Teaching Service-Learning Courses at UMass Amherst

  1. Over the past decade I’ve taught a number of different Service-Learning courses at UMass Amherst.   One of those courses is the Interdisciplinary Information Technology Capstone, (or the IT Capstone) which is a year-long culminating experience course.  Seniors who are enrolled in the honors college all complete a course such as this one and compose a Senior Thesis based on their work.

The IT Capstone engages teams of student in technology projects with Holyoke-based non-profits, to meet community identified needs. These projects have included web sites, web-based content management systems, custom Access databases and videos as well as youth, staff and teacher training sessions.

In addition to the technology projects, students research the history of the community, participate in community orientations, conduct needs assessments, complete an asset mapping project and learn about best practices in communities that are similar to Holyoke. Once the projects are completed they also create detailed documentation and conduct training sessions to  help insure the sustainability of the projects.

A key feature of high impact service learning is Reflection. Students in the IT Capstone spend significant time reflecting on their experiences, in class, through online discussions and in their team meetings. They also write Reflection papers at the conclusion of each semester and incorporate a Learning Statement into their Senior Thesis.

In one recent year three teams partnered with staff at the Peck Full Service Community School in Holyoke to meet several identified technology needs.

Technology Ambassadors’ Project

The Technology Ambassadors’ Project (TAP) was designed to promote and encourage the use of educational technology by both teachers and students. In collaboration with the William R. Peck School in Holyoke, the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club, and Girls Inc. of Holyoke, the TAP Team had a three-pronged objective. The first was to train youth to serve as Technology Ambassadors to teachers. This was accomplished through workshops with the youth in which they completed video tutorials that teachers can access as needed and to make it known to the teachers who these trained youth are and that they are willing to help with technology in the classroom. The second objective was to train teachers in the use of some common technologies. To this end, the teachers identified their perceived areas of greatest need. Based on their input, four technology workshops were designed and implemented to provide teachers and staff in the Holyoke Public Schools with tools and technology to maximize their teaching experience. The third aspect of this project was the creation of a technology blog that combined the video tutorials, workshop materials and various other resources, making them available to the teachers for future reference.

Peck Database Team

The Database Project was completed in collaboration with staff at the Peck Full Service Community School in Holyoke and in conjunction with the IT Department of the Holyoke Public School District. The primary goal of this project was to create a custom database that would assist Peck School in its attempt to collect and organize a large amount of data that they generate regarding the students and their families. The data in question includes information regularly collected by schools such as course grades, attendance, demographics, and statewide test scores, but goes beyond the norm, to include information about the student/family involvement with various extra-curricular school programs and participation in programs affiliated with the school’s through partnerships with many community organizations in the city.

This Project benefits the Peck School by making its data collection and processing ability much more cohesive and fluid. It provides for the ability to identify trends and allows the administration to track students and identify any who may be at risk and in need of additional support to reach their full potential. Additionally, the database allows the school to generate reports that will be useful in grant writing and reporting.

Peck Library Web Project

The main focus of this project, completed in collaboration with the Peck School librarian and District IT staff, was the creation of a Peck Library website where online resources for students, teachers and parents are all brought to light. The Peck Library Project was a collaborative effort intended to improve the education of the Peck School students by making known and accessible an ocean of no-cost online resources. Whether they are in school, at their afterschool programs or in their homes, students need easy access to learning tools and databases to promote their learning and ignite their quest for knowledge.

This website opens the door to a virtual library of resources and educational programs wherever they have access to a computer – be that in school, in their after school programs, at the city library or, for an increasing percentage of students, at home.  It also has the potential to provide an online method for the parents of Peck students to track their children’s classroom activities and homework, learn about various events and access general parenting resources.

When classes resume in September, there will be another group of seniors eager to embark on this year’s projects. I’m looking forward to another rewarding year working with the students and our community partners.


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