Service-learning gathers steam in Australia

The inaugural Service-Learning Australia Summit was held at Griffith University on the Gold Coast from 14-15 November 2019.  The summit brought together professional and academic staff from around Australia to workshop best-practice in student service-learning (a part of community engagement at ACU).

ACU’s National Community Engagement Manager Dr Matthew Pink attended the summit.

“Service-learning as part of university-community engagement has long been a part of the Australian landscape, but often in a way that has lacked unification,” Dr Pink said.

“It is wonderful to see that the passionate groups who use this pedagogy are finding forums that speak directly to service-learning.  I can see this network and associated summits furthering the ideas sharing and co-creation of knowledge for the mutual benefit of students and the community.”

Dr Richard Kiely, Senior Fellow in the Office of Engagement Initiatives (OEI) at Cornell University, was the keynote speaker and also ran insightful workshops on improving service-learning pedagogy.  A key ‘take home’ message from these workshops was the importance of developing robust critical reflection frameworks for students, as this leads to the deepest insights and learning. Another standout at the summit was a theatre-based workshop presented by Lisa Anderson and her team from University of Technology Sydney, that deconstructed ‘when project-based service-learning projects fail’.  Appropriate student preparation, open and complete communication with partners, and regular ‘checking-in’ with students and partners was identified as keys to optimising project outcomes.  These points were discussed in recognition of the resource challenges that occur in both the community and universities.

There was also a panel on the upcoming Carnegie community engagement classification pilot. This classification system promotes the highest standards in university-community engagement and has been operating in the United States since 2006.  Ten Australian universities (including ACU) are developing and piloting an Australian-based version of the classification system.

“The Carnegie panel was a great opportunity to share the Carnegie classification system with those passionate about service-learning and what it will mean for furthering university-community engagement and service-learning in Australia,” Dr Pink said.

"There was great interest shown by those in attendance, and a general sense of the opportunity this holds for Australian universities.”

The summit finished with the official formation of the Service-Learning Australia Network which seeks to further service-learning as an established and valued pedagogy in Australia.

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