Service learning went virtual this quarter

With the pressure of COVID-19, the majority of Edmonds College was forced to be remote for Spring Quarter. Unfortunately, this includes service learning; a program designed to combine community service with teachable moments to enrich the curriculum through hands-on learning experiences.

Service learning has been a vital part of the curriculum of many departments at EC for many years, especially the anthropology department. Supporting and improving the community is valuable to many on campus, so what do you do when social distancing is a must?

“We basically had to pivot really quick and try to come up with some projects,” said Stewart Sinning, the Center for Service-Learning Program Coordinator. “[Virtual Service Learning] allows for flexibility, it allows for social distancing and it provides some opportunities for our distance learners who never come to campus anyway.”   

For Edmonds College, service learning is more than just doing community service, it is about learning and engaging with diverse groups of people. One of the virtual projects that help students learn about and engage with diverse groups of people is the Becoming A-Wear: Multicultural Awareness Program. This is a multicultural service project sponsored by the Center for Multicultural Diversity and Inclusion, and overseen by the Edmonds College Service-Learning Programmer, Simone Tanke.

“I didn’t even realize how many different cultures I identify with, personally, until I built the project,” said Tanke. Tanke describes the group as exploring different terms such as intersectionality, diversity, ethnicity, equity and many more. This project is also about students learning about their own multicultural awareness. 

The Becoming Aware project was not originally supposed to me a virtual service learning project. The on-campus Becoming A-Wear project lets students create art about the culture they identify with, and share with others their feelings about the terminology being defined. “We did this one time on campus, and then I had to change our on-campus experience into this virtual experience,” said Tanke. 

“This is one small change that may impact someone’s life,” said Tanke. She thinks it is important for students to be able to express themselves in a safe environment and share their truth.

Tanke created a Becoming A-Wear presentation on the Edmonds College website, under the Virtual Service Learning tab. This presentation gives definitions to words such as intersectionality, inclusion, diversity, and explores the differences between words such as race and ethnicity. Before beginning the project, students are required to fill-out a pre-instruction survey, which contains questions about their current knowledge of the topics covered in Becoming A-Wear. The same type of survey will be required at the end of the program, and contains reflection questions about the program. 

Along with the post-instruction survey, at the end of the program students are required to submit a final assignment. Students are able to submit written projects, such as poems, essays and songs, along with art projects such as painting, drawing, graphics and physical art. Students are also able to make a video about their individuality or submit a spoken piece.

This project is scheduled for four hours, but Tanke is willing to be flexible. “This is something very personal and individual, so if someone came to me and said ‘it took me 8 hours to do this,’ I wouldn’t question it.”

The Becoming A-Wear project is just one example of the virtual service learning opportunities being offered by Edmonds College. Some of the virtual service learning is offered through online programs, such as VolunteerMatch, Zooniverse Research and Catch-a-Fire on the Edmonds College website. 

These online programs allow students to find virtual volunteer opportunities abou topics that they find interesting. Zooniverse Research is a program about science research, and VolunteerMatch is a program that can connect students to service learning opportunities, some of which are specifically related to COVID-19. There are many to choose from, and according to the VolunteerMatch website there are over 622,000 volunteers needed. For COVID-19 related services alone, there are over 226,000 volunteers needed.

According to Sinning, these online resources gave the Center for Service Learning more time to create meaningful projects that have a positive impact on the Edmonds College community.

Another project being offered is the Spreading Awareness on Consent and Bystander Awareness. This is a virtual service learning project that allows students to use their artistic and outreach skills. Students are able to use their writing skills to create stories and poems, videography skills to create videos, or students interested in art can upload a picture of a painting or digital art. This project is scheduled for five hours of service learning. It is happening now, and will continue throughout Spring Quarter. For students that are interested, contact the program coordinator, Amanda Greene.

Edmonds College has also begun a partnership with Shepards Garden, a local senior community only two blocks away from the college. Shepards Garden houses seniors who are quarantining at home, and missing social interactions such as entertainment and conversations. 

“We are looking for students to come up with products to interact with some of these residents,” said Sinning. “That really is bringing our community together.” 

According to Sinning, the seniors at Shepherds Garden would appreciate things such as students organizing a bingo, or doing poetry and story reading. “It could be just talking with them one-on-one and sharing culture,” said Sinning. 

With all of these new resources for service learning, virtual service learning will become a way for students to fully take advantage of the programs Edmonds College offers. Due to the positive outcome of this program, the Center for Service Learning plans to keep offering virtual service learning opportunities, even after in-person classes resume. 

“I think we provide quite a bit of resources, and for distance learners and those who have hectic schedules, this is the way to get the most out of what you pay,” said Sinning.

The members of the service learning program have been hard at work partnering with other programs within the college, such as the Violence Prevention program and the Center for Student Cultural Diversity, in order to make distance learning as meaningful as possible.. These partnerships allow the college to design service learning projects that reflect the values of Edmonds College, and encourage students to get the most out of their college experience.