What are the advantages of including a Community Service Learning (CSL) component in university courses? We spoke with Nérée St-Amand, a professor at the University of Ottawa who has been involved with CSL since the program was first introduced at uOttawa.
CGCE: How important is community service learning for you?
I’ve always found it important to apply theory to practice, and I like being able to provide concrete examples in class. CSL gives voice to diverse perspectives. Placements with our community partners allow students to understand different realities and that these realities are complex.
CGCE: Why do you think practical experience is helpful within the context of a course?
The practical aspect to learning through involvement in the community complements the theory students learn in class. It’s one thing to have students analyze readings in class, but theory becomes much easier to understand when we see it in action with real people in real situations. Practical experiences invite further reflection.
CGCE: How does CSL enhance your courses?
I regularly ask students what’s happening in their placements because they see a lot of different situations during a placement, and I ask them to think about these situations and consider the causes that led to them. The CSL program helps by providing an opportunity where this type of reflection can occur. If we look at the placements with Dépanneur Sylvestre and L’Arche, the students involved with these community partners require sensitivity and must have an openness towards marginalized groups in our society, such as individuals with intellectual disabilities. For some students who may be new to the city, the province or even Canada, it’s also a way for them to get to know the area and meet people.
CGCE: Do you think the CSL component creates additional work for a professor? Has your experience with CSL been worth the effort?
I have to say that it’s a lot easier now with the Centre of Global and Community Engagement involved. While it’s not difficult to incorporate CSL into a class, it’s definitely more work and does create additional responsibilities. For example, professors have to deal with students asking for exceptions and extensions, but that’s something they have to do anyway—with or without community service learning.
It’s important to understand, too, that as professors, our goal isn’t to aim for as little work as possible. We’re here to teach and help create the best possible student experience we can.
I have no problem doing it. It’s definitely worth it.
CGCE: What do you think is the ideal type of professor for this program?
CSL is a very good match for two types of professors.
1. Professors who aren’t familiar with local community engagement initiatives or activities but who want to offer these opportunities as part of their courses. The program is an invaluable resource for these professors.
2. Professors who like to bring practical situations into the classroom and do so by encouraging experiential learning activities or case studies.
CGCE: What advice do you have for professors who would like to incorporate CSL into their courses but don’t know how to go about making it happen?
Make it optional for the students, rather than mandatory! Try it with a small group, five or so students. Ask them to give a presentation to the other students so they can make a link between the theory they’ve seen in class and the experiences they had during their CSL activities.
Choose community partners or organizations you’re personally interested in.
Talk to another professor who has already incorporated CSL into their courses!
Thank you very much for sharing your experiences with us Professor St-Amand. We hope that professors who read what you’ve had to say will contact the Centre for Global and Community Engagement at the University of Ottawa for more information on the CSL Program we offer. All the best for the new academic year!
Text written by Nathalie Morgan, Placement Officer at the Centre for Global and Community Engagement