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Service Learning in Interpreter Education: Strategies for Extending Student Involvement in the Deaf Community
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Table 5. Service Continuum
Community Based Academic Based Professionally Based
volunteerism practicum Pro bono interpreting
community service service-learning internship  

Case Study Method 1: University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR)

Interviewee: Carolyn S. Jolley, instructor
Degree Program: Bachelor of Arts

Defining and Distinguishing Service Learning

The UALR makes a clear distinction between service learning and volunteerism. We see volunteerism, community service, and pro bono interpreting as having two common denominators: (a) no payment, and (2) community benefit. The focus on these activities is unilaterally on the recipient, whereas, in service learning, the focus is on application of classroom theory and skills in order to meet a specific need. In volunteerism and community service, the activities may or may not require specific skills. While service-learning activities may be voluntary—that is, not within the schedule of class meeting times and not for pay—the focus is on student learning that occurs when classroom content is applied in a community context. Pro bono interpreting conveys the connotation that the service is provided by a professional who is already skilled and has achieved professional status in the area of service performed. Pre-service interpreting students typically have not achieved professional level recognition, such as in obtaining credentials.

We see service learning as a critical stepping-stone from theory to practice that is directly connected to academic programs. Like internships, its purpose is different from that of other program activities and occurs at various times during the program of study. Within our program, internships are supervised capstone experiences prior to graduation and are designed to give students both experience and networking opportunities as professionals. With this in mind, service learning should occur amid skills development within interpreting courses prior to internship. Within our program, a unique aspect of service learning is reflection on the experience and dialogue with the instructors. Reflective discussion and writing help students make the transition from classroom learning to application in the real world (see Table 5). Historically, practicum functioned as an opportunity for observation within the community of stakeholders and consumers. This course has been phased out in lieu of the embedding of service-learning requirements in junior- and senior-level interpreting courses.

Another critical component of UALR’s service-learning activities is the presence of faculty mentors. The mentors observe the students’ work, provide guidance, offer constructive feedback, develop reflective discussion and journal questions, and model involvement in service learning. They believe students’ experiences are more positive when making the transition from classroom to practice (not in the professional sense) when these first experiences are supported by faculty mentors.

Essential to the concept of service learning is the integration of classroom instruction and hands-on practice via the service-learning activities. Putting theory into practice is quite different from performing well on tests or classroom activities. We believe interpreting cannot be taught in a vacuum. At UALR, in addition to applying classroom theory and skills in real-world activities, students are exposed to other nonlinguistic demands of interpreting. They move from classroom discussion about what the interpreting profession values in the task to making decisions that require them to prioritize those values. For this reason, students in our program engage in the service-learning project when they enroll simultaneously in Interpreting for Persons Who Are Deaf-Blind (see Appendix A for condensed syllabus) and Ethical Standards for Interpreters during their junior year. They apply skill sets specific to working with the Deaf-Blind population (e.g., skills and strategies specific to accommodating vision loss through human guide techniques, access to visual context) while interpreting for and providing equal access to Deaf-Blind consumers.

Community Orientation

In the primary service-learning course, Interpreting for Persons Who Are Deaf-Blind, UALR has worked with the same consumer group since 1999. Based on the needs of this consumer group, service learning was added as a course requirement. In the early years, faculty members led a workshop for students and the Deaf-Blind community to address what the students needed to know and be able to do during the project (camp for Deaf-Blind adults). One workshop activity was a panel discussion among the community members about access needs that would depend on the skills the students would have to utilize during the project. The community did not immediately grasp the meaning of service learning, but it has developed over time with continuous dialogue.

A few years into teaching the course with a service-learning component, we added a requirement for students to attend a social event that was designed by the program faculty for members of the Deaf-Blind community to meet the students and, equally important, for students to meet and interact with the community members. This event was added because, previously, some students first experienced meeting an individual who is Deaf-Blind when they engaged in their service-learning project. The program added the Meet the Students event to give everyone an opportunity to interact socially without the pressure of working. This helped alleviate the students’ anxiety, and now attendance and participation are mandatory. The Deaf-Blind community members attend the event with local SSPs/interpreters so the students can have exposure through observation and interaction with various communication modes and strategies specific to deaf-blindness.
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