ITL Masthead

Vol. 3, No. 1

Your Source for Teaching & Learning News and Information

Fall 2009

p h b Campus News

Finding New Educational Opportunities in Budget-tight Times: Service Learning at Humboldt State

Dr. Joy Adams
Dr. Joy Adams
Professor of Geography
Humboldt State University

You have probably heard the urban legend claiming that the Chinese character for crisis is a fusion of the characters for danger and opportunity. I suspect that the persistence of this myth, despite ample evidence to the contrary, attests to our collective desire to identify the positive aspects of navigating difficult personal and professional situations.

Although I am a relative newcomer to the CSU system, it is evident that our current state budget crisis is imposing unprecedented challenges on our students, faculty, staff, and administrators. Furthermore, many of the support services upon which our local communities rely have been reduced or eliminated, owing to financial considerations.

As a result, our campus’ recent Volunteer Fair saw a record turnout of local agencies participating in hopes of recruiting student assistance. At the same time, we saw a record number of students turning out in search of volunteer opportunities to enhance their professional development and marketability in an increasingly competitive labor market. Our common plight has created common ground, making the climate ideal for educational institutions to contribute to community efforts through service-learning partnerships.

What is service learning?

Service learning is one approach to experiential education. Learn & Serve America defines it as “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.” Most definitions stress that service learning is intended to provide reciprocal benefits to both students and community partners. However, I have discovered that there are numerous, less obvious multiplier effects that also accompany successful service-learning partnerships, rewarding faculty members, project partners, and educational institutions who support community engagement.

Who benefits?

Despite a demanding workload this fall, I am continuing a collaboration begun last spring to support the development of a Geotourism MapGuide for counties along the northern coast of California. The project is intended to promote locally responsive and sustainable tourism development in our region, and this pilot project will kick off efforts to develop similar resources for our state’s central and southern coasts. In addition to the professional development and networking opportunities afforded to my students and the boost this project could provide our local tourism industry, the sponsoring organizations – which include the Bureau of Land Management and National Geographic – are advancing toward their educational and public-service goals by actively involving young people in their efforts. Humboldt State University – and the CSU system more broadly – benefits from the positive press and goodwill generated from the class’ involvement.

Of most immediate importance to me as a junior faculty member are the many benefits I receive from my involvement in this endeavor, including a renewed enthusiasm for teaching, becoming better acquainted with my new hometown, opportunities to meet other professionals with shared interests, and the possibility of future publications regarding the project and its impacts. I have begun collaborations with faculty at other CSU campuses within the participating counties in hopes of bringing this model to colleagues throughout the system, which is not only personally rewarding but has the potential to extend the multiplier effects of this undertaking far beyond the boundaries of our region. Although it does require additional time and effort to implement this pedagogical approach, it has been well worth the investment to find the hidden opportunity embedded in our current fiscal crisis.

Looking to get started with service learning or other forms of experiential education?

Each of the 23 CSU campuses has an office dedicated to supporting community engagement, or you can visit the CSU system’s Center for Community Engagement. Learn & Serve America’s service-learning portal also features a great deal of helpful information, in addition to external links.

Service Learning Research at CSU Channel Islands

Dr. Dennis J. Downey
Professor of Sociology
CSU Channel Islands

In the spring of 2009, sociology students at CSU Channel Islands conducted a survey of patrons of the Camarillo Certified Farmers’ Market (CCFM) as a service learning project. The project emerged as a partnership with Camarillo Hospice (principally Executive Director Sandy Nirenberg) which sponsors the market. Camarillo Hospice administrators were interested in learning more about the needs of patrons and how well they are serving those needs. The survey was designed and conducted by students in Introduction to Research Methods, taught by Dennis Downey, as a way of learning about social research through first-hand experience. Students performed basic tasks such as initial questionnaire design, survey administration, and data entry. More advanced components of the research were conducted by Sara Griffin, as part of her sociology capstone project. Finally, all components of the project were monitored and directed by Downey to ensure that proper social research standards were met and that the experience led to significant learning outcomes.

Some of the more interesting findings included the following:

  • Patron Satisfaction & Preferences: Patrons report strong and generalized satisfaction with the market and its products, and they seem to particularly appreciate the overall convenience of the small local market. Areas of moderate concern are parking and the lack of seating. Nearly half indicated that they would like to see core products expanded – i.e., more fruits and vegetables and more certified organic produce.

  • Additional Attractions & Broader Implications: Patrons visit the farmers’ market for a variety of reasons beyond merely purchasing fresh local produce. Among the most important tend to be environmental/health concerns and social/community-oriented concerns. The former are the strongest non-market attractions to patrons.

  • Temporal Differences in Patterns of Patronage: Overall, earlier shoppers purchase more of their household produce at the market and are more likely to shop alone. In comparing earlier and later shoppers, the former are relatively more likely to rate environmental and health concerns as important attractions to the market; later shoppers are relatively more likely to rate socially-oriented and community-oriented concerns to be more important.

Full copies of the report can be accessed online via the CSUCI Center for Community Engagement

Review past issues at

Dr. Cynthia Desrochers
Director, Institute for Teaching & Learning
CSU, Office of the Chancellor, 6th Floor

p h b Teaching & Learning Tips

When Doing Less for Students May Help Them Learn More

Cynthia Desrochers, ITL, Director

With the decision to furlough, CSU faculty professional development efforts have quickly jumped the track of enhancing teaching and learning to one called saving faculty time. In this article I hope to illustrate how both goals can move forward together on the same track.

Moreover, if your philosophy includes the notion that students should leave college more independent and self-reliant than when then entered—or if you have ever used the words entitled and students today in the same sentence—read on.

1—Develop (and carefully explain) a communication system that requires students to do assignments in a timely fashion and plan ahead.

Use email for student questions, student attendance messages to you, and your messages/assignments to the total class. Avoid writing more than a sentence reply. Use class sessions for answering questions, clarifications, and discussion. With this method all students can benefit, you explain it one time, and students don’t wait until the last minute to discover their questions.

If you check email only Monday through Thursday, 8 to 5, communicate this, and ask students to plan ahead because you aren’t available Sunday night before an exam.

2—Suggest steps that students can take to solve academic problems, alerting them to use resources and people and to consider schedules.

Often these steps mirror what adults do in order to solve life problems (such as a broken home appliance):

  • review your notes or course text material (read appliance instructional manual)

  • check with a classmate (seek advice from your neighbor)

  • come to office hours (call Sear’s appliance repair department)

  • ask the professor in class (schedule a home repair visit)

3—Encourage out of class readings with checks at the beginning of class

Asking students to get their first exposure to course topics out of class not only encourages responsible behavior but also creates a mental set for class. Start with short, high interest readings and give short (3 questions) beginning of class (or online before class) quizzes on key ideas. I prefer to have students assess/score (3-2-1-0) their own and submit.

4—Craft student-made rubrics for student-constructed assignments and projects

Student-constructed projects (e.g., essays, posters, art projects) have essential criteria and performance levels. Bring in a ready-made example project and ask students to determine the essentials (4-6 optimum) and what a beginning, satisfactory, and stellar fulfillment of each criterion would be. Type up as a rubric and distribute, thus providing students an understanding of (1) the project’s essential criteria, (2) the levels of performance, (3) a road map for doing their project, and (4) the assessment tool for self, peer, and teacher evaluation of the final project. If projects are too cumbersome for office-storing, conduct a class sharing session and capture a digital camera image of each project and student instead of collecting.

5—Guide students to monitor their own progress on assignments

Set aside class time to discuss dividing assignments into segments, the steps toward completion of each segment, and a tentative timeline. At a couple critical times throughout the term, discuss (and collect?) have done and have yet to do lists with students.

6—Communicate your line in the sand for paper mechanics

Do you want papers typed, double spaced, with fewer than 10 errors per page? Is there a minimum length, number of references, graphs, etc.? And what happens when this line is crossed? Is the paper returned to the student to resubmit as a late paper? If a paper is riddled with errors, the student will learn more by personally proofreading it than from your corrections. Remember, the person who is doing the proofreading is the person who is growing the dendrites.

7—Limit your corrections and lengthy identical feedback on student papers

When you correct students’ writing, do they truly learn the writing rules or merely copy your edits? If the latter, consider making a hash mark(s) in the margin of a line with error(s) and asking students to find and correct their own errors. Another rule of thumb is to mark only the first 10 mechanical errors in a paper, and then ask students to correct the remainder and resubmit. For general feedback to the entire class, consider putting only letter codes by errors on individual papers (e.g., RO for run-on sentence) and either (1) preparing a page of explanations (codes and the rules) and distributing or (2) giving oral explanations (with examples) as part of a total-class-feedback session.

8—Consider giving paragraph versus essay exams

For most of us, writing quality prose requires multiple revisions and tinkering. Similarly, many one-draft and timed student essays are poorly written and do not accurately tap students’ understanding. Exams made of a few short-answer paragraphs may be a better assessment tool and more easily deciphered.

Some authors of suggested best practices for reducing time spent grading papers have encouraged a switch from essay to multiple-choice exams. Perhaps the latter are easier to grade, but crafting reliable multiple-choice question that get at students’ deep understanding is a challenge. For guidelines on crafting multiple-choice questions, check Idea Paper 16.

Please email Cynthia Desrochers with your strategies for promoting more responsible student learning that save professor time.

Benefit from the CSU General Education Affinity Group

The GE Affinity Group consists of CSU faculty and administrators with an interest in general education. It includes deans or AVPs of undergraduate education and current and former faculty chairs of campus GE committees. All are committed to the principles of liberal education at the heart of every CSU bachelor’s degree, regardless of major.

The group’s Web site is publicly available. There you will find:

  • A link to GE Resources, contemporary readings on outcomes, ePortfolios, student success, and more.

  • A database of innovative GE Program Features now in use throughout the CSU, as annually updated by every campus. Use the Keyword Search to find practices at a particular California State University.

ITL visitors are particularly welcome. Tell them Ken O’Donnell sent you.

p h b Events

October 14, 2009 (Wednesday), 2:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Topic: Getting Student Feedback with Bb Vista Surveys
Facilitator: Dr. Janja Lalich, Sociology, CSU Chico

October 28, 2009 (Wednesday), 2:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Topic: Assessment Strategies for Blackboard Vista
Facilitator: Rovane Younger, Construction Management, CSU Chico

Both CSU Chico sessions are live and online through Wimba Classroom. RSVP to Laura Sederberg at (530) 898-4326, or email Log-in and archive at