Service Learning: Chris Swan

Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tufts University

Engineering professor Chris Swan promotes multiple levels of skill development through service learning, utilizing a model of authentic projects designed and implemented cooperatively between students and communities.

“The students get a feeling for working in teams, . . . for communicating their ideas to a non-technical as well as technical audience, . . . a better understanding of their problems from an ethical standpoint, but also from a global and societal context, what their solutions should be addressing.”

Chris Swan shares his approach to teaching and reflects on lessons learned.

Teaching Context
Chris has used service learning in community based engineering projects, as well as through the Tufts chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

Motivation and Goals
He hopes to motivate students to be engaged in their learning through authentic projects. He also works te help students develop some of the “soft” skills they will need in their work, such as leadership, assessment and project management skills.

Approach
His approach is to determine the scope of what is feasible within the time frame that he has with the students, and he helps students and community partners to set realistic goals. Depending on the project and level of the students, he allows for as much freedom as is possible for students to do their work.

Tips for Teaching
Throughout and at the end of the project, it is key to guide students through a reflection process that allows them to to understand and communicate what they have learned.

Lessons Learned (reflection)
Service learning projects take a lot of time – for professors and students. It is important to scope expectations so that it is possible to assess the success of the project AND so that the connection to the community can be sustained and nurtured over the course of the project.

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