Helping Faculty Scale up Civic Learning

Why I’m optimistic about the future of civic learning. 

After dozens of conversations over three days at last week’s Civic Learning & Democratic Engagement (CLDE16) Meeting in Indianapolis, I left with an optimistic outlook on the future of civic learning in higher education.

That was especially evident at the two-hour faculty workshop that I had the pleasure of facilitating with Michael Willard, the faculty director of service learning at Cal State LA. We spoke to participants from institutions around the country, ranging from community colleges like Rio Salado College, in Arizona, to four-year colleges such as the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Each person expressed an eagerness to learn how to effectively integrate civic learning into courses on their own campuses.

We conducted a mini-institute–“Scaling Up Civic Learning”–just days after faculty at Cal State LA completed a customized civic learning module developed in collaboration with ACUE. In a recent post on The ‘Q,’ Professor Willard chronicled Cal State LA’s partnership with ACUE:

In the fall, new Cal State LA students at the lower-division level will take a newly revised general education course: Introduction to Higher Education. The course, which will include assignments to meet civic learning outcomes, is designed to acclimate students to the academic rigors of college.

To support faculty, we integrated face-to-face workshops with an online Civic Learning module developed in collaboration with ACUE. For the last month a cohort of instructors all have gone through the module, which features videos of classroom demonstrations from exemplary instructors at Cal State LA. The module also includes video tutorials that focus on specialized areas within the civic learning topic: civic knowledge, civic skills, and civic values.

Professor Willard and I planned the mini-institute to emulate ACUE’s innovative learning design. To get started, we asked participants to share their goals for the workshop and to exchange personal definitions for civic learning. These brief discussions engaged each person to tap into their own knowledge of and personal experience with the civic learning topic.

One participant said she wanted to learn more about how she could “provide resources to faculty on how to incorporate service learning and civic engagement in assignments.” Another wanted to know how she could build broader support for civic learning among her faculty colleagues.

Over the course of the workshop, participants watched module videos that are a cornerstone of ACUE’s Course in Effective Teaching Practices, discussed how the demonstrated techniques address challenges in engaging students with civic learning, and differentiated between civic learning assignments rated as effective or developing. At several points, those in the room made broader connections, including the one between student success and research-based teaching techniques.

After we finished, participants claimed they were ready to begin scaling up civic learning in their own classes and throughout their institutions. I look forward to hearing how students share their discipline-based research and address issues in their local communities.

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