The ENGAGE STUDENTS project focuses on social responsibility of higher education institutions at student and teacher level. Strengthening the social dimension in education has been an important European priority (COM(2006) 208 final, 2013/C 168/02), that has been accentuated even further by the Commission in the renewed EU agenda for Higher Education. Innovative curricula and teaching approaches are seen to contribute to reducing the current high-level skills gap between students and labour market needs. Especially the integration of extra-curricular experience into study programmes is identified as solution for enhancing students’ transversal skills, better preparing them for finding a job (COM(2017) 247 final).
The service learning approach aims to strengthen the students’ relationship with the community, with a view to their personal development and civic engagement (Menezes, 2003, Barber, 1991; Colby & Damon, 1992; Dewey, 1966; Waldstein & Reiher, 2001). The essential elements of this learning approach entails the active involvement of students in solving a need identified in the community and intentionally providing spaces for reflecting upon the experiences (Leming, 2001; Trainor, Muscott & Smith, 1996). These approaches can be integrated into the curricula of students or they can be extra-curricular.
In the anglo-american university culture extra-curricular activities have a long tradition and a value when it comes to students looking for a job. Showing a potential employer that you have already engaged in extracurricular activities is seen as an advantage raising students’ employability. In Europe, there have been initiatives to enhance the engagement of university students in the communities they live in, i.e. civic engagement centers, volunteering centers, community research or community-related projects.
In many European countries this approach is rather new and the system is more formal, credit- and curricula-based becoming more and more important in the last five years. For this reason we argue that social responsibility of students should be promoted through integration into curricula – this needs specific teaching approaches, namely service-learning, project-based learning and teaching about action research. Moreover, HE teachers need to be trained in how to incorporate these activities into their course concepts.
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
The project general objective is to empower the social dimension of higher education by increasing its relevance for society through embedding service-learning as a common pedagogical approach within education and research practice.
The project specific objectives are as follows:
- to explore the existing methodology of service-learning and other forms of community-related learning and research
- to develop a methodological toolkit and a pedagogical workbook to be used by teachers
- to build the critical mass of knowledge and resources in partner HEIs in order to foster the use of service learning and other community-related learning methodologies.
The specific aims are divided on 3 levels:
- To acquire the ability to solve complex problems
- To develop sense of responsibility and engagement
- To experience self-efficacy and self-respect
- To broad their future career choices through communityties
- To implement and test new teaching and student guidance methods
- To link the theoretical matters with real community problem solving
- To foster the collaboration with other teachers
For LOCAL COMMUNITY STAKEHOLDERS:
- To raised awareness of ongoing teaching & research at local HEIs
- To have the opportunity to be a mentor or an expert for students and potential employees
- To increase the participation in socio-political processes and in solving local problems
- Students in higher education who are in their advanced studies and have basic knowledge about research and their field of study and want to engage in service-learning to increase their skills.
- Teachers in higher education who apply the service-learning already and those who have potential courses for such a teaching approach, but who are not familiar with it.
- Communities – the local environments of HEIs with their local stakeholders (business, NGOs, public services, etc.), who will be asked to share their needs with the university and actively liaise with students, teachers and the project partners through formal/non-formal partnerships.
THE TRANSNATIONAL CHARACTER
The consortium will bring together the expertise of HEIs from 6 different local contexts and educational environments having different approaches towards university social responsibility, community engagement, teaching and research methodologies. This cultural diversity together with the different partners’ professional profiles will foster the quality and coverage of the project activities and outputs, increasing this way their usability and transferability.
The ENGAGE STUDENTS project is innovative in 3 ways:
# PRODUCT INNOVATION–developing a methodology toolkit about service learning (IO2) and a workbook for HE teachers (IO3)
Teaching teachers is a complex matter, requiring time and practical didactic knowledge. The European added value of this project is centered around the methodology of service learning: teaching methods, which are a) practical in nature, b) relate to real community problems and needs, and c) have a measurable impact on students’ skills for the labour market are crucial for any educational institution throughout Europe, who wants to increase its relevance in society and better fit its educational programmes with labour market needs.
In this project, methodologies focusing on these three aspects are developed and explored in depth (IO2 and IO3) – leading to a Service Learning Methodology Toolkit and a Pedagogical Workbook for teachers. Both products are highly relevant for higher education across Europe, especially countries, in which the unemployment rate of young academics is high.
# PROCESS INNOVATION – developing new ways of teaching teachers (IO3 workbook)
Within the project a teacher’s training will take place (C1), where teachers will learn to apply service learning as a methodology and use the IO3 workbook. In this one-week training programme teachers are equipped with practical know-how and experiences of others in this field. We believe that the educators are the most important target group in this proposition, as they are change agents and interface to both students and the university management.
# SERVICE INNOVATION – developing new ways of matching students and community partners (IO1 web-tool, IO4 student blog)
The ENGAGE STUDENTS project is innovative in not only developing products about service learning, but actually implementing service learning between students and community partners. For this purpose a web-tool is created, in which community partners can insert their current needs in research, and students can react to it. Students will write about their experiences in a student blog and reflect their experiences for others to follow.