Academic Exchange Quarterly Winter 2004 ISSN 1096-1453 Volume 8, Issue 4
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Making a Civic Investment through Technology
Debra S. McDowell,
Dr. McDowell was the principle coordinator for the “Making a Civic Investment” project at SMSU supported by MCI WorldCom and Campus Compact.
While more individuals and communities are becoming connected to technology and the Internet, a gap still remains. If communities intend to be competitive, they must develop and cultivate a well-trained workforce to stay viable. This research identified a working model that developed a strong partnership between the university and four community partners to help close the digital divide in a Midwestern metropolitan area. It was found that a high degree of communication and coordination between the university and the community partners is paramount for success.
Research pertaining to service-learning and the digital
divide indicates that service-learning engages students in meaningful service
and provides learning experiences to enhance classroom teaching (Astin &
Sax, 1998). Research on university
student impact shows that service-learning enhances psychological and moral
reasoning abilities of students (Boss, 1994; Kuh, Douglas, Lund, &
Ramin-Gyurnek, 1994). Faculties have
been found to benefit from involvement in service-learning through the
application of theory and knowledge to local problem-solving (Lynton, 1995).
Concerning technology and service-learning, Gerald Boerner (Campus Compact website) identified using technology as a means of providing the service to the community agency and as a product produced for the community agency. He emphasizes that these “high tech” services can be provided without decreasing the focus on the “high touch” traditions of service-learning. Faculties need to listen to agency personnel and identify what skills their students might apply to help define a solution.
Description and Procedures
Monies from the
grant were awarded to Southwest Missouri State University (SMSU) for a project
entitled Students as Citizens: Linking
Families, Schools, Communities and Universities to Enhance Learning Through
Technology. The University in
coordination with the Springfield Public Schools (SPS) and three other community
organizations (Founders Park, History Museum, and Public Library) formed a
partnership to research the history of Springfield from 1829-1929. This supplemental study of
Site Coordinators in the five pilot schools recruited children in the third and fourth grades. Because there were 20 computers in each of the elementary schools, space was limited to 20 students per school or a maximum of 100 students per semester. Site Coordinators recruited students through class presentations and information brochures that were sent home with the children. The first twenty students to return signed parental permission forms had the opportunity to participate in the after-school computer clubs.
Goals of the Project
included (1) provide a service-learning experience for university students
focused on community outreaching; (2)
provide experiential learning opportunities for low income students focused on
the applications of the computer and Internet in learning more about
Springfield/Missouri history; (3) provide an opportunity for parents and
students to work cooperatively on computer projects; and (4) enhance the
community’s understanding of the history of Springfield through historical
websites and a community production. The
objective of goal one focused on the collaboration of university and
elementary students with the public school site coordinators. Goal two focused on increasing student
knowledge through the use of the computer as a learning tool. It
included increasing student engagement in history research via the
Internet while also utilizing other traditional community resources such as
books, museums, and public authorities.
Goal three encouraged collaboration among university students and
faculty with public school parents, students, and teachers researching
Springfield/Missouri history via Internet access during the computer club
sessions. Goal four promoted the
development of a community history
website and five elementary school websites. It also allowed people engaged in the project
to share their knowledge of
Curriculum was developed in accordance with
Civic learning outcomes of service-learning students were documented through personal interviews, reflection journals, synthesis papers, and the historic biographical website postings at http://courses.smsu.edu/ftm922f/CCProj/slccproject.htm. Websites created by computer science and history students expanded the opportunities for elementary teachers, students, and families to access teaching aids, curriculum, and Internet resources. A five-point Likert Scale assessment tool was completed at the end of each semester to determine the degree of personal satisfaction in the skills and experiences gained by participating in the computer project.
Parents of the elementary students previously had not been involved in their child’s education. This project allowed the parents and/or grandparents to assist site coordinators during the computer club session and participate in field trips. For those who did not or could not (because of a negative background check) participate in club activities, an open house celebration at the end of each 8-week session allowed for intergenerational interactions. Parents/caregivers were surveyed before the semester began and then again at the end of each semester to determine their knowledge and understanding of the computer and the Internet as a result of working with their children. Focus Group interviews of community partners, site coordinators, and parent/caregivers also were conducted to collect data on project impact.
coordinator assessments, it was found that student computer skills for both the
university and elementary students were enhanced. All children accomplished Internet resource
retrieval from the
post-surveys of the elementary student knowledge of Springfield history
indicated that the combined efforts of one-on-one computer experience with the
enhancement of field trips to historical sites helped students remember
facts. The elementary student’s journals
provided insights into their ability to process what they learned and
demonstrated an internalization of facts.
Drawings, short stories written about
Pre- and post-testing of the elementary students indicated that 50% of the children were able to scan pictures into a computer, open and use more than one program, conduct file management through saving documents created on the computer, and use word processing software to create/edit writing assignments at the end of one year. By the third year, pre- and post-testing of the students indicated that 77.5% of the children were able to open and use more than one program, conduct file management, and utilize word processing software. These results rose 15% over the student’s pre-test evaluations.
A positive outcome of the after-school project was the change in the elementary student’s behavior at school so as not to be excluded from the program. Absenteeism declined 25 % and completion of homework rose 50% for those students who were part of the computer clubs.
In the elementary student’s words:
is fun! I liked going on the field trip
“Computer Club is educational. I like getting to work with computers, going on line, and learning about the inside of a computer. I liked learning how to scan things.” -- Charlie
dressing up at the
All SL students indicated in their journals that writing historical biographies and publishing them on the websites had enhanced their personal portfolios. A 5-point Likert assessment tool administered at the end of each semester revealed a high level of satisfaction with the project. The Likert Scale measured the degree of personal learning and skills that the students believed they had gained as a result of their service-learning experience. A 5 indicated high satisfaction and a 1 indicated low satisfaction with 4.5 being the average score of all SL students.
In the words of one of the history students:
“Writing the biographies was a very interesting and actually fun project. Being able to see and sift through documents on history that I was not at all familiar with was interesting. … The service-learning project has been a good add-on to my other course work. The service-learning project . . . was a great experience for me as an education major in the history department. … Participating in service-learning is a very good idea for anyone who is going to be going into teaching. It helps you to get some hands-on experience in the field, which is very valuable. … This project also helped me to understand just how much of an impact a person can make on a group of young kids by simply visiting them once a week for a couple of months. The students began to expect my visits to the classroom and seemed really excited whenever I walked in the door. It was a fun experience that definitely helped reinforce my decision to be a teacher.” -- Justin Minard
Interviews revealed that parents, community partners, and site coordinators preferred working with the children in the computer club context. Parent-child relationships were enhanced for those who participated during each eight-week period. Communication between parents and elementary students improved through the active participation with the children. Site celebrations were an excellent way to bring all constituents together and engage the students in learning activities and interaction with the larger community.
Sustainability of the Project
The piloted curriculum was written into the Springfield
Public Schools (SPS) elementary history curriculum. This curriculum meets
websites were created by computer science and history service-learning
students. These websites contain
curriculum and a variety of references on local history including biographies
of past citizens and histories of important landmarks and buildings. Accessibility to
coordinators and curriculum writers saw a change in the elementary students
involved in the computer clubs. Their
personal understanding of
“In writing the curriculum for the grant, I have become more aware of what the Internet has to offer. I am using the Internet as a source in other subject matter. The opportunities for children are remarkable!” -- Jamie Quirk
The Title I elementary students
for this project were identified as at-risk and low-income. They needed a sense
of history because their families moved frequently and did not have a knowledge
or understanding of the history of the greater
Several conclusions can be made from this study: (1) At-risk
children learn computer skills and build confidence best when in a safe and
supportive environment. (2) Student
learning of historical concepts and computer skills improves as a result of the
support of responsible adults in the lives of children. The computer clubs provided an environment
that allowed students, parents, and community based organizations to work
toward a common goal. (3) There is power
in partnerships between campuses and communities. When the campus and community are equal partners
and engaged in social change, the elementary learning of students was enhanced. Through clear communication and coordination
by project coordinators, the closing of the digital divide for elementary
students was possible. This research
further supports the impact of service-learning bringing about social change as
identified by Morton (1995),
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ethics students. Journal of Moral Education, 23, 183-197.
learning outside the classroom: A review of the literature. Paper presented at the
of the Association for the Study of Higher Education.
Lynton, E.A. (1995). Making the case for professional service.
Association for Higher Education.
Making a Civic Investment website located at http://www.compact.org/worldcom.
Morton, K. (1995). The irony of service: Charity, project and social change in service-
learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning, 2, 19-32.
Rhodes, R.A. (1997). Community service and higher learning: Exploration of the caring
self. Albany, NY: SUNY.
impacts & strengthening connections. Michigan Journal of Community Service