Education for Tomorrow's World, the report that led to the development of New Courses 2012, recommended that all UWA students be required to devote a minimum of 20 hours, at some stage during their undergraduate enrolment, to service with a community organisation.
A Service Learning Working Party established as part of the implementation process formed the view that the scale and mandatory nature of this recommendation should not be regarded as absolute because it was framed in a way that would create difficulties both of principle and of practice. At the level of principle there was a conflict between (1) the ideal of a service ethos, associated with a spirit of voluntary giving, and (2) the emphasis on compulsion and compliance. At the level of practice there were many prudential considerations that would make literal implementation extremely demanding and probably unmanageable.
Accordingly the Working Party advised, and Academic Council agreed, that the main purpose underlying that recommendation (rather than the specific terms in which it had been formulated) should be pursued carefully through a staged process. That main purpose, clearly enunciated in Education for Tomorrow's World, is to increase students' engagement with the wider community through service activities as a means of developing their awareness of social needs, citizenship responsibilities and leadership capabilities.
The University therefore resolved:
- to lift significantly the number of undergraduate students who participate voluntarily in community service activities;
- to ensure - by working in close partnership with the Student Guild - that these activities are professionally supported and formally regulated;
- to develop an appropriately simple way of defining and recording a student's community service experience, with a view to recognising it on the academic transcript; and
- to encourage staff to integrate service learning opportunities within the curriculum, by publicising examples of good practice.
The Service Learning Working Party has met regularly since early 2009 to plan the necessary arrangements for making progress towards those objectives. In recent months it has taken the following steps:
- Applying successfully for a grant from the Distinguished Visiting Teacher Fund to enable an internationally renowned expert in service learning, Professor Barbara Holland, to engage in several meetings and workshops at UWA from 27 July to 1 August. The arrangements for this visit will be publicised shortly.
- Distributing to all teaching staff a brochure to explain the University's commitment to develop service learning and to promote its benefits for staff and students.
- Organising a panel discussion, ‘Conversations on Service Learning', as part of Teaching and Learning Month, featuring a range of community service activities already embedded in particular UWA units.
- Working with the Student Guild to support the establishment of a Volunteer Hub through its partnership with Volunteering WA.
- Working with the External Environment Committee of Senate to initiate a project that will explore with various stakeholders how best to develop relationships through which the University can sustain its volunteering and service learning activities.
- Working with Student Services to devise a software-based mechanism for defining and recording a student's service learning experience, with a view to recognising it on the academic transcript.
A paper is currently being prepared for presentation to Academic Council at its 3 August meeting. It will discuss the defining and recording of service learning activities on students' academic transcripts, and will include detailed information and proposals on such topics as:
- categorising different kinds of community service within and outside course units;
- capturing information about these activities through CareerHub and in other ways;
- publishing information on the student's record;
- establishing validation and quality assurance issues;
- achieving recognition for staff involved in service learning.
Winthrop Professor Ian Reid
Senior Academic Reviewer