Challenging Assumptions: Student engagement and language learning – a novel approach.

O’Connor, Anne (2008) Challenging Assumptions: Student engagement and language learning – a novel approach. [Conference Proceedings]


The challenges of student apathy, poor attendance and lack of engagement with the learning process are issues faced nationally by all third level institutions. In this paper, I wish to challenge the negative stereotype of the 21st century university student by presenting a course which aims to promote student engagement in both the learning process and in the community.‘Service Learning in Italian’ is a module which teaches students the fundamentals of language learning and language teaching and then allows them to put this learning into practice by offering the opportunity to teach Italian in local primary schools. This course has won the European Language Label for innovation and creativity in language learning (2007). Using a methodology of didactic preparation, community involvement and reflection, the project aims to bridge gap between the university and the community and to foster positive attitudes towards language learning. Service Learning gives students the opportunity to work in the community while learning practical applications of taught materials, develops links with the community and gives students the opportunity to exercise social responsibility and civic engagement. It seeks to reinvigorate the civic mission of higher education and instill in students a sense of social responsibility and civic awareness.The key objectives of Service Learning are to create opportunities to integrate and relate theory to practice, to enhance partnerships between the university and the wider community and to increase the civic, academic, personal and professional capacity of students through experiential learning. This course challenges the assumption of the university as ‘ivory tower’ by showing how the university can both contribute to and learn from the community. I will also show how, during the module, students move from a passive to an active and reflective model of learning and how their enthusiasm for their subject increases accordingly.

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