Students in our university have long been engaged in a wide range of community service projects in Hong Kong, mainland China, and overseas. We are now moving into a new phase. Starting in 2012, all our students will be required to take a 3-credit subject in service learning as part of their 4-year degree programs.
Service Learning is essentially volunteer work with defined learning objectives related to their studies. The learning objectives can be broadly defined, such as enhancing awareness of civic responsibilities. They can also be more specific, such as application of computer skills to assist those on the wrong side of the digital divide.
The services involved can be direct, such as teaching, training, assisting, etc. They may also be less direct, such as studying the impact of environmental issues on the community, matters of social justice, etc. Nevertheless, they must address well-defined needs of the community, in a meaningful and substantial way.
There must also be well-defined teaching, learning and assessment, to ensure that the learning objectives are achieved.
Many of us are quite excited about integrating service learning into the regular academic curriculum. It recognizes service learning as a core learning pedagogy, while giving every student an opportunity to be engaged with community in a meaningful way. In the mean time, we recognize the challenges in designing proper teaching methods, projects, and assessments; in developing a sufficiently wide-range of subjects; and in motivating a sufficient large group of academic staff to develop these subjects.
In the coming year, we hope to set up a number of pilot subjects, in different forms and disciplines. Based on the experiences in running these pilot subjects, we will hopefully be able to start bringing the vision to reality.
Exciting and challenging times ahead indeed.