IECE Final Report
Educational Psychology Service Learning – Ben Kirshner and Susan Jurow
Detailed Description of Project
As part of the development of this Model Program in Civic Engagement, we made significant revisions to the two educational psychology courses (EDUC 4411 and 4112) that we teach for undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students who have either been accepted to the teacher education program or are interested in the topics of learning and development. We also conducted research on the impact of the re-design of our courses on student learning.
With the support of IECE and the School of Education, we designed and implemented our revised educational psychology courses in Maymester 2009, Fall 2009, and Spring 2010. Following each iteration of the courses, we reflected upon challenges and successes so that we could identify lessons learned. Using IECE funds, we hired a doctoral student in education to serve as a teaching/research assistant for 80 hours during Maymester 2009 and for 10 hours a week during the Fall 2009 and Spring 2010 semesters. The student (Rita Tracy) assisted in setting up and facilitating the students' service-learning assignments at multiple community-based sites, acted as an observer in our courses (taking fieldnotes that are an important data source for our research), occasionally led class discussions, and collaborated on the design of course activities.
In the following, we discuss the activities, components, and goals accomplished as part of this model project. First, we outline the revisions we made to our courses. Second, we discuss the research project we conducted on the re-design and its impact on student learning. Third, we reflect on challenges we faced, teaching evaluations, and next steps. Lastly, we include a cumulative financial report.
Over the past few years, the teacher education program at CU Boulder has undergone a variety of revisions to create a more coherent experience for students grounded in evidence-based teaching practices and working toward democracy, diversity, and social justice in education. Our revision of EDUC 4411 and 4112 fits well with both these goals and with CU's 2030 plan to engage students more fully in the community. We made several changes to our courses related to the contexts in which our students would engage with children, the roles they should play with children, and how they would analyze these experiences.
The first change we made was to have students participate in community-based programs that primarily serve children and youth (ages 3- 18) from historically marginalized racial, linguistic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. This was a change from having them complete their practica in suburban, predominantly white, teacher-centered classrooms. The sites with whom we collaborated for these courses included: Casa de la Esperanza, the Boulder Family Literacy Program, the Family Learning Center, and Project YES. In addition, for EDUC 4112 Kirshner recruited two support programs at Boulder High because he hypothesized that social processes there might be similar to community-based sites. These were: Adelante!, AVID, and OZONE. Students were required to attend their site throughout the semester for 1-2 hours per week. By asking students to work with youth populations that have been historically marginalized in schools and society, we wanted our students to confront and develop their views on culture, power, and educational equity. As the majority of students in our courses are typically from white, middle-class backgrounds where they have had limited interactions with people who were culturally and linguistically different from themselves, we expected that this experience could be disorienting. At the same time, we thought that with guidance and opportunities for reflection, this experience could support powerful and expansive learning that would better prepare teachers for understanding and being advocates for a diverse student population.
The second change we made was to frame students' experiences in these settings as "service-learning" as opposed to the more familiar "practicum" experiences. Students engaged in service-learning are meant to help meet community-identified needs and through critical reflection on their participation at community sites, deepen their understanding of academic content. We described the students' experiences at their sites as service-learning rather than as explicit preparation for teaching because we wanted to challenge or disrupt students' assumptions about what a learning environment is. We wanted preservice teachers to be in settings where there might not be an obvious teacher or instructional role. Rather than participating in a school-based practicum in which they would be expected to learn how to teach by observing a master teacher, we wanted students to become more aware of how they could contribute to or serve the broader community. Towards this end, students were asked to try on the role of "friend" or "volunteer" instead of teacher. An aim behind organizing students' experiences as service-learning in community-based sites was to help them develop dispositions associated with service-learning (e.g., greater civic responsibility), value culturally-responsive teaching, and appreciate a more distributed approach toward power and knowledge in a learning environment. These dispositions, we thought, could be important resources in the development of their identities as future teachers or educators.
A final change to our courses that was meant to build on and extend the above changes was that we required students to collect data on their interactions with children by writing fieldnotes. The fieldnotes were intended to assist students in critically reflecting on how learning (or not) was organized at their site, how youth engaged in site activities, and how the students engaged with and facilitated youth learning. We emphasized that students should document in detail the cognitive, linguistic, and social-relational resources that shaped the learning/teaching interactions they had with youth; aim to write about their interactions using low-inference language to describe youth activities and perspectives; and use the theories and concepts they studied in their course readings and discussed in class to analyze what was happening at their sites. As instructors, we wrote feedback on our students' fieldnotes to help them meet these goals. The students then used their fieldnotes along with those written by their peers as data sources for analyzing learning processes at their sites. This approach to the study of learning was designed to help the students gain practice in thinking critically and reflectively on their work with children.
Research on the Impact of Course Re-design
In order to understand the effects of these changes on student learning, we designed a research study (for which we received HRC approval in September, 2009) to document student experiences in Jurow's EDUC 4411 (Spring 2010) and Kirshner's EDUC 4112 (Fall 2009). In particular, we sought to study changes over time in students' understanding of educational psychology theories and how students apply theories to real world learning environments. We also wanted to understand potential changes in CU students' perceptions of learning processes among children and youth from non-dominant ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
All of the students who enrolled in Jurow's EDUC 4411 (Spring 2010) and Kirshner's EDUC 4112 (Fall 2009) were invited to participate in the research study. The majority of the students were undergraduates or post-baccalaureates who were interested in pursuing teaching as a career. In total, 47 students were enrolled in EDUC 4411 (Maymester 2009 and Spring 2010) and 38 were enrolled in EDUC 4112 (Maymester 2009 and Fall 2009). All of the students in Spring 2010 EDUC 4411 (30 of 30) and the majority of students in Fall 2009 EDUC 4112 (27 of 28) agreed to participate in the study.
We collected a variety of data sources for this study. These included: (a) students' written work; (b) instructor comments and evaluations of students' work; (c) a "daily activities log" completed by students; (c) observer notes written by a graduate teaching/research assistant during the teaching of our courses; and (d) reflections on teaching written by the course instructors.
Students' Written Work
We collected students' fieldnotes, written reflections, interim data analysis papers, and their final research papers. These data sources allowed us to consider how the students participated at their sites, what they noticed, and how they interpreted the events and interactions they observed using course readings and discussions as well as their historically-developed perspectives and values.
Instructor Comments and Evaluation of Students' Work
Instructor comments on and evaluations of students' written work were also considered as data sources for our research. The written feedback we provided on students' fieldnotes and papers as well as the grades we gave to students allow us to investigate our perceptions of the students' engagement with the ideas and practices in our courses. This kind of information provided a view onto what we thought students could improve on (e.g. in their interactions at the site, in their write-ups of their site experiences) and where they were examining ideas and practices fruitfully.
Observer Notes from the Course
A graduate student teaching/research assistant took observer notes for 14 of 15 class meetings of Spring 2010 EDUC 4411 and 13 of 30 meetings of Fall 2009 4112 (the latter course met twice weekly). In general, her notes documented the nature of the days' discussion, where possible indicating direct quotes, and the structure of the class that day (e.g., small group work, lecture) as well as how students were or were not engaging with the day's lesson. Additionally, she noted and reflected upon her own involvement with the students and the discussion.
Instructors wrote reflective memos on the teaching of their courses. These reflections were treated as one view on the challenges and progress of the course. The reflections addressed issues such as particular students' engagement in the course, patterns of group participation in the course, the affordances and constraints of the various sites for facilitating student learning, how lessons and readings worked in our courses, and the sustainability of the course re-design.
Analysis of Data and Research Products.
We used these varied data sources to investigate students' experiences in the course, what they learned, what was challenging for them, and how student learning could be better facilitated in the course. For the duration of this project, Jurow, Kirshner, and Tracy met regularly (approximately weekly in Maymester and bi-monthly during the Fall and Spring semesters) to discuss students' participation in the course, their engagement with class activities, and the development of curricular activities. Our analysis of student data for research purposes began in Fall 2009 (with the teaching of Kirshner's EDUC 4112) and continues now.
We decided to write 2 manuscripts based on the re-designed courses. The first manuscript, which we have submitted for review at theJournal of Teacher Education, is titled "Bringing the Learning Sciences into Teacher Education: Changing the Contexts for Studying Learning in an Educational Psychology Course". In the article, we discuss how we re-designed EDUC 4411 using insights from the burgeoning, interdisciplinary field of the Learning Sciences. Specifically, we outline how research on the situated nature of learning and the value of out-of-school contexts for supporting children's development informed our decisions to require preservice teachers to work with children in community-based settings, frame their interactions with children as "service" rather than as explicit preparation for teaching, and conduct research on the social, cultural, and cognitive nature of these experiences. We then present two case studies illuminating the opportunities and challenges to preservice teachers' learning in the course. Our analyses suggest that the course created opportunities for the preservice teachers to develop views of learning as inherently cultural and not limited to the acquisition of academic content. In addition to writing a journal article based on these ideas, we presented these findings at a symposium on transforming higher education at the 2010 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Denver.
The second manuscript focuses on a comparison of what and how students learned through their participation in afterschool sites versus school-based tutoring programs. We are still in the process of analyzing the student data for this manuscript, which comes from Kirshner's teaching of 4112. We intend to submit this paper to the journalTeaching and Teacher Education.
Barriers to Achieving Goals related to the Course Revision
We encountered two challenges to achieving the full extent of our goals: program quality and student schedules.
Our initial goal was that students would observe exemplary learning processes in community-based sites for youth from non-dominant backgrounds, as suggested by the literature about such programs. As it turned out, not surprisingly in retrospect, there was a quite a bit of variation in the quality of after-school programs for youth. Some CU students recorded field notes suggesting that certain after-school activities appeared to reproduce the typical routines of school, such as having students fill out homework worksheets or providing limited choice for activities. In this case, contrary to our intentions, CU students were not exposed to learning environments that challenged the typical routines and division of labor in school classrooms. Such field notes still provided opportunities for rich discussion and learning, but not in exactly the way we had intended.
We are responding to this challenge in two ways. First, we are expanding our course re-design to include the afterschool program at Sanchez Elementary called El Pueblo Magico. CU instructors will have greater input into the kinds of activities at El Pueblo Magico, which will enable us to design a learning environment that more deeply reflects the principles reflected in the course readings. Second, we are adjusting course assignments to create opportunities for students to compare and contrast learning environments across site placements. This enables all students to gain access to observations from a range of community programs and activities.
Some students objected to the requirement to volunteer 1-2 hours for ten weeks of the semester. This issue was particularly felt in Fall 4112, because there were roughly 10 students from the School of Music who were burdened with other required practicum or student teaching responsibilities. Several of those students requested that they be allowed to use their school practicum placements to meet the service learning requirement. Their request was supported by faculty in the Music School, two of whom spoke to Kirshner by phone about the issue. We acceded to this request, despite our concern that it might dilute the learning objectives of the course. As it turned out, Kirshner did feel that the students who did not participate in the service learning placements distracted from the overall goals of the course and made collaboration across students more difficult.
We initially addressed this issue by speaking with the Associate Dean for Teacher Education in the School of Education as well as faculty in the teacher education program in the School of Music. Unfortunately, we have not yet found a solution to the scheduling conflict for music students. (For example, one solution was for them to take a different section of 4112, which does not have a service learning requirement – but that section meets at a time that conflicts with another music education requirement).
Over the past year Jurow and Kirshner taught 4 sections of the redesigned Educational Psychology course for pre-service teachers (two of 4411 and two of 4112). Combined, these courses placed more than 75 CU students in semester-long service learning placements at a variety of non-profit community organizations and public schools in Boulder, Lafayette, and Longmont. As described above, we have been analyzing data showing students' trajectories of learning in our classes. Analysis of student data suggests that situating student learning in service learning placements contributed to deeper thinking and learning among students. Another form of evaluation can be seen in FCQs, summarized below:
FCQs for service learning courses
EDUC 4411 – Maymester
16 of 17
EDUC 4112 – Maymester
9 of 9
EDUC 4112 – Fall 2009
25 of 29
EDUC 4411 – Spring 2010
20 of 30
We observe that in both courses FCQs dipped during the school year semesters, in contrast to Maymester. This may be partly attributable to the larger class sizes during the school year, creating greater likelihood of variation in student assessments of the course. It may also be that students had a greater number of obligations and responsibilities to juggle during the school year, making the service learning requirement more burdensome. In addition to FCQs we asked students for qualitative feedback at several points during each semester and we will review this feedback in August when we begin to prepare our courses for the coming year.
Looking to the future, we are currently organizing a symposium focused on service-learning for the 2011 meeting of the International Society for Cultural and Activity Research. In the symposium, we plan to bring together researchers from the U.S. and abroad who are using service-learning to develop mutually-beneficial relations between the university and their surrounding communities and to expand university students' views of learning and the purpose of education.
We will also continue our work on data analysis and writing. This will be useful not only in terms of developing research papers, but also in regards to refining our plans to teach 4411 and 4112 in Fall 2010.
With the support of IECE, we are expanding our model project to include Dr. Kris Gutiérrez's afterschool club/EDUC 4411 course at Sanchez Elementary. We will orient graduate student instructors to the service learning course so that it becomes a regular part of instruction in 4411/4112, even when not taught by Jurow or Kirshner. For example, Rita Tracy is slated to teach Fall 4112 with service learning placements. Gutiérrez, Kirshner, and Jurow are also in conversation with the Associate Dean of Teacher Education regarding a proposal that EDUC 4411 and 4112 (in their newly-designed formats) meet the Arts and Sciences core requirement for "Human Diversity". This possibility would help us to sustain the innovations we have made in our Educational Psychology courses.
Funds were provided from three sources:
IECE - $10,000SLO - $3,000SOE - $4,300 and in-kind support including capping Maymester class sizes and staff support from SOE's Distributed Academic Technology Coordinator and Director of Field Experiences (Match)
On the next page is an expense summary that outlines each of our line items, its projected cost, and how much funds are remaining. As noted in the summary, we have some funds remaining in our account because the Graduate RAship costed less than anticipated and we did not use all of our miscellaneous supplies or mileage reimbursements. After communicating with Peter Simons, we have agreed to spend those funds on project-related costs by September 30, 2010.
Cumulative Financial Report
Graduate student assistant (80 hours)(to establish relationships with service learning sites and coordinate logistics during Maymester for two classes)
February – May 2009
Graduate student assistant (25% time)(to manage relationships with community partners; supervise students on site; assist with data collection and analysis)
25% time, fall and spring semesters 2009-2010
Partial summer salary(to support Susan and Ben's work to analyze data, revise the course, and begin work on article)
Miscellaneous supplies(e.g., NVIVO site licenses)
 Students attended their sites approximately 10 times total during the semester and were required to type detailed fieldnotes after three visits. For their mid-term papers and final research papers, students relied on their own and their peers' fieldnotes thus providing an extensive amount of data they could analyze.