For my #DigPINS implementation project, I added blogs to my Spanish 300 course, a course which focuses on developing students’ communication skills, both verbal and written, while also enhancing their knowledge of Hispanic cultures. My section of this course incorporated service learning in its curriculum, and students that were enrolled in the course volunteered in either the bilingual classrooms at Danz Elementary, or in their after-school program. By using Spanish to help others, one of the objectives of this class was for students see the value and purpose of language learning beyond the traditional classroom setting.
From experience teaching, as well as from information that I have read while working on my own scholarship, I have come to view writing as intricately linked to thinking and the act of processing information. The idea is that by writing, we learn to work through our thoughts and communicate our ideas. Thus, when designing this course and choosing an implementation project, I knew that I needed to include a way to help students process their thoughts and reflect on not only what they were learning, but also on how they were helping the students at Danz Elementary through service learning.
These initial thoughts on writing and reflection were further reinforced through the service-learning literature I read that stressed the importance of including critical reflection in experiential education and community-engaged courses. Some texts that have informed my thoughts on this matter include:
- Jacoby, Barbara, and Jeffrey Howard. Service-learning Essentials: Questions, Answers, and Lessons Learned. John Wiley & Sons, 2015.
- Kobrin, Michael, Melissa Smith, and Joanna Mareth. Introduction to Service-Learning Toolkit: Readings and Resources for Faculty. Campus Compact, 2000.
- Roberts, Jay W. Experiential Education in the College Context: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It Matters. Routledge, 2016.
While I could have assigned papers or journal entries to achieve the desired learning outcome, I ultimately decided to incorporate a class blog because I wanted students to have a space to not only reflect on their own experience, but I wanted to give them the means to do so collectively with their peers. The blog created an additional sense of community and camaraderie among the students in the course, since it provided students with a way to continue to engage with each other beyond the class period and it gave them additional opportunities to share and exchange thoughts and information.
In doing so, this project closely aligns with point number two, Digital Communication, in Bryn Mawr’s Digital Competencies Framework. More specifically with 2.1 Collaborative communication and 2.2 Digital writing and publishing. Through the blogs, students became familiar with the publishing tools in WordPress (in Spanish!), and they learned how to effectively communicate their ideas through their blog posts. I observed that for students this often involved not only developing a clear and informative writing style, but also an aesthetically pleasing post that visually communicates and compliments the ideas that the student expressed in their writing. Students also worked together in a collaborative fashion, commenting on the ideas and points brought up by their peers about their service-learning experience. It bears repeating that in this way they could express themselves individually, while also processing the service-learning experience together in a digital space.
In regards to implementation and assessment, Taylor helped me develop the expectations for the blog portion of the course and worked with my students to teach them how to post their reflections and comment on the posts of their peers (Thank you, Taylor!). It was decided that as long as students met the word length, and demonstrated that they were reflecting on both their experiences and on the experiences of others to their fullest capabilities, they would receive full credit. It was interesting to read the blogs and see how their relationships grew with the students at Danz over the semester, how they gained more confidence in themselves, and how they acquired new perspectives from their experiences.
The implementation of this technology had multiple benefits and helped students to meet other course objectives for Spanish 300. For instance, by giving students additional practice in the target language beyond the instructional setting, students greatly improved their ability to communicate in Spanish, which in turn gave them more faith in their language skills. In addition, by helping students process their thoughts and ideas, by the end of the semester students were able to successfully articulate how this service-learning experience helped the community, and how it changed them as individuals. The final reflection papers from this course were moving and it was apparent that students were profoundly affected by their experiences within the community. I believe that the blogs were instrumental in helping students achieve the level of depth and reflection that they demonstrated by the end of the semester.
Thank you, #DigPINS / ITS for all your help, resources, and strong commitment to student learning! None of this would be possible without you.