In the 2012/13 academic year, PolyU introduced a mandatory service-learning (SL) requirement into the undergraduate curriculum, meaning that all undergraduates had to pass at least one credit-bearing, letter-graded SL subject in order to graduate. Given the large size of PolyU and the rigor of the requirement (including a graded 40-hour direct service component), this created a challenge as a large number of courses had to be designed in a hurry to accommodate all students. PolyU teachers and colleagues rose to the occasion, and over the next several years, the number of SL courses increased dramatically, to almost 70 courses today.
The success of this effort can be attributed in part to the first CoP-SL that was formed in 2012. The seminars, workshops, experience sharing, etc that were organized helped to build up a community of like-minded colleagues, which fostered a supportive environment that facilitated colleagues to learn and expand.
Even though it may look like the mission has been accomplished, we still need to maintain the momentum and continue to improve. A number of colleagues who proposed the initial batch of courses have since retired, and new courses are continuously being created by new colleagues. Many colleagues of existing courses, once they have gotten comfortable with teaching service-learning, have expanded their course projects to incorporate more innovative project ideas, or to integrate community-based research. There is also increased interest among colleagues in conducting research in service-learning, or in using their service-learning courses as a vehicle to conduct research.
Among our students, the initial requirement of service-learning has also brought about more interest in community engagement. Increasing numbers of our students are designing their own service projects, either in Hong Kong or going overseas back to the communities where they did their service-learning course. We see this as a positive sign that the culture of service and civic engagement is starting to permeate the university student body. Therefore, a secondary role of the proposed CoP-SL will be to build up a combined community of student leaders and teachers, and train and prepare our students for effective and constructive community engagement.
We feel that these dual goals are timely and important, especially given the social unrest that has happened in Hong Kong over the past summer. The siege of PolyU, the truncated semester, the extensive damage to campus facilities and the arrest of many of our students has left the PolyU community – teachers and students alike – in a state of trauma that needs to be addressed and healed. At the same time, the events of this past summer have demonstrated that today’s young people are by no means the apolitical, apathetic, passive individuals that they have always been made out to be. Our students care passionately about Hong Kong and the community. Service-learning is a means to direct this passion into action that is constructive and inclusive in nature.
Our target groups are therefore:
- Teachers who are teaching service-learning, or who are interested in teaching service-learning, and who would welcome professional development along these lines;
- Students who are interested in going beyond the basic SL requirement, to set up Page 5 of 10 their own projects, or serving as student leaders for SL classes
The needs of these groups are currently served by the existing CoP-SL (for teachers) and in an ad-hoc manner (for students). There is no other mechanism at PolyU.