While the students participated in a variety of activities depending on the needs of the organizations, the connecting force was the interaction students had with clients at each site, allowing for personal observations of diseases, conditions and situations.
Student evaluations consistently showed that about two-thirds of students were serving in the community for the first time and that many students worked more hours than the course required. About two-thirds also said that they learned more in the course because of the community-based project.
By the numbers
Fall 2008: 24 students
Spring 2009: 21 students
Fall 2009: 15 students
Spring 2010: 26 students
86 students x 15 hours =
1,290 hours total
For their efforts, students received the equivalent of one problem set toward the laboratory grade in the course. To assess this activity, I designed a report sheet that asked each student to provide a short paragraph describing his or her experience and to reflect on how biochemistry was involved.
This lab module became a pilot project that ran for three semesters.
Evolution of the course
I later expanded the community-based learning experience into the lecture component to show students how the course material relates to society. The number of topics covered in lecture is greater, which allows the inclusion of more community organizations in the program. In the end, more than 40 students participated per year in the CBL project.
My students chose from selected sites in the Richmond community and worked for a minimum of 15 hours. While the selected sites were preferred because of the network of contacts I developed at them, students were allowed to work at different locations with prior approval. They also were required to keep well-written blog journals summarizing their activities within 24 hours of each visit.