Teachers in Action: High-Tech, High-Touch Service-Learning with Special Populations

Teachers in Action: High-Tech, High-Touch Service-Learning with Special Populations

Trae Stewart (University of Central Florida, USA), Rebecca A. Hines (University of Central Florida, USA) and Marcey Kinney (Bethune-Cookman University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-623-7.ch016
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Teachers are increasingly expected to work with children with varying disabilities in the least restrictive environment – most commonly, the general education classroom. Yet, teachers who did not major in special education remain unprepared to meet the needs of children with disabilities in the classroom because they received no relevant formal field experiences during their pre-service years. As a result, unknowledgeable teachers may retain damaging stereotypes of persons with disabilities, hold a reduced sense of teacher efficacy to include all learners, and in the end, be less willing to work with exceptional students in their classes. This chapter provides an overview of a Florida-based project that aims to connect communities, nonprofit organizations, university pre-service teachers, and persons with disabilities using high-tech, high-touch service-learning.
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Teachers In Action

The project emerged based on a need recognized by faculty attempting to integrate service-learning projects into an online elementary education course, Teaching Students with Disabilities in the General Education Classroom (EEX 4070). Specifically, two faculty members teaching the course required a “Make a Difference” assignment that called for students to complete a service project in their respective communities. The original projects were ad hoc and largely based on volunteerism on the part of students rather than goals of civic leadership and service-learning best practices. The feedback from students about the experience was so positive in terms of shaping dispositions about disability that faculty in exceptional education teamed with faculty specializing in service-learning to develop a more systematic, service-learning based project that would be easy for all faculty to use. Although the University does have an office of service-learning and community engagement, the number of staff necessary to systematically accommodate the placement of the large number of pre-service teacher participants (approximately 700 per semester) was not available. Hiring freezes within the College of Education were also a hindrance in hiring sufficient instructional staff to meaningfully oversee students’ experiential activities, and even traditional internship programs were being cut due to budget constraints. Faculty teamed up to write a federal service-learning grant to create a structure for weaving service-learning into all sections of the EEX 4070 course, ensuring that over 1,000 elementary education majors per year would have an experience with persons with disabilities.

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