Learning Through Service

Teaching can be challenging because of the wide variety of attitudes and abilities of the students. Dr. Lynne Bercaw (Department of Education) has been using and researching service learning as an effective method to help teachers connect with their students, identify and accommodate the needs of individual learners. Service Learning is a teaching method where students are assigned service projects that integrate concepts, interpersonal skills, and attitudes/values objectives of the course. For her work Dr. Bercaw was appointed a Carnegie Faculty Fellow for Service Learning.

Dr. Bercaw began using service learning as a faculty member at Appalachian State University in North Carolina.  While some faculty might give students in an elementary reading course an assignment to collect children’s books for “underprivileged” children, Dr. Bercaw has her students ‘adopt’ some children and write special books for each child. Bercaw believes that if teachers get to know their students and become sensitive to each student, they will realize that all people have needs that impact their learning.

The kinds of needs that Dr. Bercaw’s students have learned to work with include children of fallen 9/11 firefighters, the homeless, terminally ill, divorce, and other victims of social injustice. Dr. Bercaw also conducts qualitative research on how service learning affects the learning of teacher candidates and the people they work with in their service learning projects.  Qualitative research methods involve laborious analysis of individual responses to interviews and surveys. Finding out how service learning changes your attitudes about yourself and others is a bit harder than taking your blood pressure or giving an exam.