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American Annals of the Deaf

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Service Learning in Interpreter Education: Strategies for Extending Student Involvement in the Deaf Community

Sherry Shaw

Chapter Ten
Case Studies in Interpreter Education

Starting Point

The pedagogy of service learning has the power to turn things inside-out and upside-down for those engaged in it. It provokes one to think differently about the world, and consider one’s relationship to the word in a new way. This approach to learning captures and communicates a dynamism that inspires everyone involved to explore, inquire, and analyze. It is transformative education at its best.

                                                          Lori Pampa, The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program:
                                               Exploring Issues of Crime and Justice Behind the Walls, 2005

Summary of Service Learning Within Programs

In a cursory survey of 31 interpreter education programs in the United States (Roberson, 2012), program directors described their understanding of service learning. They elaborated on how their programs were enhancing learning through community-based activities, their philosophies of service learning, and the degree to which they were teaching it to their students. The vast majority of the programs (79%) reported they were incorporating service learning as they understood it into their programs; however, because their descriptions of service learning were quite diverse, analyzing and comparing the responses proved problematic.

Respondents equated various activities with service learning, including students’ spending an evening in a dorm with Deaf students, conducting toy drives, and observing other interpreters working in field-based courses such as practicum and internship. Additional examples included students providing pro bono interpreting and recruiting in high school ASL classes. Some programs reported activities that more nearly resemble the present-day pedagogy of service learning, like bringing together Deaf children for language stimulation and leisure activities in ASL environments to help them learn to value their language and feel socially connected. Two programs indicated service learning was the impetus for restoring collaborative relationships with the Deaf community. In general, it was evident from these responses that there is no consensus on the meaning of service learning as a distinct undertaking apart from field experience or community service.

Although some programs equate service learning with community service, four programs (13%) demonstrated a deeper understanding of the role that service learning plays in an interpreter’s education. In particular, one program recognized that experiential learning was critical for “instilling the idea of reciprocity with the community.” Another program captured the essence of service learning when, for years, its students had not connected with the local Deaf community:

They made no connection to Deaf individuals; they did not interact with Deaf individuals as fully functional human beings. We felt that this was a result of the fact that our student population had grown, that more recent generations of IEP students enrolled with no previous knowledge of the Deaf community, and therefore [had] no entrée into the Deaf community. We converted the observation hours to service-learning hours on the assumption that voluntarily working with Deaf individuals would require interpersonal interaction, that the humanity of Deaf individuals would be more obvious to the students in transactional situations, and that goal-oriented interactions would bind people together more strongly than formal introductions and conversations.
In the programs that did not incorporate service learning (21%), one director indicated that the labor involved was too extensive. Another said its program had formerly incorporated service learning, but it was no longer a priority in the curriculum and had been dropped from the program of study. Other directors believed the students received service-learning opportunities in general-education core courses. One program director recognized the need for service learning and stated that the program was in the planning stages of incorporating it. The five programs with a solid incorporation of service learning are featured in this chapter to showcase a comprehensive perspective on the status of community-based learning in interpreter education.

Data-Collection Method

Invitations to participate in the online survey were delivered to program directors from 135 two-year and four-year interpreting programs using contact information provided by the National Interpreter Education Center. As is standard in survey research, reminders were sent to program directors who had not responded by the reminder dates, which were set for one and two weeks following the initial distribution. Five program directors out of 31 respondents were selected to have their programs highlighted here and agreed to follow-up interviews. In an effort to build a common framework for presenting the cases, this set of interview questions was combined with the survey set to form the case studies.

    1. How does your program define service learning as different from community service, volunteering, pro bono interpreting, practicum, internship, or other field experience?
    2. How do you orient the local Deaf/Deaf-Blind community to service learning?
    3. Describe how the local Deaf/Deaf-Blind community has collaborated with your service-learning initiatives.
    4. Describe any student resistance to service learning you have experienced and explain how it was resolved.
    5. How do you measure the impact of service learning on students, faculty, the Deaf community, and community agencies?
    6. What resources (e.g., textbooks, Campus Compact website, journal articles) do your students study?
    7. Why did your program incorporate service learning?
    8. To what extent did your program undergo curriculum reform to incorporate service learning?