Fundamentals of Speech Communication in Action
A lot of folks on Vol. State’s campus have been asking the question: How is ditch-digging relevant to a Communication class? The answer is Service-Learning. Last semester, seventy students from Jennifer Pitts’ Fundamentals of Communication classes partnered with Friends of Bledsoe Creek State Park in Gallatin, TN, to help Bledsoe Creek State park solve a storm water drainage problem.
Service-Learning, according to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, “combines service objectives with learning objectives with the intent that the activity change both the recipient and the provider of the service. This is accomplished by combining service tasks with structured opportunities that link the task to self-reflection, self-discovery, and the acquisition and comprehension of values, skills, and knowledge content.”
One student described the Service-Learning project as “Fundamentals of Speech Communication in action.” Another student said, “When I registered for this class, I figured we would sit in class every day, listen to lectures, and then be forced to speak in front of people we barely knew. Instead, we were given a problem, asked to use our tools of communication to brainstorm effective solutions, and then implement those physically.”
The assignment was two-fold: the “service part” and the “learning part.” Students were required to put in five hours of service at the park. They were not graded on the quality of their service, but they were not eligible to earn points for the “learning part” until they completed the five hour service requirement.
The “service part” of the project was ambitious, challenging, and at times overwhelming. The students focused their efforts on the problem of erosion around a picnic area and flooding of the surrounding sidewalks. Redirecting the flow of water involved digging drainage ditches, removing large rocks, unbending crushed culvert pipes, placing a silt fence, lining ditches with rock, reseeding, and spreading erosion control blankets. The most challenging part of the job included tunneling under a sidewalk to place a drainage pipe.
During the course of researching ways to dig ditches, students became aware of the possible negative environmental effects of their well-intended actions. Students contacted Ensafe, an environmentally conscious engineering and consulting firm, for advice. A week later, students were surprised to receive a $250 donation from the firm. The money provided work gloves for every student, grass seed, straw, silt fencing material, and gas money for students who drove their own vehicles to pick up supplies and donations.
Students met learning objectives of the course by working in groups to solve the problem. Each class had three teams: Service, Support, and Publicity. They researched the problem, gave speeches presenting solutions to the community partner, organized work days and car pools on the class wiki, broadcast public service announcements and organized a party. Each student also reflected on his/her experience through various media: blogs, essays, video/photo journals, cartoons. One student even published an article in a state conservation magazine.
Rather than asking why communication students are digging ditches, perhaps we should ask, “Why not?”