Service learning has a long history in biological and agricultural engineering involving academic student learning outcomes attainment that occurs through hands-on projects implemented in and for the community. Best practices in engagement between an academic institution and the community are characterized by mutually beneficial relationships, clear inclusion of the community partner's voice, intentional reflection by the students on their experiences, and a longer length of commitment. Service learning is built upon a foundational educational theory of constructivism where students make practical connections between what they have learned in their engineering classrooms, what they have experienced in the past, and the service project itself. In addition, it enhances student motivation because students feel that they are making a positive difference in the world beyond their engineering studies.
This paper reviews the co-authors experiences with service learning including designing and building playgrounds for elementary schools (the 33rd was built during ASEE's 2016 conference), a rooftop rainwater harvesting system for low income government-supplied housing, greywater treatment and irrigation system for a community garden, a tower garden to treat greywater and grow vegetables, and a better way to make earthen bricks for rural home building in rural South African villages. Other projects included providing technical consulting service to a neighborhood impacted by local hazardous waste sites and a series of designs for wild animal habitats. Assessment measures included student portfolios, interviews with students and community clients, self-assessments by students, student evaluations of instruction, and technical quality of the final projects.
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