New course challenges students to learn where they live

Mary-Beth Raddon and Kristen Smith with Foundations in Service Learning brochure

Mary-Beth Raddon and Kristen Smith organize Foundations in Service Learning, a new course that combines theoretical learning with community service.

It’s one thing to sit in a classroom and learn about poverty or environmental issues. It’s another to learn about these issues while helping out at a local food bank or community garden.

Combining both approaches is the basis of Foundations in Service Learning, a new first-year elective launching this fall at Brock University.

Students will spend time in a classroom, taking in traditional teaching methods like lectures, seminars, quizzes and guest speakers. They will also take that knowledge into the community, where they’ll experience related Niagara issues firsthand. They may prepare lunch at a soup kitchen. Or visit historic places. Or plant trees in a schoolyard.

The course will address issues students are curious and passionate about, said Mary-Beth Raddon, associate professor who will teach the multidisciplinary course.

“They’re looking for ways to contribute,” Raddon said. “They’re craving first-hand experiences. This is a way for students to apply critical thinking beyond the classroom.”

The joint classroom and experiential learning program fits at Brock, where the focus is nurturing many aspects of a student’s personality, said Kristen Smith, co-ordinator of the out-of-classroom learning opportunities for the Foundations in Service Learning course. This also gives students credit for what many are already doing – volunteering in the community.

“Service Learning is a well-rounded style of teaching and learning,” Smith said.

At 24 weeks long, Foundations in Service Learning is an academically rigorous elective. It spans two semesters, with students alternating between time in the classroom and community activities throughout the course.  Most out-of-classroom experiences will be accessible via public transit.

The Niagara community has been enthusiastic in offering up experiences for the students, Smith said. Students will be able to select their own out-of-classroom experiences and learn about the world from another perspective.

“Sometimes students exist in the social bubble of the campus,” Raddon said. “This helps students connect to the place where they’ve come to live and study. They will see their studies as meaningful and relevant.”

For more information about Foundations in Service Learning, visit

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