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Global Connections

Linked courses provide a unique international service learning perspective to gerontology students

March 10, 2010

Alicia Skinner Cook, emeritus professor, and Christine Fruhauf, associate professor and Gerontology Interdisciplinary Studies Program coordinator, both from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Applied Human Sciences, had enhanced student learning in mind when they decided to link Fruhauf's interdisciplinary gerontology course at Colorado State with Cook's service learning project on the Semester at Sea voyage last fall.

International issues affecting older adults

Semester at Sea students taught a four-hour English lesson to an established English class at the Shun Lee Elderly Community Centre in Hong Kong.

Fruhauf teaches Perspectives in Gerontology and wanted to encourage student interest in international issues affecting older adults. She partnered with Cook, who was leading a course of American study abroad students on the Semester at Sea voyage doing a service learning project with Hong Kong elders.

The service learning project involved teaching a four-hour English lesson to an established English class at the Shun Lee Elderly Community Centre in Hong Kong. The Semester at Sea students represented diverse majors but none had formal coursework in gerontology.

By linking the two classes, Fruhauf and Cook hoped to enhance the quality of the service learning experience for both the students and the elders from Hong Kong, as well as enrich the cross-cultural aging content for gerontology students through their vicarious participation in an applied project.

Hong Kong elderly

In preparation for their activity, the Semester at Sea students identified key areas in which they needed more information and Cook communicated these areas to the gerontology students, who also added topics they believed were important based on their knowledge of aging issues. In consultation with Cook and Fruhauf, gerontology students identified topics for their Hong Kong elderly fact sheets and conducted library and internet research.

A final document was then prepared by the gerontology students which included summaries and key points from the professional literature on traditional and contemporary views toward aging in Hong Kong, adult learning principles, and the demographics of older Hong Kong residents.

Eye-opening experience

CSU students in Perspectives in Gerontology prepared summaries on traditional and contemporary views toward aging in Hong Kong, adult learning principles, and the demographics of older Hong Kong residents, to assist Semester at Sea students.

The experience proved to be eye-opening for both the students and the group of Hong Kong English learners. One student wrote, “I learned that we all want to learn and have a meaningful life. Though cultures differ so much, there are still universal similarities. The significant part was the excitement and preparation of the elderly. It was difficult not to catch their enthusiasm. I left with a feeling of fulfillment and like I had done something meaningful.”

Upon completion of the project, the Semester at Sea students gave feedback on the usefulness of the fact sheets and provided concrete suggestions for refining materials. They all rated the fact sheets as either “valuable” or “extremely valuable” in preparing for their service learning experience. They also identified areas in which they needed more preparation. This information was conveyed to the CSU students, and they were then asked to critique the value of the project for their own learning related to international aging.

Successful collaboration

Careful planning, consistent communication, and close collaboration between Cook and Fruhauf were essential to the success of this project. To help CSU students feel more connected to the service learning activity, photographs from the visit to the Shun Lee Community Centre as well as an e-mail from an elderly participant were shared. In the future, Cook and Fruhauf believe a greater use of technology such as a Facebook site, videoconferencing, or direct e-mailing to the Hong Kong elders could facilitate an even stronger vicarious experience for the CSU gerontology students.

Fruhauf and Cook presented their work on international service learning through linked courses at the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education Annual Meeting and Educational Leadership Conference March 4-7, 2010, in Reno, Nev.


Contact: Gretchen Gerding
E-mail: Gretchen.Gerding@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-5182