Bridging the Interdisciplinary Gap: Team-teaching an International Service Learning Course

By Jerald Swope and Patricia Siplon.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Team-teaching an interdisciplinary service learning course with an applied international education component poses many challenges for instructors, students, and community partners. Our experience formed the basis of a case study that allowed us to analyze the challenges of bringing together participants with diverging theoretical approaches.

The course, HIV/AIDS in East Africa, brought together students and instructors from the disciplines of journalism and mass communication, and political science. It consisted of a team-taught semester-long class, a three week trip to Tanzania, and two weeks of post-trip production work. The class had two main goals: 1) provide students with a knowledge base about HIV/AIDS and poverty issues in sub-Saharan Africa; and 2) prepare them for a service learning trip that combined field work through participant observation and documentary production to write grants, create promotional materials, and produce a web site for our partner organization, the Ilula Orphan Program.

Although we, as instructors, agreed upon our goals and plan for the course, our different disciplinary perspectives and those of our students became apparent on the first day of class. The journalism and mass communication group interpreted the issues through the lens of constructing compelling personal narratives while the interpretation of the political science group focused on the importance of power structures as a means of understanding and representation.

Through hours of debate and discussion in the classroom and in the field, we realized this creative tension could not be resolved fully. We did, however, find common ground and this provided opportunities to interrogate the weaknesses and strengths of our own approaches and enabled us to apply multiple strategies in confronting complex problems.

Keywords: Interdisciplinary, Service Learning, International Experiential Learning, Participant Observation, Multimedia Education, Journalism, Political Science

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 10, pp.313-324. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 665.749KB).

Jerald Swope

Assistant Professor, Journalism and Mass Communication, St. Michael’s College, Colchester, Vermont, USA

Jerald Swope is currently an assistant professor in the department of journalism and mass communication at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont where he teaches courses in photojournalism, new media and mass communication. In addition, Jerald is part of a multi-year project with colleague Professor Patricia Siplon documenting water scarcity and its connections to HIV/AIDS in rural Tanzania. Prior to teaching, Jerald worked as a photojournalist at newspapers in Missouri, Idaho, Utah, and Maine. Jerald’s photographs have been published in The New York Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Boston Globe, Vermont Life Magazine, and Middlebury College Magazine. Currently Jerald has images on display in the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Patricia Siplon

Professor, Political Science, St. Michael’s College, Colchester, Vermont, USA

Patricia Siplon is currently a professor of political science at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont where she teaches courses in American national politics, global health and qualitative research methods. In addition, Patricia is part of a multi-year project with colleague Professor Jerry Swope documenting water scarcity and its connections to HIV/AIDS in rural Tanzania. Patricia has authored, co-authored or co-edited three books on domestic and international HIV/AIDS policy. In 2005 she was a Fulbright Africa Regional Research Fellow in Tanzania, and was named the 2003 Carnegie Foundation Professor of the Year for the state of Vermont.


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