Are outcomes for the powerful?

Having spent a day working on a set of possible outcomes for service learning experiences, and having participated in a very engaging and webinar on the impacts of service learning on host communities, globalsl.org, I find myself asking the following questions: Are we as educators obsessed by the idea of outcomes? Can learning only happen if it can be measured against a set of outcomes? Does effective learning depend on who sets these outcomes and how? Are outcomes for the powerful?

In my field of interest, service learning, if one is looking to produce a framework for student learning experiences, then I would say that the most important thing to consider is how we arrive at this framework. A key question in my mind is: who produces these frameworks, with whom and for whom?

On the topic of service learning, the matter of mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationships is of current concern (Mitchell, 2008; Ross, 2012; Sharpe & Dear, 2013); the focus is on the relationship between those ‘serving’ and those being ‘served’. Yet what of the relationships between the educators or facilitators who impose learning frameworks or outcomes, and the students or young people who are required to learn within them? Are the authors of outcomes the ones who hold the power?

In my own research, I am planning to work together with students as co-researchers in order to produce an effective framework for service learning experiences. I am interested in whether the process of undertaking research in an equal teacher-researcher/student relationship will allow for an increased student understanding of how service learning can be most effective. Perhaps the research process itself will allow for outcomes to be written, that in turn inform future service learning experiences for future student cohorts. This would indeed be an interesting shift in the power relationship; those outcomes would become alive and relevant! The challenge is of course how realistic such an approach will be within the constraints of school life, but one can only try!

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