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Beyond Transactional Learning

A person plants a bush

Are students struggling to show up and engage in the content of your course? Recently Elizabeth Barnes and Dr. Mari Rice presented a Talking Teaching Session on how to move beyond Transactional Learning by using Community-Engaged learning. The session asked, how do we get students to see themselves as engaged community members both in our classrooms and outside of it? Dr. Rice and Barnes pursued this question in their Talking Teaching session by showcasing a variety of Community-Engaged teaching models.

In Dr. Rice’s Foundations of Natural Science course (ENVSTD 121), Freshman work with a community partner doing a service-learning (SL) project related to the environment. From revegetation projects, to working with Boise Urban Garden School (BUGS), to doing a waste audit, her students connect with environmental organizations throughout the valley. Students that participate in her course engage with content in a hands-on experiential manner. During the Talking Teaching session, Dr. Rice also shared her model for her 300 level ENVSTD class, Management and Analysis, where the entire class works with a single community partner and develops content for that partner. One of her classes participated in a Tree Campus project which was a collaborative partnership with the university, Boise city, state of Idaho, and the Arbor Day foundation. The end result was a  Tree Story Map that she hopes future classes can develop into a virtual tree tour for campus.

Community-Engaged and Service-Learning teaching pedagogies faciltate the following benefits for Dr. Rice and her students:

  • Environmental problems can feel daunting to students. Community projects help build student agency. Students have a hand in addressing local challenges and can feel empowered.
  • Students gain a lived experience they can connect to course content. Community engagement provides  context for understanding abstract concepts.
  • Students feel more connected to each other and to their local community.
  • Creates a more inclusive and accessible learning environment catered to a range of learning styles.
  • Students often overcome challenges/have failures and can reflect on these as growth expereinces.
  • Provides access to local professionals and increases exposure to career opportunities.

ElizabethBarnes agrees that all of these benefits are clear reasons to use Community-Engaged learning in classrooms. In her English 102 class Barnes uses a Project-Based model where students opting for an A in the class design and execute a ten hour project that engages directly with a community issue. The research and the writing in the class are linked to the community issue that drives the students’ research. This type of learning can be transformational as one of her past students attests:

“This project literally changed my life. Before starting, I had an undeclared major, and I had no idea where I wanted to take my life. After researching further into Dance Movement Therapy, and working with Pivot Movement, it opened me up to a world of possibilities, where I could combine two subjects I love so much. If it was not for this project I would still be undeclared.”

–Patricia Doolittle (past English 102 Student SP 2020)

Beyond transactional Learning asks educators to truly consider the potential of our students to engage in the power of community. Imagine classrooms where students are asked to apply what they are learning to a community issue they care about. Imagine students feeling empowered to pursue their own interests. Imagine failing and learning, and trying again.

Written by:

Elizabeth Lester Barnes and Kara Brascia