Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Frank Durham, associate professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, says service-learning courses are his favorite classes to teach. Service-learning classes require students to move beyond the passive role they experience in a traditional classroom as they engage real-life clients. One such class, Advanced Strategic Communication, developed a communication plan to recruit and retain residents in Manning, Iowa fall semester 2018. 

“Putting solutions together takes real cooperation. That is how my students get to experience the look and feel of professional communications management. We typically invite our clients to attend class whenever they wish. Integrating their perspectives into the students’ understanding of the project gives the class the opportunity to make sense of the client’s experience versus the principles of communication management I will teach them. In the end, the students become conversant in the client’s business and related needs, the client learns about the student’s formal thought processes, and I get to enjoy seeing the dynamic develop. It’s a kick every time,” Durham said.

It takes him a semester to plan for classes that incorporate community engagement. He began planning his spring 2020 community-engaged learning course in mid-August.

Basically, I will build the philosophy of community engagement into the nuts and bolts of the course to make sure that my students work hand-in-hand with our ‘live’ clients. For the course I will teach, which focuses on public relations management strategy development, real-time problem-solving tops any traditional lecture-and-discussion course I can imagine," he said.

Durham attended the Engaged Faculty Institute conducted by the Office of Community Engagement in May 2019. The institute brought together faculty from the University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa (UNI), Iowa State, Wartburg, and Coe College for a day-long workshop at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) Campus, led by Iowa Campus Compact, and a half-day workshop for UI faculty in Iowa City.

“I felt like I had found my ‘people.’ Although I have taught service-learning courses since 1990, I had not experienced a formal discussion on the topic. So, the two days of workshops really resonated with me and validated my approach. I was very happy about the whole program,” Durham said. 

The institute inspired Durham to begin organizing a working group for faculty and staff interested in developing research articles based on data collected through service-learning work.