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Student-Designed Service-Learning Projects in an Undergraduate Neurobiology Course

    Author: Katharine V. Northcutt1
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    Affiliations: 1: Biology Department, Mercer University, Macon, GA 31207
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Published 01 March 2016
    • ©2016 Author(s). Published by the American Society for Microbiology.
    • [open-access] This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode), which grants the public the nonexclusive right to copy, distribute, or display the published work.

    • Supplemental materials available at http://jmbe.asm.org
    • Corresponding author. Mailing address: Biology Department, Mercer University, 1501 Mercer University Dr., Macon, GA 31207. Phone: 478-301-2348. Fax: 478-301-2067. E-mail: northcutt_kv@mercer.edu.
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2016 vol. 17 no. 1 90-92. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i1.1067
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    Abstract:

    One of the challenges in teaching a service-learning course is obtaining student buy-in from all students in the course. To circumvent this problem, I have let students in my undergraduate Neurobiology course design their own service-learning projects at the beginning of the semester. Although this can be chaotic because it requires last-minute planning, I have made it successful through facilitating student communication in the classroom, requiring thorough project proposals, meeting with students regularly, and monitoring group progress through written reflection papers. Most of my students have strong opinions about the types of projects that they want to carry out, and many students have used connections that they have already made with local organizations. Almost all projects that students have designed to this point involve teaching basic concepts of neurobiology to children of various ages while simultaneously sparking their interest in science. Through taking ownership of the project and designing it such that it works well with their strengths, interests, and weekly schedule, students have become more engaged in service learning and view it as a valuable experience. Despite some class time being shifted away from more traditional assignments, students have performed equally well in the course, and they are more eager to talk with others about course concepts. Furthermore, the feedback that I have received from community partners has been excellent, and some students have maintained their work with the organizations.

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References & Citations

1. Begley GS2013Making connections: service-learning in introductory cell and molecular biologyJ Microbiol Biol Educ1421322010.1128/jmbe.v14i2.596243583853867759 http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v14i2.596
2. Felzien L, Salem L2008Development and assessment of service learning projects in general biologyBioscene34612
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/content/journal/jmbe/10.1128/jmbe.v17i1.1067
2016-03-01
2017-09-21

Abstract:

One of the challenges in teaching a service-learning course is obtaining student buy-in from all students in the course. To circumvent this problem, I have let students in my undergraduate Neurobiology course design their own service-learning projects at the beginning of the semester. Although this can be chaotic because it requires last-minute planning, I have made it successful through facilitating student communication in the classroom, requiring thorough project proposals, meeting with students regularly, and monitoring group progress through written reflection papers. Most of my students have strong opinions about the types of projects that they want to carry out, and many students have used connections that they have already made with local organizations. Almost all projects that students have designed to this point involve teaching basic concepts of neurobiology to children of various ages while simultaneously sparking their interest in science. Through taking ownership of the project and designing it such that it works well with their strengths, interests, and weekly schedule, students have become more engaged in service learning and view it as a valuable experience. Despite some class time being shifted away from more traditional assignments, students have performed equally well in the course, and they are more eager to talk with others about course concepts. Furthermore, the feedback that I have received from community partners has been excellent, and some students have maintained their work with the organizations.

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FIGURE 1

Service-learning evaluations from students in fall 2014. 1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neutral, 4 = agree, 5 = strongly agree.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2016 vol. 17 no. 1 90-92. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i1.1067
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