ClassAction: Social change and personal growth 

Hands-on experience in Problem-based Service Learning

By Anna Sarkissian

It takes a little something special for a student to sign up for a three-credit complementary course which may not count toward their degree requirements. But for students in the School of Extended Learning’s Problem-based Service Learning Orientation pilot project, the benefits far outweigh the commitment required.

“There are so many cool people in this class. It’s a goldmine,” says anthropology student Jade Cambron. “I’m not a morning person but I actually want to get out of bed for this.”

Open to all undergraduate students, the course is offered through the SEL’s Institute for Community Development and provides an overview of the theory and practice surrounding community engagement and development. In the winter semester, the Problem-based Service Learning Practicum is a separate course which will allow students to get hands-on experience through a supervised community placement of 90 to 120 hours. Most students enroll in both.

Human environment major Ana Terrazas spent last summer in Uganda with the Concordia Volunteer Abroad Program where she created a solar cooking project. She signed up for the Orientation class because she had a gut feeling it would be the right fit for her.

“The curriculum is not set in stone and our professor tries to nurture our interests. So many doors have opened, at least in my mind,” Terrazas says.

For Cambron, the big challenge will be finding the right project to invest her time in for her placement come January. She is interested in immigrant integration, identity issues, and working with youth. “I tend to change my mind,” she says.

“Most of the students have a fair grounding in what community is all about,” says professor Frances Ravensbergen, though the course is open to all, even those who haven’t gotten their feet wet in community organizing.

Ravensbergen utilizes service learning (essentially citizen engagement) and problem-based learning, which is a student-centered approach that promotes inquiry and questioning to address real world problems.

Many professors use these approaches, but the SEL courses use them in a more systematic way. As for assignments, students complete journal entries, a book review, and develop a learning plan in addition to other exercises. At the end of the course, they are evaluated with a pass/fail.

“It’s very inspiring to see how students respond as they are becoming aware of issues around them they might not have been exposed to previously. It opens a new world with new questions, and they develop an interest in participating in these processes,” says Mireille Landry, Problem-based Service Learning Administrator at the Institute for Community Development.

Terrazas appreciates the fact that they are acquiring life skills that will be useful in the long-run. “We’re not all going to end up in an office in front of a computer,” she says.

“It’s amazing to see the networking opportunities,” Cambron adds, “We are starting to build real relationships with each other.”

Find out more about SEL 198A Problem-based Service Learning Orientation and SEL 198B Problem-based Service Learning Practicum.


Concordia University