The University of Arizona

How to Learn on Your Feet

By Shelley Littin, University Communications | September 3, 2013
Students in Stephanie MacFarland's class SERP 197C: Introduction to Service-Learning and Meaningful Contributions to the Community learn about community service through discussion and application of a service learning project in the course of the semester. (Photo by Mark Reynolds)
Students in Stephanie MacFarland's class SERP 197C: Introduction to Service-Learning and Meaningful Contributions to the Community learn about community service through discussion and application of a service learning project in the course of the semester. (Photo by Mark Reynolds)

At the UA, students often find themselves stepping outside the traditional lecture hall and into the community, the lab or the field in more engaged courses.

Tired of sitting still in a lecture hall and scribbling notes for an hour or two?

The University of Arizona has a variety of classes branching out of the traditional lecture setting and, instead, engaging students in active learning, including community service and fieldwork.

Rather than to take a lab each week, undergraduates in Katrina Mangin's ECOL 450: Marine Discovery course teach elementary and middle school students about marine ecology during field trips to the UA campus and the Flandrau Science Center

Undergraduates in her class "learn by teaching rather than being taught," said Mangin, whose course is offered through the UA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in partnership with Flandrau.

"My students get the satisfaction of doing service by teaching children from the community. They develop their own presentation skills," Mangin said.

She said that the goals of the field trips for the children are to expose them to science in a fun and engaging way, and to introduce them to the university setting.

"We want to inspire them to want to go to college and to see it as an attainable goal," she also said. 

The service-centered goal is an integral component of many UA courses, which seek to expand student involvement beyond the traditional lecture setting.

"The class style benefits students by providing a rich platform of opportunities to increase their awareness, interest and engagement in solving real-life problems within their community and future communities in which they will live and work," said Stephanie MacFarland, who directs Project FOCUS and Teacher Preparation in Severe and Multiple Disabilities in the UA College of Education.

MacFarland co-teaches SERP 197C: Introduction to Service-Learning and Meaningful Contributions to the Community along with Mark Reynolds, a UA associate instructor, also in the college.

The course, which exposes students to service learning constructs through literature, discussion, reflection and application of a service-learning project, identifies service learning as an opportunity to identify the needs of a community.

The students will engage in 20 hours of service learning at a local nonprofit, and develop blogs reflecting upon their experiences using video, audio or writing while also developing a professional Twitter network based on service learning.

"Students are learning to develop and hone their problem solving, leadership and networking skills," said Reynolds, "and will collaborate with their respective community partners to become a valued contributor."

Collaboration also is a major component of TTE 200: Sustainability and Education, currently taught by Dennis Rosemartin, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies, and Deborah Barca, a doctoral student in the same department.

"This course explores the complex web of relationships between environmental, economic, educational and social systems," Rosemartin said. In the course, students must reflect on personal behaviors while also learning about public policies around social and environmental sustainability and also policy change.

"Using discussions as a fundamental component of the course creates opportunities for all the student voices to be heard. Everyone is encouraged to share their ideas and opinions so that we can co-construct new knowledge in the class," Rosemartin said.

"Emphasizing class discussions and having students work in small groups encourages the development of skills such as listening, presenting ideas, giving peer feedback and coming to a consensus,” he added.

The discussion-centered format is useful for instructors as well, he said. "Being able to hear students’ ideas and opinions is extremely useful for assessing students understanding of key topics, planning the next class based on students’ interests, and giving feedback or answering questions directly and immediately."

The course also requires students to engage in service learning projects with local organizations directly related to topics covered in the course.

Barca also teaches TTE 324: Science Methods, an upper-level teacher preparation course intended to prepare future teachers to become active educators.

"Classroom sessions begin with building a context for active learning of ideas from readings and discussions," and then branch out to involve the students in scientific investigations and teaching experiences," Barca said. 

"Most significant is the experience of Science Methods students teaching lessons at the Cooper Center for Environmental Learning to a visiting group of 4th or 5th graders from a Tucson school,” she said. In the Spring 2013, Barca took her science methods students to Tucson Village Farm for one day. There, they learned how to use outdoor settings to more readily engage in meaningful science learning. 

Sallie Marston, a professor in the UA School of Geography and Development teaches a UA Community and School Garden Workshop.

“The course revolves around consistent and engaged involvement with a Tucson school or community garden, participating in collective action for social change, social justice and a more sustainable world,” said Marston. “Its overall goal is to enable students to practice the skills and knowledge they are gaining through classroom instruction in the community.”

Another example is Project SOAR, which stands for Student Outreach, Access and Resiliency in Education, which Mary Irwin directs. 

"Service-learning courses are intended to push students to connect the theories and concepts learned in a formal academic setting with the lessons they’re taking from their experience at the service site," Irwin said, adding that Project SOAR differs greatly from standard lecture courses.

"It combines introduction to the theories and research conducted in the areas of college access, outreach, academic achievement and resiliency with a volunteerism component," said Irwin. "Students are exposed to these factors as they serve as mentors to students at eight under-resourced middle schools in the Tucson community."

Courses such as these have a profound impact on the community, Irwin added. 

"Over 25,000 mentoring hours have been logged by SOAR students and over 2,300 middle school students have benefited from a SOAR mentor since 2005," she said, adding that 72 percent of middle school mentees surveyed agreed that "their mentors had increased their interest in going to college."