Academic Service Learning possible for Distance Learning Students - Dec 18, 2013 - Distance Learning Center - UW-Superior News and Events

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Academic Service Learning possible for Distance Learning Students

Posted on Dec 18, 2013
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Beth Austin and Beth Grbavcich present at the 2013 Fusion Conference held in Boston, MA

Beth Austin and Beth Grbavcich present at the 2013 Fusion Conference held in Boston, MA

One would assume that Distance Learning and Academic Service Learning (AS-L) could not go hand-in-hand. However, Senior Lecturers Elizabeth (Beth) Grbavcich and Beth Austin have discovered several ways to make this possible.

AS-L projects are typically an on-campus learning experience; "a high impact practice that UW-Superior has embraced as a pedagogy to enrich students' learning experience" (Beth Grbavcich). Through their research they have found it is possible to complete these projects in an online class setting with the same results. With the goal in mind, "to make learning more exciting and encourage students to take advantage of opportunities to volunteer or interact," they began their project. Their research included literature reviews, trying to establish the best teaching practices, research in Education and Technology Journals, discussion boards, interactions with students, and many more. Beth Austin stated, "This makes you look closely at where you need to improve or change to become a better teacher." The research they did and the hours they put in were not only to provide their students the opportunity to participate in an AS-L project, but to also prepare for the presentations they have done throughout the country to inform other Academic Leaders of how well it has worked for them, giving others the opportunity to explore these options for themselves. They presented during several conferences including: Fusion 2013 in Boston, MA, 2013 OPID Spring Conference in Madison, WI and Fusion 2012 in San Diego, CA.

During their presentations, which they fondly refer to as "The Beth Show", they originally started by doing Power Point presentations and "lecturing" for an hour, and answering any questions one may have afterward. However, they have found that in order to get their audience to see the impact of interaction, they have begun to involve the audience in their presentations, including going into the conference room prior to speaking and rearranging tables and chairs so audience were compelled to engage in conversation. Once people arrived they would request that each person ask a question to the person next to them. This is an excellent way, in their opinion, to begin a presentation on being interactive and innovative.

Both lecturers have successfully completed AS-L projects with their online classes. Some of the projects include: the Douglas County Foster program which makes the public more aware of the need for fostering, a Habitat for Humanity project which will be implicated in this program's next project, a promotional video on the voting issues in Minnesota, newsletters for local city councilors (on-campus), and nutrition information sheets for Second Harvest Food Bank.

Both agree this has been an excellent experience and opportunity for students. Alora Rueth was a student in Beth Austin's Group Communication Processes online class. When asked about her experience with AS-L though Distance Learning she said, "I was excited about having the opportunity to work with others in class on something so meaningful; it is not often in the distance learning program you get a chance to communicate with classmates at the level that AS-L does." Alora's group worked with the UW-Superior Jim Dan Hill Library to create a video that reached out to Distance Learning students to inform them of resources available to them, even though they were not on campus. Alora added, "I have made new friends and learned about great ways to communicate with a group at a distance. I gained knowledge on how to create a video clip, and knowing what I know from this experience gives me the confidence to do it again."

Robert MacKenzie, also a former student of Beth Austin, stated, "I admit that as a student who had never taken a summer class online, I was very apprehensive. I was worried that as an online student whether there was going to be many conflicts with my schedule as my AS-L group and I tried to coordinate times to meet." This is something a lot of educators feared as well before attending one of the presentations. Many learn, as Robert did, it is not as difficult as it may first appear. Robert worked with Habitat for Humanity through AS-L on a recommendation for implementation of a more in-depth recycling program. They gave their best choices for the local companies that Habitat for Humanity could work with and were able to find recycling locations for everything from cardboard to florescent lighting and ballasts. About his experience, Robert said, "This experience showed me that when there are several students that are working together for a common goal of improving their community and simultaneously supporting their learning through group work, there is a very deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I appreciate the opportunity that Beth was able to give us as a class, even in an online environment."

Beth Grbavcich and Beth Austin are very dedicated to reaching out to other Academic Leaders. They are grateful for the grants received and the opportunity to reignite the passion for distance learning. Both wish to express their sincere gratitude to Distance Learning for the opportunity to learn from others, exchange ideas and learn creative ways to teach online.

News Contact: Amanda Palmer | apalme11{atuws}
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