Service-Learning in Germany
I am writing this newsletter contribution from the point of view of a human geographer with more than 10 years’ experience in academic teaching at various universities and higher education institutions.
In Germany the S-L approach is not quite as widespread as it is in the United States, Canada or some other European countries like Spain. Some universities and universities of applied sciences have established coordination offices to support the teaching staff in the initiation, execution and evaluation of S-L activities. An important role in this context also plays the centers for research on higher education and faculty development.
In the different bachelor and master study programs of geography at German universities service learning and community based research activities are often part of so called “field training and internship”, “project seminars” or “study projects” in which students work empirically. Acquired knowledge and skills about methods of empirical social research are being carried out within small projects.
My experiences with S-L and community based research activities are also embedded in this context. Furthermore, S-L seminars are often offered in the elective area (soft skill and cross-disciplinary key competences oriented). Currently, I am working with students in the project “Social Inequality, Poverty and Housing” which deals with the lack of affordable housing, rising rents, poverty in urban space and the increasing number of homeless people.
The project started in October 2019 and comprises a period of 10 months. At the beginning the students developed several research ideas regarding the thematic area “social inequality, poverty and housing”, this results in four research groups. Two research groups are working on the topic “homelessness and poverty”, one group concerns the question of “child poverty” and one group the question of “social inequality, housing and migrant background”. This was followed by a compilation of potential community partners, who work in this field. The students address the potential community partners and make appointments. The first contact is made by phone and e-mail. In a joint conversation during the meeting the needs of the partners will be determined and will be brought together with the own research ideas of the students. The service is the collection of data and the compilation of a short research report in an easy-to-understand language. In this project all potential community partners are located in the cities of Bochum or Essen, the following potential partners should be mentioned: the association Bodo e.V. (support of homeless people and long-term unemployed people), the Inner Mission (Diakonisches Werk, assistance to the homeless), Caritas Bochum (Christopherushaus, facility for homeless men with special social difficulties), agency for urban planning and housing Bochum, Bahnhofsmission, emergency shelter or overnight accommodation, Caritas Essen, the association children’s aid association Essen, Tafel organization, association “Essen packt’s an” (provides homeless people with hot soup), association ViA-Ruhr (support people in need of assistance in their occupational and social integration). Over the next few weeks we will see with which partners we will have the possibility to work together.
So far, there are no partnerships between the department of geography at the Ruhr-University Bochum (research group “mobility and demographic change”) and the mentioned associations and institutions, this still needs to be developed step by step. There is already experience in developing partnerships from other projects. At the end of the S-L project, the conduction of structured interviews is planned to evaluate the additional value that is generated for the partners.
By Janine Bittner
Lecturer with Special Responsibilities