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Alternative teaching methods increase

Amanda Gray | Friday, December 4, 2009

Community-based learning, which brings learning outside the University classroom, has seen an increase on campus in the last few years, according to several professors in the field.

“Certainly the quality of applications from faculty for community-based research and learning projects has grown in number and depth,” Daniel Lende, assistant professor of anthropology, said.

Lende, a proponent of community-based learning on campus, said many disciplines across the board use service as a learning tool.

“Within anthropology, I think there is an ethos of community-based learning, both because the students embrace service learning and because it’s a good fit with anthropology,” he said.

Lende was the 2009 recipient of the Rodney F. Ganey, Ph.D. Faculty Community-Based Research Award for his collaborative work in a local community, according to a University press release.

“Community-based learning can be [applied to] classes … as well as service trips and research — both my own and my undergraduate students’  work on their senior theses and other projects,” Lende said.

Philosophy professor Essaka Joshua also teaches community-based courses.

“The community-based element of my course runs alongside the more traditional elements. We meet as a class on campus in the normal way, and some of these sessions are set aside for project planning and reflection,” she said.

“‘Reflection’ is a term used in community-based learning to describe the analysis of the experience,” Joshua said. “In my case, we base our reflection on discovering connections between critical and theoretical approaches to disability and what we learn from experience.”

Students also meet outside of class to complete the service projects, Joshua said. This can create close bonds between the students.

“One of the things that are very different about classes that involve community-based learning is the community amongst the students. The students in these classes become friends,” she said.

Joshua said service-centered courses help students in applying knowledge beyond the classroom.

“Educational theorists have studied the phenomenon of community-based learning and have concluded that it is active and not passive learning. Students are actively engaged in finding out what they need to know in order to get the job done. It removes what educationalists call the inert knowledge problem,” Joshua said. “This is where information is absorbed in a traditional way, from books and lectures, and then stays in this form rather than being transferred to the range of contexts in which it is applicable. Courses which use community-based learning encourage the transfer of knowledge into real-life situations.”

She said community-based learning also combines practical, personal and intellectual development and gives students a sense of self-satisfaction and personal achievement.

“More work is required, in the sense of the active involvement,” Lende said. “Basically they have to develop and execute a research project. But really I don’t see the time allotment as radically different — it’s just distributed differently over the semester.”

Joshua said the community aspect of the courses is personally satisfying.

“I feel that I am giving something back to the community. Academics have very little time, as this is a demanding job, and this is a way that I can use my expertise to engage in community action,” she said. “I also enjoy watching students grow intellectually and personally when they get involved in the community. There are many surprises, so it is never dull, and the resourcefulness of the students of Notre Dame never ceases to amaze me.”