NUI Galway Conference Highlights the Importance of Service Learning

Monday, 19 April 2010

The Community Knowledge Initiative (CKI) at NUI Galway recently hosted the University's inaugural conference on Service Learning entitled, 'Creating Spaces for Civic Engagement - University and Community Perspectives'. Keynote speakers at the conference included Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Chairman of Aer Arann and Adjunct Professor with JE Cairnes School of Business and Economics, and NUI Galway President, Dr James J. Browne. The Conference highlighted the importance of civic engagement within the curriculum through Service Learning. Over 12 service learning modules were showcased from the perspective of students, community and academics. Pádraig O Céidigh, Chairman of Aer Arann, challenged the conference participants to think what is the world with them, rather than without them. He stressed that we are part of one big wheel and we can sit comfortably within the centre of the wheel or move to the edge and take some risks with meaningful outcomes. He encouraged NUI Galway to continue developing service learning and civic engagement opportunities for students so that we can create a culture of community innovation. Siobhan Lynch, NUI Galway Nursing graduate, spoke about her experience of undertaking service leaning in the Ranchod Aids Hospice for the dying in Zambia. She explained how this experienced had a pivotal effect on her career as she followed a nursing career in London in the largest HIV Unit in Europe at the Kings College Hospital. Service Learning is a teaching tool that enables students to connect their learning to community needs and issues vital to society though the guidance of academic staff. Students learn from engaging with communities by active participation and reflection. The ultimate goal of the CKI is to create 'graduate citizens' who will continue to engage with community throughout their personal and professional lives. At NUI Galway, to date over thirty degree programmes now incorporate a service learning experience whereby 800 students each year engage their learning in a community context. Lorraine McIlrath, Conference Convenor and CKI Coordinator, highlighted "that higher education is no longer the sacred cow and needs to be poked and provoked so that students have an opportunity to apply their learning in a real world problem solving context". McIlrath added: "The implementation of service learning modules at NUI Galway has proven that this model works for our students as they have realised academic opportunities where they can problem solves in a real world community context". Third-year students completing degree programmes in Electronic and Electronic and Computer Engineering recently held a public poster exhibition highlighting innovation technology based solutions, which they have developed to address some daily challenges experienced by various groups with disabilities. This work was completed as part of a service learning project module undertaken by all third-year Electrical and Electronic Engineering students with support from Galway community organisations such as Enable Ireland, the National Council for the Blind of Ireland and DearHear.ie. Second-year BSc Biomedical Science students recently completed a new CKI module where students worked on six separate projects with different community groups including local secondary schools and the African community in Galway. Projects included a feasibility study designed to assist second level students with the concept, research and development of science projects suitable for inclusion in the "Young Scientist of the Year" competition. Another group worked with students in the Jesuit secondary school in a collaborative production of a docudrama on drug awareness while another initiative was the design of an educational awareness programme for visiting friends and relatives of the African community in Galway with respect to malaria prevention. The School of Geography and the College of Engineering and Informatics at NUI Galway recently organised a poster exhibition to reflect on and support the activities of a range of national and international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO). The exhibition was the outcome of a successful collaboration between Postgraduate Geography, Third Year Engineering and Third Year Project Management students jointly developing critiques of a number of NGOs with a view to assisting them to view their activities and strategies from a range of geographical and engineering perspectives. These reviews have led to the production of a set of evaluation reports, which aim to assist NGOs to view their activities and strategies from a range of geographical and engineering perspectives. This multi-disciplinary module, entitled 'Managing Development', involves 19 students from the School of Geography and Archaeology, and 150 students from the College of Engineering and Informatics.
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