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ARCOM Conferences

36th Annual Conference – Glasgow, UK
7-9 September 2020

Track 6: Community Engagement: The Case For Service To The Community

Lead: Robert A. Bugg, Assistant Professor; Lauren W. Redden, Assistant Professor; James M. Hosey, Instructor; Scott W. Kramer, Professor; Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA

Issues of community engagement is becoming increasingly popular in higher education programmes across the world, and there is also calls for engaged scholarship that bridges the divide between theory and practice. In some universities, this drive towards more community engagement is framed in terms of social responsibility, and this is in itself not unproblematic. There is a need to invite broader conversations that not only showcases the successes of such initiatives, but also critically reflect on the challenges and future prospects of doing more of what is framed as a ‘good’ thing for students, educators and societal stakeholders. This theme solicits papers that question the ways we evaluate educational effectiveness more generally and in service learning scenarios more particularly, and to also question the institutional enablers and inhibitors that make the ideals of service learning a reality.

A typical mission of Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) academic programs is to equip university graduates with the tools and skills necessary to effectively manage construction projects. The mission is accomplished by providing instruction in areas such as estimating, scheduling, safety, construction law, construction business, building information modeling, project management, and structures, focusing on the technical aspects of construction management. However, by focusing almost exclusively on the technical, students completed their studies with little or no perspective on how their profession shapes the world we live in or how the AEC community can and should contribute to future generations.

Service Learning is a method of teaching that enhances learning through integration of community service projects and instruction. It provides hands-on construction experience, teaches civic responsibility, and strengthens communities in which it serves (Fayetteville State University, 2016). Many universities around the United States are looking further into how service learning can be integrated into their curriculum. There is opportunity to build character and service habits that can last a lifetime. Well-rounded students who have the knowledge, experience, and heart to give back are going to create a better world. Service Learning creates an educational framework through which students can give back to communities.

Universities should be concerned with developing the entire student and not just their academic achievements. In a report by professors at Mankato State University, it states, “a university goal should be development of students’ sense both of social responsibility and of what is learned by contributing to society” (Olszewski and Bussler, 1993). Service Learning creates an opportunity for building that sense of responsibility to giving back to the communities that help support students and give them a home away from home.

The use of service learning projects is becoming increasingly popular at colleges and universities. Progressive service learning (i.e., learning and developing through active participation) provides an enhanced learning environment for students, as opposed to traditional learning methods that are mostly theoretical in nature, not realistic in application, and do not connect the various aspects of a field of study (Burr, 2001). Astin et al (2000) describes a longitudinal study of over 22,000 undergraduate students in the United States, with the stated goals of (1) exploring the comparative effects of service learning and on the cognitive and affective development of college undergraduates, and (2) enhance the understanding of how learning is enriched by service. The study found that the single most important factor associated with a positive service learning experience is the student’s degree of interest in the subject matter, how the experience enhances the understanding of academic course materials, and if the service is viewed as a learning experience.

The faculty of the McWhorter School of Building Science (BSCI) at Auburn University has used Service Learning as an instructional tool for over 30 years. Over the years, service learning at Auburn expanded from simple concrete service projects constructed as part of the structures curriculum into numerous service learning projects constructed by student organizations. In 2009, the service-learning program was expanded to include an elective course that included working on service projects in Quito, Ecuador. In 2017, a service learning course for 4th year undergraduates was added to the curriculum. This course is required in the penultimate semester of the undergraduate program.

While some research concerning the effectiveness and value of service learning has been performed, we believe the AEC community would benefit from sharing lessons learned as well as discuss ways to overcome barriers to participation in service learning. In addition, issues regarding academic assessment of the service learning goals of the class should be discussed.


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