Service and Community-Based Learning Projects:
First-Year Composition and Professional/Technical Communication Courses

Michael R. Moore
Michigan Technological University

These projects are the result of collaborations between students, community members, non-profit agencies, and social-service organizations. The projects are drawn from courses in Composition, Technical Communication, and Information Design & Distribution that I've taught at the University of Arizona, Michigan Technological University, and Villa Julie College.

Service learning is a form of experiential learning that combines community collaborations with academic objectives and meaningful reflection about that experience. With increased access to communication technologies, new and promising opportunities for writing and design projects are helping teachers rethink how they integrate an audience-driven and critical technological literacy curriculum. In a recent article in Computers and Composition, for example, Regan and Zuern describe an approach incorporating technology and focusing on writing projects, where "students produced print and Web-based learning materials for members of the target community, essays reflecting on their service learning experiences, and formal research papers on topics such as literacy, public access to technology, and social policies relating to computers and the Internet." (177) 

The projects below involved establishing and sustaining relationships with non-profit and social service agencies in communities where our work and learning took place. In each case, community members, agency participants, and literacy workers were involved in the planning, evaluation, and sustainability of the learning initiatives.

Technology Culture & Community

Each of these projects below also required, at every stage of planning, design, and completion, the active participation, collaboration, and support of university technology staff. The projects would not exist without those resources and support:

University of Arizona
Michigan Technological University
Villa Julie College

[2005 update: due largely to the transitory nature of web/hyperlinks, of server storage and life, many
of these links, below, are no longer active.]

Arizona State Museum  and Lawrence Intermediate School Partnership: 

Native Garden Web Site
University of Arizona, spring 1999: students worked with tribal students and elders to create a school-garden exhibit at the Arizona State Museum. Project components included contextual-inquiry and usability workshops; researching intellectual property rights of indigenous peoples; and arranging for permanent upkeep and maintenance of the site.

Guide to Medicinal and Edible Plants Tucson, Arizona

University of Arizona, spring 1998: students collaborated with local health professionals to design and to develop an illustrated, online database of edible area plants. Project components included research into alternative health and medicine contexts; liability and legal responsibilities; database design and construction; digital photography; classification of plants.

Community Pollution Prevention Project

University of Arizona, spring 1998: students worked with local residents to create a needs-assessment study for neighborhood recycling education and programs. In addition to survey design, students and community members created an interactive program presented to local elementary schools.

The Impact of NAFTA on The State of Sonora and Southern Arizona

University of Arizona, fall 1998: students interviewed business owners in Tucson and Hermosillo, Mexico, to provide an informational report on the early implementation of NAFTA. Small business owners on both sides of the border were invited to participate in the survey design and distribution.

The Brewster Center: Domestic Violence Services

University of Arizona, spring 1999: students prototyped, designed, and created an informational web site for the Center, which provides advocacy, shelter, educational, legal, and outreach services to its clients. Students also worked with Center staff to plan technology-training workshops for clients interested in learning word processing, internet skills, and resume writing. 

American Friends Service Committee: Arizona Area Program Web Site

University of Arizona, fall 1998: students worked with AFSC staff to redesign its organizational and educational web site, based on a survey of user needs, local resources, and outreach goals.

Family Independence Agency Website

Michigan Technological University, fall 1999: students worked with local FIA staff and State of Michigan agency officials to create an informational web site for the Houghton and Keweenaw social services field office. Students also created informational brochures on internet access for FIA clients and the local public library.

WMPL: Alternative Radio Community Promotional Materials

Michigan Technological University, fall 1999: students and staff from a local, non-profit community radio station designed promotional materials and an advertising brochure intended to increase the station's operation budget.

Virtual Upper Peninsula: Prototype

Michigan Technological University, fall 2000: students collaborated with local historians, archivists, community members, and local schools to design a collaborative, inter-institutional project prototype. The VUP is designed to document and share materials that explore the history, culture, architecture, and environment of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Neighborhood Design Center > Baltimore

Students at Villa Julie College, in a course on Technical Writing, worked with the Volunteer Coordinator at the
Neighborhood Design Center in Baltimore to document a neighborhood community-arts mural project, a version of which was later published in the Baltimore City Paper.

ASU East: K-12 Technology Planning & MEC2003 Conference Participation

Students in an online course at Arizona State University, East Campus, collaborated with local K-12 teachers and technology coordinators to develop Recommendation Reports for use and planning in specific programs and classes in the Mesa and Phoenix area. The project resulted in a featured session the following year, at the 2003 Microcomputers in Education Conference (MEC) in Tempe.

Xavier College Preparatory School

Students in an online course at Arizona State University, East Campus, worked with school officials to redesign the school's fundraising, marketing, and correspondence materials.

Grant Writing

Michigan Technological University
HU3120, Technical Communication, 1999-2001

  • Hurontown Volunteer Fire Department $6,804
  • Keweenaw Animal Shelter $11,500
  • Ontonogan County Fairgrounds $14,000
  • Agency on Aging $87,000
University of Arizona
ENG308, Technical Writing
  • Brewster Center: Domestic Violence Services: $3,500
  • Pima County Social Services Youth Programs $5,000
Service Learning Readings & Resources

NCTE has created a new Service Learning in Composition web site -- "a resource for teachers, researchers, and community partners interested in connecting writing instruction to community action." Helpful highlights include program descriptions, syllabi, assignments, sample projects, links, and Reflections, an online journal dedicated to service-learning scholarship. 

Bowdon, Melody, and Scott Blake. Service Learning in Technical and Professional Writing. New York: Longman, 2003.

Brandt, Deborah. "Sponsors of Literacy." CCC 49(1998).

Coogan, David. "Counterpublics in Public Housing: Reframing the Politics of Service-Learning." College English. 67(2005).

Cushman, Ellen. "The Public Intellectual, Service Learning, and Activist Research." College English. 61(1999).

-----. "The Rhetorician as an Agent of Social Change." College Composition and  Communication 47(1996).

Flower, Linda. "Intercultural Inquiry and the Transformation Service." CE 65(2002).

Goldblatt, Eli. Because We Live Here: Reconceiving Writing beyond the Curriculum. Forthcoming, 2005.
-----. "Alinksy's Reveille: A Community-Organizing Model for Neighborhood-Based Literacy Projects," College English 67(2005).

Grabill, Jeffrey. Community Literacy Programs and the Politics of Change. Albany: State University of

New York Press, 2001.

Henson, Leigh. and Sutliff, Kristene. "A Service Learning Approach to Business and Technical Writing Instruction." Journal of Technical Writing & Communication. 28(1996): 328-345.

Herzberg, Bruce. "Community Service and Critical Teaching." College Composition and Communication. 45(1994): 307-19.

Huckin, Thomas N. "Technical Writing and Community Service." Journal of Business & Technical Communication.

Lu, Min-Zhan and Bruce Horner. "The Problematic of Experience: Redefining Critical Work in Ethnography and Pedagogy." CE 60(1998).

Mikulecky, Larry and Jamie R. Kirkley. "Changing Workplaces, Changing Classes: The New Role of Technology in Workplace Literacy." In Reinking, David, et al., eds. Handbook of Literacy and Technology: Transformations in a Post-Typographic World. Erlbaum, 1998.

Regan, "Community-Service Learning and Computer-Mediated Advanced Composition: The Going to Class, Getting Online, and Giving Back Project." Computers and Composition: An International Journal for Teachers of Writing. 17(2000): 177-195.

Schutz, Aaron. and Anne Ruggles Gere. "Service Learning and English Studies: Rethinking 'Public' Service." College English. 60 (1998): 129-150.