While this semester, my growth and learning in terms of learning technologies has primarily been focused on digital badges, it really only represents half of the updates I am making to the online community. The second half is the creation of an interactive, multi-media, service-learning project planning tool. The need and idea for this tool came from several areas:
Service-Learning often gets a bad wrap in the classroom because people are not planning or implementing with quality. Either their focus is too much on the service or it becomes project-based learning, both equally good things amongst themselves but they are not service-learning.
We see educators and students starting with the genuine community need, planning activities, and loosely tying it back to goals and outcomes. These projects may have impact on students but often focus on the “nice-to-know” vs. the “need-to-know”. And with the continued focus on accountability schools do not have time for the “nice-to-know”.
We also see educators and students using the K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice as their planning tool. And while the standards do represent the best practices within service-learning, amongst themselves do not provide enough support to bring students from A-Z.
A widely used model for planning service-learning is the IPARD model: Investigation, Planning, Action, Reflection, and Demonstration. It is similar to many inquiry models in education but this is the process the students go through and before we get to this process, educators should have their goals and outcomes defined and their assessments mapped.
Hence, NYLC wants to create an interactive project planning tool to guide teachers through the planning process to ensure that service-learning is planned with quality. Our past Research Director, Susan Root, used Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s Understanding by Design to create a planning form and supporting trainings that we believe leads to quality service-learning projects.
Here is the challenge, educators (in particular those serving in a formal pre-K through 12 settings), only represent a portion of who will be using this tool. We want this tool to be applicable and useful for all of our members which includes youth ages 13-24 and adults who do not serve as a K-12 educators (including Higher ED). We need to modify the process so that everyone can relate and understand the process no matter what setting they are in.
Not everyone who is using service-learning has a curriculum to base the project on. That being said, they still should have defined goals and outcomes for the participants (even if they are the participants) before they begin the project. For example, a student group may decide that they are looking to grow as leaders. In particular, they would like to grow their skills and knowledge related to public speaking and project management. They would create clear goals and outcomes for that growth before the project begins.
To appeal to a large audience this tool also cannot look like a blank worksheet, in fact I am not sure what audience that would ever appeal to. One tool that was created 3-4 years ago was Lift. Lift is a multimedia tool that follow three schools (one elementary, one middle, and one high school) from around the country that NYLC believes has an exemplar service-learning program. The tool is colorful, has dynamic videos, downloadable resources, and reflection questions. People from around the world call upon the Lift to see what the K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice look like in person.
There are some problems with the tool. The first being that it is built in flash and not accessible for many mobile devices, making it difficult to access for some. The second is that it is yet another website for NYLC to maintain and takes people away from the GSN. The videos and content within the site are not easily changeable; in order to add new schools many videos would need to be re-edited. NYLC staff does not have access to add and remove tools from the site. The Lift also needs to appeal to a large audience but in doing so leaves out opportunities to feature content that specific audiences may find helpful. For example, there is a lot of video of students in-action planting trees and working collaboratively but less of the instruction in the classroom.
In a past blog you saw an overall concept video that I shared with the RFP bidders. Building on the design in that video, the next few posts highlight more in-depth planning of the project-planning tool (which seriously needs a new name). Using all of the inspiration and lessons-learned above.