Tracy Bridgeford, Ph.D., chair of the UNO English department, shares her experiences incorporating service learning into her dual-level Capstone Course in Technical Communication.
While including service-learning projects in a course requires a little bit more preparation, I found it to be well worth the effort. On top of that, I also taught the course asynchronously, which added another level to the preparation. Given the service-learning projects, students had to navigate Zoom to get to know the clients and their clientele, to discuss their projects and its expectations, and to share their work throughout the semester—a task made more difficult by the pandemic.
I started looking for projects for my dual-level Capstone Course in Technical Communication during the summer of 2020, meeting with representatives from the Service-Learning Academy (SLA) and community members. My criteria for picking projects included whether the project had enough work to warrant a collaborative project with three students per group, whether the projects had to include significant writing, editing, and design work, and how the projects engage the community of Omaha and to the theme of social justice around which I designed the course. Students taking the course came from English Master’s Program and the Master’s in Critical and Creative Thinking programs.
I chose three community partners whose organizations included underrepresented groups, including Generation Diamond, Omaha Home for Boys, and The Collective of Hope. Generation Diamond works with people who have recently been incarcerated by helping them develop the skills for obtaining and maintaining employment, by connecting them to other agencies for completing required community service opportunities, and by acquiring their GED or high school diploma. Omaha Home for Boys supports and strengthens youth, young adults, and families through services that inspire and equip them to lead independent and productive lives. The Collective of Hope strives to grow and understand the community and its various styles of grief and to learn how to best serve the Omaha community.
Projects involved creating various print documents and digital communications including designing a content management structure for content, writing a report, creating PowerPoint slides for specific organizational programs, coding/designing a website, writing/designing brochures, and creating forms, among various other writing tasks. Students were responsible for contacting their clients, negotiating the work required, and showcasing their projects. Student presented to each other, the three community members, and staff from the SLA on the last day of class.
I consider the course a success. Not only did the students enjoy working on the projects but they also enjoyed the social justice readings and discussions we had read throughout the semester. In discussions, students engaged each other, reflected on their own positionality, and committed themselves to be the change they wanted to see in our city. In particular, we discussed a major theme in Technical Communication—the value of expediency and its outcomes—and how we (all of us) can effect change in our communities.
In his final reflection, one student noted: “As I reflected on how expediency has played a role in my life, personally and professionally, I came to realize that the best way to combat expediency is to act with intentionality.”
Indeed. It was gratifying to watch students struggle with questioning their own beliefs and values not only from reading the required texts but also through work on challenging service-learning projects. I’m looking forward to including service-learning projects again in fall 2021 with my Professional and Technical Writing seminar. It was certainly worth it.