Transformative Learning through an Undergraduate Public Health Service-Learning Course

Kari Brossard Stoos

This project provides a model for developing social and cultural sensitivity and inclusivity through service-learning. The proposal directly addresses a conference aim by describing an approach connecting student learning to life and work experiences outside the physical classroom. Robert Sigmon established the framework for service-learning by providing three principles that premised work in a reciprocal process between communities and institutions of higher education (Sigmon, 1979). Sigmon’s framework was later operationalized as providing a course-based (credit-bearing) experience for students to engage in need-based community activities simultaneously leading to enhanced content learning and appreciation for civic duties (Bringle et al, 2006). These scaffolds were applied during the design phase of a public and community health course aiming to educate students about factors contributing to county health statistics in a rural, and resource limited community. The course also aims to guide students through the complexities of program development with community collaborators employing the PRECEED/ PROCEED model, thus meeting Sigmon’s first principle “those being served control the services provided” (Green, 1980; Sigmon, 1979). Students worked with community collaborators designing need-based health education activities for children attending youth center services. The youth center is located within the Seneca Nation of Indians Allegany Territory, and is governed by the City of Salamanca Youth Bureau. The course design addresses the issue of white normativity in service-learning activities while educating students on the history and culture of the community. Foundational lesson plans were based on the history of colonialism, forced assimilation, forced relocation, and the destruction of sacred lands, using resources written and edited by Seneca scholars. Qualitative assessment of student learning was analyzed through review of weekly written reflections and student interviews. Data collected through narrative inquiry and open ended oral interviews were coded and categorized into major and minor themes including rural health, intersectionality, self-actualization, self-awareness, metacognition, and metamorphosis. Narrative analyses applied Mezirow’s Transformative Learning Theory and O’Sullivan’s interpretation of such (Mezirow, 1975, 1991; O’Sullivan, 2003). Preliminary data demonstrates that this course design effectively initiated the process of perspective shifting resulting in a transmissional, transactional, and transformational learning experience. Additionally, each theme provided evidence of a synergistic impact on public health learning by combining discussion based classroom lesson plans with application through community engagement. The entire experience resulted in prepared, invested student community advocates for healthy behaviors. This sustainable service-learning course can serve as a model for other undergraduate public health programs.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email