percent reported that this connection was the acquisition of knowledge over the course of the semester. For example, one student remarked, “The two were 100% connected. Everything we learned in class materialized with [the field project], and the end result was not only knowledge, but a motivation to pursue discussed solutions.” Many students who reported an increase in knowledge also reported that they gained an awareness of themselves, the environment, other people’s perspectives and the course material. One student wrote: “I believe that, by planning and implementing our student-led projects, we were better able to understand the material being covered in class. It made us think about the stakeholders…[and] face issues from different perspectives.”
Element 4: Designation of Student-learning Outcomes that include 21st Century Skill Development and emphasize Transferable Skills
Given the growing emphasis on the importance of 21st century skill development for addressing capacious problems and for future job prospects, the CES program placed a heavy emphasis on the incorporation of the following skills in the design of courses and student-led initiatives:
- teamwork and collaboration
- communication and outreach
- critical thinking
- curiosity, imagination
- public speaking
- innovation, entrepreneurship
- ability to be responsive, flexible, and adaptive throughout a project
Aware that faculty face challenges when incorporating student learning outcomes to encompass the acquisition of the 21st century and transferable skills, and have also questioned how to assess this learning, CES administrators asked faculty two important questions at the Institute: 1.) What would you like your students to be able to do after they have finished your course? and; 2.) What type of service project would help students develop 21st century skills/abilities?
Element 5: Establishment of Reciprocal Community Partnerships that address Local Issues
Findings from the CES program suggest that cultivating partnerships between communities and higher education institutions is a promising strategy to improve student motivation for tackling complex community problems, such as environmental challenges, and to increase student confidence to engage in problem-solving activities. Since the inception of service-learning practices on campuses, an ongoing challenge has been how to create authentic, reciprocal community partnerships. A few CES faculty questioned this as well, pondering whether their project was making an impact. Students, however, overwhelmingly reported in their open-ended survey responses that working with a community partner had a strong influence on their learning and skills development.
In the CES program, we observed two different approaches to establishing community partnerships dependent on the needs of the campus and community: 1) internal partnerships within the campus or a department on campus, and 2) external partnerships with an organization off campus. Of the 75 CES projects, 20 partnered with an organization or department on their campus (some in collaboration with an external partner as well).
Amendment 1: Provision of a Typology for Course Design and Faculty Collaboration
Colleagues in Vermont (Coleman and Williams Howe, in prep) developed commonalities in course design and collaboration across the 18 faculty teams, resulting in a new typology for interdisciplinary service-learning that is emerging out of the data on course design analyzed for this project. Three different ways that faculty incorporated service-learning into their classes were observed. First, some faculty focused their entire class project around the service-learning project and selected content that directly supported the project. Second, some faculty developed service-learning projects that served as a central component of the course. Third, some faculty developed small service-learning projects that did not constitute major components of the course.
Trends in the way that faculty collaborated with the colleagues in their interdisciplinary teams were also observed, as illustrated in Table 1 below. This emerging typology may help to inform and support new faculty as they incorporate service-learning into their courses. First, some faculty integrated service-learning and environmental stewardship into their discipline through individual courses (A: Single Class Infusions) but did not collaborate with other courses beyond supporting one another with curriculum development/campus training. Other faculty (B: Cross-Course Learning) collaborated by creating shared assignments (e.g. readings and reflection activities) and shared events (e.g. final presentations and guest speakers) for the students to experience all together, thereby creating a learning community for students across multiple courses. Finally, some faculty (C: Multi-Class Collaborative Projects) collaborated by creating joint service-learning projects that students across all courses worked on together.
CES Service-Learning Typology
- A. Single Class Infusion: Community project integrated to varying degrees into one, stand-alone course: from one assignment/small project to entire course focus.
- B. Cross-Course Learning: Two or more courses share events, presentations, discussions, readings, or assignments related to a community project.
- C. Multi-Class Collaborative Projects: Two or more courses, representing multiple disciplinary perspectives, share a community project.
Amendment 2: Provision of Faculty Incentives
CES survey results showed that faculty confidence in the design of their CES courses and in their ability to enhance student capacity to solve real-world problems increased significantly over time. Confidence in their ability to execute environmental community projects also increased, although not significantly. This slight increase in confidence was paired with a significant decrease in their motivation to execute community projects. Key reasons for the decrease in motivation cited in the qualitative data, including focus groups and follow-up conversations, included: lack of institutional support, time constraints, not being recognized or rewarded for this work, and lack of sufficient faculty stipends or course release time.
To address this decrease in motivation, CES administrators added the second key amendment to the CES model: provision of faculty incentives. Along with the training and support provided throughout the CES program, enhanced provision of faculty incentives is a key part of increasing motivation for integrating service-learning into courses and ensuring the success of this model. Although CES provided some incentives in the form of training, technical assistance support, and faculty sub-grants, CES administrators believe that additional incentives must come from higher education institutions to encourage faculty commitment. As revealed in the survey, 68% of the faculty respondents reported that momentum and actions are being taken on their campuses to further these types of projects and environmental initiatives. Conversely, while many faculty were optimistic about the increased awareness of environmental and community-based initiatives, 27% gave the overall impression that they were not convinced that significant change could occur in the existing landscape of their institution. One person wrote, “I think that our institution structure is set up in a way that obscures pathways to change and makes it quite difficult.” Another wrote, “Great potential, but it will need to be supported, incentivize, and appropriately evaluated as part of our tenure review.”