Connecting undergraduate students with community-based, professional learning

Service-learning is being increasingly recognized as an effective pedagogical tool in teacher education. The opportunity to connect pre-service, undergraduate students with meaningful learning experiences in the community has numerous benefits for both the students, and the host service. These optional engagements offer opportunities for learning that are starkly different than those found in traditional practicum experiences in schools. As many of the placements involve working with diverse youth in different contexts, these experiences may push teacher candidates to rethink their roles as teachers, and to address issues of prejudiced thinking, assumptions, and stereotypes.

Beginning in 2012, Dr. Darren Lund has been working collaboratively with community organizations to facilitate service-learning placements with local organizations. The program, developed with Werklund graduate student Lianne Lee (then with the Immigrant Sector Council of Calgary), was included as an optional component within the ‘Diversity in Learning’ course – a mandatory credit for first-year education students which focuses on social justice. The students who opt in are grouped in a section, and are carefully matched with an agency based on the available options, the needs of agencies, and the students’ own goals.

A Beneficial Partnership

With the overwhelmingly positive response of the students, Dr. Lund began investigating the experiences of the students, and the perspective of the community sites, in order to understand the impact of the program. Each year, students choose to contribute to the research data through completing interviews and surveys before and after their placements. Of more than 75 students taking part in the research component to date, all repeatedly identify increased awareness in several important areas, and in the development of more inclusive and responsive teaching strategies as a result of their involvement.

A key outcome from the program is an increased awareness of previously unfamiliar communities and groups of students. During the placements, students are taught to foster a sense of cultural humility, developing an increased sensitivity both to the strengths and needs of diverse students. The participants reported dispelling negative stereotypes they might have unknowingly held, and were able to see the lives of students from both within and beyond the classroom.

Working with marginalized groups also encourages many students to reflect on their privilege, identity, and the interplay of cultural relations. Particularly for white participants, thinking about their role helps them to step back and reconsider their own implication in diversity issues in a new light. This opportunity provides a deeper understanding of social justice and classroom diversity, and demystifies the experience of working with students different from themselves. The students considered this to be critical to helping them to think about advocating for, and responding to, these students once they are practicing teachers.

In addition to students, the community and the organizations they have been partnered with recognize numerous benefits to the service-learning partnership. The organizations report that while the students learn from them, they are also able see new perspectives, ways of doing their work, all the while receiving support from engaged, pre-service teachers. The service-learning opportunities raise awareness of the programming and opportunities in the community, and help future teachers understand and appreciation its value. The students also provide the organisations with skilled support, which is instrumental in carrying out their work. Many of the service-learning students have chosen to continue with the agencies in the future, either as volunteers, or as paid staff members.

Growing Impact

The award-winning service-learning program helps students apply the social justice lessons and ideas from their courses to real-life situations. Thus, it provides both an academic benefit, and a practical opportunity to build positive relationships with young people. The research indicates these opportunities can make a difference in the lives of the students and in those of the beginning teachers.

While the initiative began as a partnership with a single immigrant-service agency, it has since grown to over a dozen different organizations, focusing on various groups of diverse children and youth – including LGBTQ, First Nations, students with disabilities, and many others. Since its inaugural year, over 235 WSE students have taken part, with two sections of the course being dedicated to the service-learning component in 2015-17. The service-learning program has also grown in Werklund outside the course, with additional opportunities being offered to students in all years.

Find out more about Werklund’s Service-Learning program

See more from Dr. Darren Lund on his profile

Connected Citations

Lee, L., & Lund, D. E. (2016). Infusing service-learning with social justice through cultural humility. In A. S. Tinkler, B. E. Tinkler, J. R. Strait, & V. M. Jagla (Eds.), Service-learning to advance social justice in a time of radical inequality (pp. 359-381). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.

Lund, D. E., & Lee, L. (2015). Fostering cultural humility among pre-service teachers: Connecting with children and youth of immigrant families through service-learning. Canadian Journal of Education, 38(2), 1-30. Available Online.

Lund, D. E., Bragg, B., Kaipainen, E., & Lee, L. (2014). Preparing pre-service teachers through service-learning: Collaborating with community for children and youth of immigrant backgrounds. International Journal of Research on Service-Learning in Teacher Education, 2, 1-32. Available Online.

In the Media

UCalgary UToday. (2013). New fund helps prepare teachers for more diverse population


2012  Award of Excellence in Education (National, with the Service-Learning Program for Pre-service Teachers), Canadian Race Relations Foundation

2012 Service-Learning Excellence in Teacher Education (International, with the Service-Learning Program for Pre-service Teachers), Program Award Honorary Mention, International Center for Service-Learning in Teacher Education, Durham, NC

2011 Teaching Innovation Award in Service-Learning and Student Engagement, Centre for Community-Engaged Learning, Calgary