As a Provost’s Teaching Fellow, Vicki Packheiser is transforming experiential learning in Social Work’s foundational courses. This two-course sequence has long required 45 hours of service learning per course with a community agency. Social Work pre-majors contribute 10,000+ hours of service to the Austin community, serving as UT ambassadors while they gain experience that grounds their academics in future years. But the implementation has not lived up to the potential. Faculty, students, and agency partners have lacked the systematic preparation necessary to integrate students’ service with their academics and the agencies’ needs.
To make a difference, Vicki started with open-minded information gathering. She met with students currently enrolled in the foundational courses as well as seniors about to graduate. She has tapped the knowledge of UT’s Longhorn Center for Community Engagement and developed relationships with the Steve Hicks School of Social Work's agency partners. She has also taken on teaching one of these foundational courses, for first-hand experience as faculty.
Now, Vicki is working on solutions to both teaching and administrative challenges. For faculty, she has curated a collection of shared documents to explain service learning and guide good implementation. Reallocating resources has enabled a TA to help students select good placements and a part-time staff person to tend agency relationships. She has integrated four seminars into the courses, to make space for students to reflect on their community experiences during class time, among their peers and with faculty guidance.
And she has more ideas. Vicki envisions a module to explicitly articulate the goals of the experience and teach students the professional behavior and habits that can improve their workplace performance. She’ll help the Steve Hicks School of Social Work whittle down the list of placement agencies to ensure stronger partnerships and higher-quality experiences for students, and they’ll provide that list to students when they register, giving them more time to identify a good fit. Finally, an e-portfolio may become a vehicle for students to reflect on and integrate their service learning experiences with their academics.