Faculty Development & Service-Learning

By S-L Program Assistant & Co-op Henry Finnegan

Service-Learning (S-L) is a form of experiential learning that both benefits the community through engaged, focused service and the student through application of learning outcomes in a community setting. It intentionally targets student development and takes the risk of challenging teaching norms by taking students out of the classroom and asking them to demonstrate what they’ve learned in a different way. But students and communities aren’t the only ones involved in the service-learning process. For years, the S-L team has been involved in research projects and programs focused on advancing faculty development in our field. This semester, four initiatives have come to the forefront due to their impact on the field of faculty development and service-learning: research on Northeastern’s Service-Learning Teaching Assistant program as a form of faculty development, research on supporting and growing faculty members interested in S-L, the Service-Learning Fellows Program, and two different Faculty Workshops focusing on S-L and project- and problem-based learning (PBL).

Service-Learning Teaching Assistants as a Form of Faculty Development

S-LTAs Olivia Laskowski, Sydney Mokel, Chelsea Lauder, and Siddharth Sridharan

Since 2007, the Service-Learning Program has invested in a robust Service-Learning Teaching Assistant (S-LTA) program that pairs undergraduate student leaders with faculty members to support their implementation of service-learning in the curriculum. For years, end of semester faculty evaluations suggested that S-LTAs not only helped support the logistics of service-learning, but that there may be some unintended benefits for faculty members either personally, professionally, or academically. Beginning in 2014, Dr. Gail Begley, Dr. Hilary Schuldt, Dr. Becca Berkey, and Lisa Roe have been conducting research to explore how partnering with an undergraduate S-LTA might impact faculty development. So far they have presented their work at Northeastern’s Conference for Advancing Evidence-Based Teaching supported by the Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning through Research (CATLR) and the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement (IARSLCE), and are in the process of submitting a manuscript to an academic journal.

Faculty Development through a Community-Responsive Approach

Brooke Schober and Barak Soreff presenting their research at the 2016 RISE EXPO

As the Service-Learning Program at Northeastern has experienced rapid growth in the past three years, it became essential to investigate how to best support faculty members who are interested in utilizing this pedagogical approach while still supporting and responding to our community partners’ goals. Toward that end, Dr. Becca Berkey, Barak Soreff, and Brooke Schober began a research project in 2014 to explore questions such as (but not limited to):

  • Is it possible for infrastructure to be developed that addressed university stakeholder interests and obligations while also meeting the needs identified by the community in a way that is mutually beneficial?
  • In what ways can service-learning pedagogy be implemented to promote the ongoing recruitment of faculty members and other university stakeholders?
  • What would be the effect of the introduction of an incentive, such as a faculty grant/fellow program, on faculty interest in service-learning?

The study is under review for publishing, but the trio has presented their work at RISE and IARSLCE and their research has resulted in the creation of two faculty workshops and a Service-Learning Fellows Program in Fall 2016, both designed in collaboration with Dr. Mary English from CATLR.

Service-Learning Fellows Program

Dr. English (right) and some fellows at their first meeting in August

I wanted to learn more about the Fellows Program, so I sat down with Dr. English to talk about the goals for this new initiative. The Service-Learning Fellows Program is a group of faculty that are interested in the pedagogy of service-learning, and Dr. English describes them as focused on developing as a group to, “come out with a redesigned course or a different way of thinking about their courses to make the experience more robust for the students and more impactful for the community.” Through this program, faculty members are developing their knowledge of both the service-learning and PBL pedagogical approaches and how to pair the two approaches for integrated learning of disciplinary and cross-disciplinary knowledge and skills. Applying the PBL approach is complex and requires faculty to re-think their practice, from design through assessment. As Dr. English explains, PBL begins with a driving question,

You start with your learning outcomes in the context of a big overarching driving question…Instead of presenting content, you present the driving question, which drives students to the content through an inquiry process… Students develop products that demonstrate what they have learned.  So, instead of thinking about what content to present to students, you think about what questions and products students need to answer and create to facilitate their learning.

The fellows meet every one to two weeks to discuss relevant literature, share their questions and insights, and develop their course designs. Dr. English explained that the program is designed to not only help faculty hone their teaching skills, but to “transform their ideas about teaching and learning.”

The program also aims to develop strong collaborations with community partners to ensure that projects not only help students learn, but also address community needs. At a recent Fellows meeting, three representatives from different organizations were present to share their ideas about how they prefer to work with faculty in a way that is mutually beneficial to the students,  the faculty member, and the community partner. Allison Rogers from Boston Scholar Athletes, Kim Lucas from the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, and Gina Mittal from United Way were all in attendance.

Faculty who are not participating in the Service-Learning Fellows program can learn about these topics through faculty workshops delivered through CATLR this fall (facilitated by Dr. English and Dr. Berkey).

Faculty Development Workshops

The first workshop, which was delivered on October 25th, was an Enhancing Service-Learning Through Problem- and Project-Based Learning (PBL) Approaches workshop, where “participants learned about specific features of PBL that can be applied—entirely or incrementally—to enhance student learning and motivation in service-learning courses.”1 The second, scheduled for November 15th, titled Strategies for Integrating Service-Learning with Academic Learning will focus on “learning how to map course learning outcomes to NU community partners’ initiatives for robust learning and impactful experiences.”1 Interested faculty are encouraged to sign up here and attend.


The research and programs that the Service-Learning at Northeastern community has invested in are in the process of making impactful, meaningful contributions to the service-learning and faculty development fields of study and practice at Northeastern and beyond. It is sometimes easy to forget, because of the nature of their profession, that faculty members and educators are just as interested in growing and developing as students are. These four initiatives are the manifestation of the idea that by growing and developing together, faculty and students are maximizing their collective learning experience and impacting the quality of collaboration in the community together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s