Thursday, January 3, 2013

Service Learning in Introductory Economics

Students at Roosevelt University in social work, psychology, and education majors may expect that some of their classes might include a service-learning component. However, when Professor Jenifer Clark’s 46 students showed up for their first day of Principles of Economics II (Economics 102) class, they found that the course required them to go out in to the field. Service learning at Roosevelt University isn't confined to certain majors. Rather,  all students at Roosevelt can benefit from trying to apply their newfound knowledge to real life.

Professor Clark devised a service-learning plan that she hoped would expose students to how people in different life circumstances think about economic policy. With the help of the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation, Professor Clark connected with an array of individuals in with different perspectives on what types of economic policies are likely to promote a healthy economy. Professor Clark split the students up into groups and assigned them to either meet with an architect, a marketing CEO, two traders from the Chicago Board of Trade, a human relations professional, two individuals involved in the Occupy movement, or individuals experiencing homelessness at Dignity Diner. Professor Clark ensured that students with a variety of political views joined each group. The students used class time to meet with their groups, do research on economic policy, and prepare questions for their interview. 

Many of the students disclosed to Professor Clark that their interviews considerably impacted their lives. Those who met with homeless people at Dignity Diner described that their preconceived notions about homelessness had been shattered after getting to know real people in that situation. Students who initially felt extremely critical of the Occupy movement shifted their positions after meeting with those involved. Some group members who met with business professionals suddenly felt a surge of motivation to figure out what they wanted to do after college. The students who visited the Chicago Board of Trade described the sense of awe they felt while observing the action on the floor. Professor Clark required students to write a research paper and create a presentation about economic policy from the perspective of those they had interviewed. Many of Dr. Clark’s students had to take political positions opposite of their own in order to complete the assignment. 

Overall, Professor Clark deemed the service-learning component of her class incredibly successful. She explained that everyone involved in the process found the experience rewarding. Many of the interviewees contacted Professor Clark to gush about how impressed they had been by the students’ interview preparation and professionalism. Professor Clark described the students as deeply passionate during the execution of their presentations, and she rated the students’ research papers as exceptional. She surveyed the students at the end of the course to examine their impressions of the project. Many of them admitted their initial hesitation when they realized they would have to complete a transformational service-learning project. However, 46 of 46 students recommended that Professor Clark incorporate a service-learning component to the class in the future. Professor Clark noted that the students gained much more than just an ability to apply economic theory to real life. Throughout this project, the students also fostered their ability to see multiple sides of an issue, take the perspective of others, and challenge their own beliefs. Furthermore, the students gained exposure to different professions, practiced presenting themselves professionally, and gained networking experience.

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