UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Finding community in community service learning Newnham, Jodi-Lyn Marie Theresa

Abstract

Many universities are strengthening their relationships with communities. Universities recognize that they need to work in partnership with communities to address social and economic problems. The University of British Columbia (UBC) is beginning to utilize community service learning (CSL) as one strategy to connect the university to the community while achieving its educational objectives. CSL refers to a student experience that combines community service and learning, and can be either curricular or co-curricular. Often there is an effort to distinguish CSL from traditional student volunteerism by emphasizing the importance of connecting the service to specific learning objectives, such as learning about the societal context or political conditions that necessitate the service through reflection. Documentations of CSL cases have primarily focused on the experience of the student. Some scholars are now beginning to consider how CSL impacts faculty and its relationship to roles and rewards within academia. The broader literature on community-university partnerships addresses how CSL impacts the university as an institution. Yet, in the vast body of literature on CSL, little attention is paid to the community organizations in which the service and learning occurs. To gain some insight into the community experiences and perspectives of CSL, I interviewed representatives of eight community partners of UBC's Learning Exchange Trek Program, a program that organizes CSL for UBC in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, and three representatives from the Learning Exchange Trek Program. I propose a five-part continuum for conceptualizing community-university partnerships: caution; testing the relationship; situating it within their broader agenda; partnerships between individuals; and organizational mutualism. Overwhelmingly, the community partners expressed the view that it is inadequate for the university to concentrate on teaching specific skills or educating professionals. Instead, they argued that the university has a responsibility to prepare students to contribute to civil society, and believe that the Learning Exchange Trek Program and CSL can facilitate that aspiration by inviting students to care about the Downtown Eastside. Based on what I heard from the interviewees, I suggest that CSL may facilitate future discussion on the role of the state, voluntary sector, and community in providing social services and support in our communities.

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