Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Transformational Learning Courses at Roosevelt University

The Mansfield Institute has created and is happy to share a comprehensive list of transformational learning courses offered at the University during the 2010 - 2011 academic year. These include 22 classes during the Fall 2010 semester (which had a total enrollment of more than 400 students), and 22 class sections that are being offered during Spring 2011.

Click here to download the description of the wide range of transformational learning classes.

Collectively, these courses are taught at the downtown and Schaumburg campuses across a range of disciplines, such as education, psychology, criminal justice, history, sociology, art, economics, and journalism. Regardless of the discipline, these transformational learning courses serve as the capstone course for the Certificate in Social Justice Studies, which provides students with conceptual and evaluative tools for examining many social injustices.

Finding Community Sites for Transformational Learning

One important ingredient to successful transformational service-learning is finding community partners with whom you can collaborate. Some instructors have contacts that they can use, but others feel like they are starting from scratch in this process.

We understand that reaching out into the community without a plan or assistance can be intimidating, and faculty members should realize that there are resources available to help. Fortunately, there are many ways to make this step in transformational learning easier.

Before exploring potential sites for your students, be sure to consider what sort of experiences or service work makes sense given the focus of your class. Service-learning is most beneficial when students clearly can see the connections between the course on the one hand (in terms of topics, lecture material, readings, or skills that the professor wants to develop) and the field work on the other. Admittedly, some disciplines will have community sites that are relatively self-evident, whereas others may require some creativity (i.e., instructors in fields that are less applied may have to consider how community members could potentially use the skills that the discipline has to offer).

Instructors also have to decide whether they will allow students to perform their transformational service-learning with a primary partner (such that all students will work at the same site), or if a range of sites will be preferable. There are advantages and disadvantages of both approaches. Collaborating with a single community partner provides a greater amount of coherence and focus for transformational learning, and can deepen the connection between Roosevelt and the site. However, it can pose logistical or scheduling problems for those students who have difficulty reaching the site because of geographic or time issues. Allowing the students to chose their sites has the advantage of greater flexibility. Students can ask the instructor to approve a placement that reflects their particular area of interest relative to the course focus and that meets their scheduling needs. However, this option requires students to be more active in the search process, and it can be more cumbersome for instructors to ensure that all students are at appropriate sites and are performing their duties well.

How can professors find sites after these decisions are made? Here are concrete resources offered by the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation (MISJT) and beyond:

1. There are easy-to-access databases of sites. The first one is Volunteermatch.org. This is an extensive listing of community agencies, grouped by theme and location. Each is actively seeking volunteers. This is perhaps the most frequently used database nation-wide for professors to find service-learning placements.

There are also databases of sites that provide services that are arranged by location and service type. My personal favorite is Community Resources Online. Professors can easily generate a list of sites that assist populations that connect in with their course themes listed on the pull-down menus (e.g., illness, abuse, financial planning, citizenship preparation, crime prevention). Keep in mind that this site lists agencies rather than volunteer opportunities; however, a follow-up call may allow you to determine partnership potential.

2. Contact the Mansfield Institute or our in-house colleagues for assistance! You can email Steve Meyers (Mansfield Professor of Social Justice) at smeyers@roosevelt.edu or call at 312-341-6363 directly.

We have two main channels for assisting faculty in finding placements. First, the Mansfield Institute launched its initiative to disrupt the "cradle to prison pipeline." This refers to how many social factors contribute to the disproportional incarceration of minority youth. We have formed a range of partnerships with community organizations around this theme in areas such as education, juvenile justice/corrections, social services, neighborhood development, and more. Nancy Michaels (nmichaels@roosevelt.edu or 312-341-2150), Program Coordinator at the Mansfield Institute, would be happy to see if there are connections between your class and our partners.

Second, we are fortunate to welcome Jennifer Tani as the university's new Director of Community Engagement. Jennifer has a wealth of experience collaborating with community organizations and agencies, and she is willing to assist faculty in finding potential service-learning placements as well. She can be reached at jtani@roosevelt.edu or 312-341-2375.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Transformational Learning at Ruiz School

Undergraduate students from Roosevelt University have had the unique opportunity to continue their quest to become the teacher leaders of the future in the south and west side neighborhoods of Chicago. These areas of the city are culturally diverse in many positive ways, but also experience difficult challenges, such as elevated crime rates, high student mobility rates, issues regarding immigration, student violence, and in some cases socio-economic despair.

These urban settings are not reminiscent of where many Roosevelt University undergraduates have grown up or attended schools. However, there is something about the experiences they have had as part of a transformational learning course at Roosevelt that has compelled them to stay and become a part of these communities.

In the College of Education, Dr. Elizabeth Meadows has incorporated transformational service-learning into her pre-student teaching class to help solidify her students’ knowledge and teaching skills. Her students attend her seminar and spend one day a week in a kindergarten through 6th grade classroom in a public school on the south side of Chicago. In the field, Roosevelt students initially provide small group and one-on-one instruction; they progress to teaching a specific subject area each week. This process requires careful planning and coordination with the mentor teachers in the classroom. Dr. Meadows visits each elementary classroom throughout the semester and uses her observations to enrich her students’ learning during the seminar discussions. In the spirit of reciprocity, the principal of Irma C. Ruiz Elementary School, Mr. Dana Butler, co-teaches several seminar sessions that are held at Ruiz and shares his invaluable knowledge and experience with the undergraduate students.

One way that students are typically evaluated in a transformational learning class is through journaling. In their journals, Dr. Meadows’ students think critically about their experiences. They consider why teachers do things in certain ways, examine their own assumptions, and speculate about how they would handle certain situations if they were the teacher.

Transformational learning has allowed these undergraduates to serve in communities that many had not visited. This powerful experience has also motivated them to work in urban education, and several have requested additional teacher preparation experiences at Ruiz School. Several of these students will be doing their student teaching at Ruiz. After two years of hosting Roosevelt University undergraduates at his school, Mr. Butler has seen the positive effects for his young students’ learning and for his school as well.

For more information, contact Prof. Elizabeth Meadows at emeadows@roosevelt.edu or Mr. Dana Butler at dabutler1@cps.k12.il.us. Mr. Butler is a Roosevelt Alumnus (Master of Arts in Educational Administration and Supervision, Class of 1998).

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reading about the Past, Acting in the Streets: Social Justice and Transformational Learning

As Erik Gellman’s students read and discuss historical scholarship about urban problems and social movements, they collaborate with community organizers, union members, and neighborhood activists whose struggles for justice today speak to these historical movements. Dr. Gellman, an Assistant Professor the Department of History and Philosophy, not only offers students an opportunity to learn history, but to help contribute to it through the use of transformational learning by combining class work with innovative service in the community.

His history students have ventured out into Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods to learn about urban issues of social justice such as transportation inequality, environmental racism, and exploitative working conditions. They have walked picket lines and participated in delegations with workers to convince employers of the humanity and rights of workers. At UNITE-HERE Local 1, for example, they have taken to the streets to become part of the longest strike in America. Other students from Dr. Gellman’s class have conducted interviews, performed research for community partners, and helped prepare for boycotts and demonstrations.

Importantly, these Roosevelt University undergraduates have had the chance to meet and talk with dedicated and experienced community organizers and workers. This allows students to see knowledge as coming from dedicated people rather than relying solely on traditional sources of information disseminated inside classrooms. Transformational learning has encouraged students to put civil rights and union movements into a longer and more vivid historical context.

Dr. Gellman has a number of contacts with community partners around the city that has facilitated his use of service-learning. He and his students have collaborated with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, a Latino based environmental organization. In conjunction with organizers affiliated with Jobs with Justice, his students have taken part in city-wide campaigns that address workers’ rights. Other Roosevelt University students have collaborated with UNITE- HERE Local 1, a long time partner of Dr. Gellman’s. It has been most helpful when the organizers put students to work on pre-existing projects rather than host them or create work for them. This process ensures that the relationship is beneficial for both the student at Roosevelt and for the community partner, which is a crucial component of transformational learning.

Dr. Gellman’s students write weekly response papers in which he encourages them to reflect on both historical readings and their field experiences. Students have compared neighborhood politics, class-based coalitions, and urban community protests to 20th century political and cultural movements. Students have tied their community experiences to class discussions about race, class, and gender. They have also drawn on their field work as they have analyzed past and present organizational strategies to amass power for social change. The use of transformational learning allows Dr. Gellman’s students to go beyond the talk of social justice and provides them with the opportunity to actually do social justice as part of their education.

For more information, contact Prof. Erik Gellman at egellman@roosevelt.edu.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Can Students Speak Out for Change? Advocacy and Dissemination with Transformational Learning

Transformational learning combines the insights that students derive from community-based service-learning with principles of social justice. Students not only learn about societal inequalities when professors use this approach to teaching, but students also use lessons learned in the course and field to become agents of change.

There are many ways in which students in transformational learning classes can disseminate their knowledge or advocate for policies to create greater equality for people who are often disenfranchised. Importantly, students’ first-hand interactions at their community sites provide them with a potent tool – individual stories – that can promote advocacy.

For example, students can write or meet with their elected officials to share how social policies and inequities impact the people whom students assist at their service-learning sites. Students can also use transformational learning to raise public awareness about the plight of those who are disenfranchised and inspire others to act.

As an example, transformational service-learning was a cornerstone of Youth Violence Seminar and Outreach offered by Dr. Steven Meyers in the Department of Psychology. The course addressed youth violence, its causes, and programs that reduce its occurrence. This class incorporated an advocacy service-learning experience, in which undergraduates each spent 25 hours in Chicago neighborhoods conducting interviews to explore youth violence. Students then used the information they gathered to heighten awareness and to promote social change regarding the issue by contacting their legislators, writing to newspapers, and developing Internet resources, which you can see in this posting.