Tanya Renner, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Psychology
Kapi'olani Community College
Five years ago I left the San Francisco Bay Area and came to Honolulu to take a teaching position at Kapi'olani Community College (KCC). I had decided that I preferred a position at a community college because I am at my best when I am working directly with students. Teaching is the most stimulating, the most challenging, and the most satisfying professional endeavor I have ever pursued, and I wanted that to be my primary vocation.
While at KCC I have taught introductory psychology, psychology of women,
biological psychology, and theories of personality, and I have developed
a new methods course that I'll be teaching for the first time this fall.
I have also been a practicum instructor for an education course that provides
students (primarily education majors) with tutoring experience.
How I became involved with service-learning
My graduate education was focused on research, and there was relatively little support for the development of teaching skills. Because of my interest in teaching, I became involved in the one course offered that covered instructional methodology. Thus, when I started teaching here in Honolulu, I had completed only that one course. Many of my colleagues tell me that's one more than they had when they started. Also, I had never taught full time before, and did not realize what it would mean to deliver the same lecture three, four, or even five times in the same week. I realized very quickly that I would not survive long in that mode, and I strongly suspected that my students wouldn't either. So I began to develop, strictly in self-defense, alternatives to the traditional lecture/discussion format that had been the mainstay of my undergraduate education. My first strategy was to invite more discussion and become highly interactive. This was great because it helped me gauge what the students were understanding, and it also meant that no two lectures were exactly the same. The lectures had to become flexible in order to accommodate the unexpected directions the students would suggest or demand or need. Once the interactive mode was in place, however, it became all too apparent that students were still only getting a superficial understanding of much of the course material. Therefore, I began to seek out opportunities for demonstrating academic concepts and creating hands-on experiences for my students.
The ongoing search that ensued has been one of the most important professional development activities I have engaged in. It has spurred me on to finding new connections between life and the classroom, new ways to communicate, and new ways to stimulate students to think. So, when Bob Franco (now our service-learning director) told me three semesters ago that KCC was going to develop a service-learning program and invited me to participate, I only hesitated long enough to find out what it meant. Then I jumped at the chance. I already was using every hands-on demonstration and exercise I could think of and had minimized the time spent lecturing as much as I could, but I still felt that students weren't understanding the material as well as they would if they could directly work with more of the concepts being presented in the classroom.
I was also interested in the community-building potential that a service-learning program could offer. My own experiences with community service had been extensive earlier in my career in California, but I had only managed to be involved with a couple of different community agencies since I had moved to Hawai'i. The one that had worked out best was developing and presenting skills workshops to inmates at our State women's prison.
I also had felt a bit isolated within the campus community, since everyone (including me) was always so busy. I wanted to find ways to incorporate productive dialog about teaching strategies with other faculty on a regular basis. Therefore, I was eager to end both kinds of isolation and to participate in a program that would help me develop stronger bonds in the college community and in the larger, surrounding community.
When I started to use service-learning, I only allowed a few of my Theories of Personality students (Psychology 260) to take the service-learning option. As far as I was concerned, it was an unknown quantity that could be completely unpredictable in unpleasant ways. Fortunately, that has not been the case. But I started cautiously, nonetheless.
Since I had only been in Hawai'i about three and a half years at that point, I wasn't as familiar with appropriate service opportunities available to my students as I wanted to be, so I let them choose from the list that our service-learning director and coordinator had prepared; if the students had preferences for other specific agencies, they were free to choose those. I wasn't satisfied with this lack of information, so the next thing I did was to volunteer at our statewide volunteer clearinghouse, the Voluntary Action Center. I needed to know what kinds of agencies were operating in our vicinity and what their needs were so that I could make suitable connections for my students. I worked with them weekly for about nine months. (I now work with them on an on-call basis.) During that time, I updated their agency files and helped place people in volunteer positions within those agencies. This meant that I not only read up on the agencies and became aware of changes in their programs over time as well as their current programs, but I also talked to the agency volunteer coordinators as part of the placement work, and so began to know some of them directly.
This experience also taught me about the issues involved in placing volunteers, something that I did not understand and would have treated as equivalent to a regular job placement. Volunteer placement is not the same, because volunteers don't get paid but they do (they must) get some kind of reward for their efforts or they simply won't continue in the position. I also became aware of the immediacy of need for volunteers in the wake of the severe budget cuts that had been made throughout Hawai'i for the past few years. Many agencies were so understaffed that they had to close their doors, and others were scrambling to figure out how to use volunteers in new and creative ways. From one day to the next, the availability of staff was unpredictable for many of those hard-hit nonprofits.
As a result of my interest and involvement, I became a coordinator for our service-learning program last fall. Thankfully, it has been a responsibility shared with two others, our service-learning program director, Bob Franco, and an English professor, Irena Levy. Together, the three of us have nurtured the efforts of our faculty to integrate service-learning into their courses, and I have continued to work on my connections with community agencies so that I can help faculty find the best service opportunities for their students. One way that I was able to take a giant step forward in that endeavor was by giving a presentation to a state-wide volunteer management conference held earlier this year. I was able to describe our new service-learning program to about 50 different agency representatives, and I participated in a fruitful dialog with them about our mutual needs and goals.
On a personal level, I'd have to say that one of the most rewarding
aspects of this work has been the chance to connect and to end the feelings
of professional and community isolation that I had been feeling. I have
made a number of wonderful links with community agencies and I have also
had the opportunity to participate in ongoing conversations with other
faculty members who are also interested in improving their students' educational
experiences and using service-learning as a teaching strategy.
Links between the classroom and service-learning
My efforts to learn about the personal and academic rewards that students can and need to get out of service-learning, and to ensure that their experiences are positive and beneficial, have been linked to definite academic goals.
Specifically, service-learning has provided me with valuable opportunities for hands-on learning, as I had hoped, even for such a highly abstract and theoretically-oriented course as Theories of Personality. In that course, we talk about different ways to conceptualize, measure, and alter personality. Personality, as defined by psychologists, generally includes everything a person thinks and does, although the relative emphasis on behavior, traits, attitudes, and so on depends on the theoretical approach. My primary goal for the service-learning assignment is to have students directly and deliberately experience various aspects of personality and then figure out how those experiences link back to the different theoretical approaches to the analysis of personality that are being discussed in class at that point. At the same time, I expect this focus to also help them better comprehend the general nature of a theory as well as the relationship between theory and evidence, and to develop an understanding of the role of evidence in both the development and acceptance of a theory.
During the first semester in which I offered service-learning as an option, I simply asked students to observe manifestations of personality in the people they dealt with while giving service and then to tie those back to the theory that we were discussing at that point in the course. This ensured that they would not simply reflect on one theoretical approach. It also created a natural sequence where each theory would be connected with service, and the entire process would take many weeks. Spreading it out over time allowed students the chance to absorb the material, reflect on it, and then build on past knowledge as each successive topic emerged. They were encouraged to keep an ongoing journal/diary of their service experiences, with entries to be made at least once a week. Monthly journal assignments were turned in for my review.
In general, the first semester was a success. I was uncomfortable with one feature of the original assignment, however, although it took quite a long time for me to realize what was bothering me. As it turned out, I didn't like using the service recipient in that way. I didn't want my students to observe the recipient's behavior and attitudes in order to later analyze them in terms of the theories. It was an objectification of a human being, and it required the student to participate in a covert agenda. The solution was obvious, once I understood the problem. Now, when I have my personality students do service-learning, I ask them to observe themselves, rather than those they are working with. This is much more satisfying to me because the students are required to analyze their own actions and attitudes, and the relationship they develop with service recipients is free of underlying concerns. The major difficulty with this new approach has been the students' lack of enthusiasm for looking dispassionately at themselves. Nevertheless, I encourage them, and they actually manage quite well in the long run.
In order to create an effective problem-solving component of the service-learning experience, I have developed a comprehensive reflection assignment. The one I use today is still the same in my mind as it was the first semester, but now I include much more in the way of descriptive guidelines. It involves a great deal of problem-solving and prioritizing: Students are confronted with a myriad of possibilities because virtually everything they see, do, feel, and think could be considered a feature of personality. So their first task is to choose some aspect to focus on. They then have to decide how to interpret that aspect in terms of the theoretical approach currently being discussed in the classroom. Then they have to analyze the service-learning episode, showing how that theoretical approach would explain the behavior or attitude. The types of connections they make are typically very appropriate and relevant, although there is much complaining about how difficult it is. Once I suggest that difficulty is no reason not to do the work, they seem to catch on quickly to the notion that hard work isn't necessarily unpleasant.
Many of their insights are very positive and encouraging. For example, one student was training her replacement, a man with quadriplegia, at the agency where she was finishing up her service-learning tour of duty, when she ran into a problem. Although she felt that the interaction with him was very productive, friendly, and helpful, it seemed that he felt it was demeaning and insulting. Upon reflection, she was able to apply a relevant concept from the phenomenological approach to understanding personality, that of subjective reality, to grasp how it might be that two people experiencing the same events could have such different perceptions of those events. She then realized how her actions that she considered friendly and helpful, such as moving things around for him, could seem insulting if, in fact, he was able to do those things for himself. I was especially pleased that she not only obtained a deeper personal understanding of the nature of subjective reality, but that she was able to then apply it to enhance her interactions with others and to enhance her understanding of the phenomenological approach to personality as well.
I invited this student to speak at our service-learning summer institute.
Her presentation effectively communicated the ways that service-learning
can offer both academic gains as well as personally empowering insights.
As might be expected, her talk generated a great deal of faculty interest
Practical Considerations: Making links
Learning how to locate appropriate agencies for my students has been an ongoing, fairly slow process. I got a number of ideas from my work at the Voluntary Action Center, and others from the list used by the Campus Compact folks at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, but those were only possibilities and not necessarily tailored for my course and my students' goals. Gradually, over time, I have collected enough information about my students' experiences to decide whether to work with a particular agency. In one case, I actually took the training for the volunteer program. In others, I have made site visits. In most, I base my decisions on students' experiences and my knowledge of the agency and its goals.
Although I haven't had too many real problems with agencies (just minor ones such as difficulty in obtaining evaluations), there was one agency where the student's comments suggested to me that the director may have behaved in emotionally inappropriate ways. It was a tricky situation. I didn't want to interfere with my student's experiences. After all, students are adults and must make their own decisions. At the same time, I sometimes need to remind them that they have choices, and that there is no need to stay in a situation where they are uncomfortable for any reason. In that instance, I suggested alternative placements, but my student evidently felt that that was enough moral support and chose to stay with the agency to work it out.
My criteria for choosing appropriate agencies have evolved. At first, I thought that any type of agency and service would do because the student's personality observations could be done regardless of type of service performed. But I came to realize that students majoring in psychology want psychologically-relevant service experiences, whether or not those experiences are needed for the particular assignment or purpose. So I began to develop a short list of agencies that would satisfy their need to do something relevant to the field, and that I also had reason to believe would provide them with good supervision and rich field experiences.
I include one agency on my list, Project Dana, because: (1) it had been included as a participating agency from the start; (2) some of my students volunteered there and were very enthusiastic; (3) one student had continued with the agency after the semester was over; (4) other faculty and students also found the experience there valuable; and (5) orientation, training, and supervision have been highly regular and responsibly delivered. The service students provide is companionship to a frail, elderly person or a person with a disability.
In addition, I have made a few phone calls in my role as evaluation coordinator to follow-up on the agency's experiences with KCC's students, and their volunteer coordinator sat on the same panel with me at the volunteer management conference I mentioned earlier, so I have begun to develop a professional bond with her.
Another agency on the short list, TJ Mahoney, is included because students find the work relevant; it involves working with ex-convicts (of nonviolent crimes) in highly supervised situations. There are many different possible service capacities, including tutoring, moral support and other companion activities, and working with the agency doing various kinds of writing, research, and so on. It is also on my list because I know the director personally, having worked with her when she was with the prison system and I was giving skills workshops to the prisoners. I have worked with their associate director to develop specific opportunities for our students, because their volunteer program typically requires a much greater time commitment than our students are expected to make.
Another agency on my list is Hospice Hawai'i. After hearing a presentation at our summer institute by the volunteer coordinator of that program, I wanted my students to be able to volunteer there, The time commitment was much greater that the 20-30 hours per semester that we typically require, though, so I took the volunteer training in order to more fully understand the program and the types of service opportunities that they could offer my students. The program is very enriching for both student and recipient, and, since I have had the training, I will be able to advise those of my students who are interested in pursuing this opportunity.
Other agencies that I include are Pacificare, which provides companionship and other support services to people with HIV/ARC/AIDS, and Aloha Medical Mission, a nonprofit that serves the medical needs of the homeless. Both of these agencies are included because service-learning students from a variety of classes he reported having positive experiences with them and because they both offer service opportunities that are relevant to psychology students.
I am also presently working with two agencies to develop programs that will allow my students to work with them. One is the Neighborhood Justice Center, which provides mediation services to the community and training in mediation techniques. They have offered to adapt their training program so that our KCC students can receive training and do mediation work with students in the local schools within the same semester. I hope to have that opportunity ready for my students by the spring of 1997.
I have also worked with KCC's own Special Student Service Office, located on campus, to develop opportunities for our students to provide support services for students with disabilities. We'll be offering that choice to the service-learning students this fall.
After three semesters, our service-learning program is going strong. It still has some bugs (for example, lack of evaluation information on agency satisfaction or student performance, not having enough time to meet with service-learning students, and difficulties in connecting the service-learning experience to the course for my non-service-learning students). But I generally am very happy with the program. I have found many effective learning opportunities for my students. Service-learning is a great teaching strategy and a great community building opportunity--both on and off campus.
Theories of Personality
Tanya Renner, Ph.D.
COURSE DESCRIPTION AND OBJECTIVES
This course is a survey of major theoretical approaches to personality,
personality assessment, and personality change. Current research issues
will be emphasized. Upon successful completion of the course, the student
should be able to:
In addition to the competencies listed in the catalog, the following
objectives will be emphasized:
The primary methods of instruction will be classroom lectures, class
discussion, and in-class exercises. Students are required to attend class
and participate in class activities such as discussions, group demonstrations,
and exercises, to keep up with the reading assignments, and to complete
homework assignments. Also, since I do not necessarily follow the textbook,
you will need to take lecture notes.
A few students will be permitted, on the basis of academic readiness,
purpose, and writing ability, to substitute 20-30 hours of community service
and papers written about that service for the group project and the journal
article review assignment.
Students should consider applying for the service-learning option if
they are interested in (1) the chance to combine critical thinking with
practical experience; (2) making an active contribution to their community;
(3) learning more about themselves; (4) learning more about the variety
of people in their community; (5) the possibility of acquiring useful skills;
and (6) a chance to pursue a more personalized education plan (i.e., they
may be able to match the service-learning experience with a particular
interest such as development of personality or personality change).
This opportunity is optional.
The time commitment is a minimum of 20 hours.
Students will be selected according to the following criteria: interest,
purpose/goals, GPA, academic background (prior courses), and writing ability.
The service-learning option replaces the regular homework assignments
for the course (the journal article review and the group presentation).
The student is still required to read the textbook, attend class, participate
in class activities, and take quizzes and exams.
Grading will be based on the following criteria: (1) responsible completion
of the service commitment; (2) maintenance of a reflective journal of the
service experience; and (3) an analytical paper that integrates the course
material with the student's service experience. Although length is not
an issue the analytical paper may be approximately 10 pages (typed, double-spaced).
Students will be expected to observe themselves while they are providing
service, so that they will be able to identify various personality features
and issues that can be related to the four major theoretical approaches
to personality that are covered in the course.
If interested, you should submit a one-half to one page (typed, double-spaced)
statement to the instructor of your interest and goals for the service
experience by the beginning of the second week of classes.
Schedule for Service-Learning Option
Application from Student - due beginning of second week
Selection by Instructor - due end of second week
Confirmation of Placement (with site agreement form filled out) - by the fourth week
Term of Service - weeks 5-14
Reflective Journal/Weekly Log - to be turned in every four weeks: last Thursday in February, last Thursday in March, last Thursday in April
Analytical Paper - due last Thursday in April
Agency Evaluation - due no later than the last Thursday in April
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