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Students as Teachers: Lessons Learned from the 2007 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award Winners

Students as Teachers: Lessons Learned from the 2007 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award Winners

Change Magazine

3. Their teaching is aimed at a larger purpose, whether social or developmental.

I view each new semester as an opportunity to improve the course and my instruction and have sought out teaching evaluation and advice from peers, professors, and campus instructional counselors. My larger goal as an instructor is to create knowledgeable, skilled, and responsible citizens in order to support lifelong civic development. My sociology of community course is designed to inspire ongoing dialogue about achieving the difficult balance between individual and communal concerns.

For example, in this summer’s class, we wrestled with the difficult task of crafting recommendations for rebuilding a less race- and class-segregated New Orleans. To empower students to participate in solving collective problems, I send them out of the classroom into the surrounding community. In one project, students partner with a local community organization and create, write, and present a project proposal that addresses some of the key community concerns they identify. My teaching practices are guided by the belief that if students experience the relevance of sociology to their own lives and are willing to take the risks associated with critically thinking about societal implications, they are better equipped for civic participation.

David Blouin, Bernice Pescosolido, and I won a research grant for scholarship on teaching and learning from Indiana University Instructional Services to investigate community-based organizations’ experiences with service-learning students. One of the major selling points of service-learning courses is their potential to mutually benefit communities and universities. Although a great deal of research reports numerous pedagogical and personal benefits for students—from improved grades and increased civic engagement to increased understanding and appreciation of diversity—there is relatively little research on the impact of service-learning on the community. To understand when and how service-learning classes benefit the community, we conducted in-depth interviews with representatives of local community organizations that have worked with Indiana University service-learning students.

This is not research for research’s sake. Our work is driven by the belief that mutually beneficial partnerships enhance the experiences of service-learners and have the potential to strengthen community-university relations. We have therefore used what we have learned to develop practical guidelines for instructors in any discipline who seek to create successful service-learning partnerships with community organizations. We have sought out appropriate venues in which to share our results with fellow scholars and instructors. We will be presenting our research at the International Service-Learning Research Conference this fall and at an Indiana University Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Speaker Series next spring. We are also currently preparing an article for submission to Teaching Sociology and hope to organize a service-learning workshop as part of the local Nonprofit Alliance’s Continuing Education for Nonprofits series.
—Evelyn Perry

My fourth year of graduate school was challenging for me. It was my third and final year of support on a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research fellowship, but I greatly missed teaching. In the lab I was tackling several technical obstacles, which made for glacial progress. That spring, I attended a lecture on the outreach work of an historian on campus, Dr. Patty Limerick. She described how she was able to deliver clear factual information in a way that allowed warring factions to discuss controversial topics such as water rights in the West. I began to think of my own research focus, evolutionary biology. Who was playing Patty’s role in the controversy over the teaching of evolution?

Up to this point, I had considered making a contribution to the controversy over evolution only when I was established in my career and less vulnerable to attack. Patty’s lecture inspired me to delay involvement no longer. I immediately felt a renewed sense of purpose for my involvement in research and a sense of promise for my future as an academic.

I had been seeking support for my fifth year of graduate school, and I realized that a fellowship offered by the Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education program (GK12) might enable me to pursue advocacy for the teaching of evolution. My involvement in the program might delay my graduation date by up to a year, but I decided to risk this penalty for the opportunity to bring my experiences teaching students and teachers full circle, with a focus on teaching evolution.

GK12 fellowship support allowed me to institute change at three levels. First, I worked in the summers of 2005 and 2006 to coordinate two outreach events for educators on the topic of teaching evolution. Second, during the school year I worked with a teacher to implement an evolution curriculum for the first time in her 11-year career. Finally, through the outreach events I developed a local network of educators, graduate students, and academics who continue to organize events around the teaching of evolution.
—Sarah Wise