12/11/2008

Does Community-Based Learning Teach?

  • Susan Dicklitch  

Franklin & Marshall College, Niagara University and Rhodes College have received a $280,712 grant from the Teagle Foundation to study the long-term educational benefits of community-based learning.

The schools have been working together to develop a means to assess the cognitive effects of community-based learning courses and programs.

“Community-based learning broadens the idea of a classroom by blending the theory students learn with real-world experience,” said Susan Dicklitch, associate dean of the College and director of the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement.

“We are asking, 'does it build critical thinking and promote civic engagement?'” she said.

Based in New York, the Teagle Foundation promotes education that engages students in active learning and encourages students to explore questions of deep social and personal significance. The grant is for three years.

Dicklitch said the question she and her colleagues at Niagara and Rhodes are asking is what impact do courses that get students out of the classroom and “onto the streets” have on lifelong learning.

“So we take what we learn in the classroom and apply it to the real world, and make a difference. What we’re trying to identify is how will students actually use that knowledge and the skills they’ve learned and apply that learning throughout their life? Will they become engaged throughout their life?”

She said they’ve created a survey that will gauge both student and faculty perspectives on community-based learning. Not the “touchy-feely stuff,” said Dicklitch, but the lessons the students gain from the experience.

Niagara University is located in Niagara, N.Y. Rhodes College is located in Memphis, Tenn.

For more information on Community-Based Learning, visit the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement.

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