Bringing Learning Objectives to Life
“I’m not going to sacrifice pedagogy just to make CEL work,” says Dr. Robert Kraemer. “Community engaged learning is a clinical technique that can help us bridge the classroom to the real world if it is carefully thought out and implemented correctly. It is important that there is reciprocity among participating agencies.”
Bridges to the Community
Kraemer, an associate professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders, is a relative newcomer to the CEL faculty ranks. Although he’s paired with community partners previously, he says the relationships lacked the reciprocity and structure to maximize the learning experience. “I think I was more lenient in what I considered civic engagement,” he says.
“I started researching CEL for a diversity class I had already developed,” he says. He wanted his undergraduate students to have experiences with diverse populations. “I wanted them to know how to be inclusive, how to work with families.” Kraemer arranged for his students to read to children at the book club at The Road Home. They tutored at Palmer Court transitional housing, worked with UFit and special needs children and provided English as a second language instruction to adult learners at the Guadalupe School. Kraemer says community involvement is a large part of a student’s grade with most averaging 20 hours of service per semester.
With the support of the Bennion Center’s CEL faculty team of advisors, Kraemer learned he could qualify for Student Credit Hour funding to expand his curriculum and his reach. He was able to explore how to make his classes more effective and truly beneficial to his community partners. While he knew most of his current community colleagues through his role as CSD’s Speech-Language Pathology graduate program director, Kraemer wanted to increase his outreach and bring more programs on board. “I want to expand the agencies in the fall to include Family Support Center, United Way, and a few newly identified local schools,” he said. But he isn’t stopping there. Working with a faculty member in social work, he will offer a learning abroad course in Oaxaca, Mexico and strengthen strategic partners there. He’s also developed a CEL graduate course. Graduate students will accompany interpreters working in the U’s medical center and assist them in better understanding the complex communication needs of limited English proficient patients with acquired language loss due to stroke or brain injury.
And then there’s that idea of research. “I teach research methods and one of the things I got out of the CEL network is how to do community-based research on an undergrad basis, to help students learn about research and help the community.” Kraemer says he has a half dozen ideas for research topics he believe would benefit the community partner and the students. “Our courses fall short in addressing issues of social justice and civic responsibility. It’s more about supporting agencies that are bare-boned. As I’ve learned more about sustainability the roots got deeper,” he notes.
His Fall semester class was an elective that 25 students registered for. The course is now a prerequisite for newly developed spring and summer CEL courses that allows students to gain credit while continuing their CEL placements. This coursework provides sustained efforts with partners. No longer will CEL be a one and done effort, partners will know they can count on student engagement and support year round.
“It’s just being a bridge between our department, the U, and the community,” Kraemer says. “It’s good will.” And Kraemer says the students are benefiting too. Some of his students continued volunteering with their community partners even after the class had ended, which is exactly what he hoped would happen. “I want to keep the engagement, keep the involvement,” he says.
Kraemer says the CEL benefit for him as a faculty member is seeing the students develop as individuals. “It’s rewarding when I sit in the back of the class while students are presenting on their CEL experiences and seeing that the learning objectives are being operationalized by individuals out in the community. Students are not afraid of physical or economic differences or stereotypes. The benefit to me is more emotional, feeling that we’re doing good work.” Kraemer says the real pay- off may be down the road. “Will they have more empathy? More understanding? That may be something that’s intangible right now but may have tangible benefits down the road.”