Implementing Obama’s 100 Hours of Service Plan

At the Obama/Biden transition site, Change.gov, there is description of a universal voluntary service plan. This includes an idea to “establish a new American Opportunity Tax Credit that is worth $4,000 a year in exchange for 100 hours of public service a year.” And a goal to expand service-learning in the nation’s schools with “a goal that all middle and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year.”

That sounds exciting, but the downside in fraud and corruption is easy to see. To see the problem, look at who can certify my 100 hours of service to the Feds for my tax credit and what I might be doing for them to earn that certification. Beyond those limitations, where is the motivation for the 101’st hour of service? Where is the motivation to quality service? How does this service get leveraged into even greater gains?

Its still a great idea and there is a simple, and powerful, extension to it. We have been pointing at examples, and building some ourselves (see below). It requires a partnership between the school (its teachers and curriculum), the problem being addressed, and the community in which the problem is situated. Here is an example of real problem solving in service to community in a high school in Minneapolis, MN. Expeditionary Learning Schools/ Outward Bound are consulting with schools along similar lines.

For example, a school could set a goal to harness the interests and expertise of the school’s community (students, staff, parents and alumni) to address real world problems encountered by communities both locally and globally. Its curriculum would be designed to collaborate with community members – institutional, local, or global – to identify a problem, explore solutions, develop a plan, and then take steps toward implementing that plan. Students would engage these challenges as service learning. The outcomes of their work would be readily documentable using ideas like Gary Brown’s Harvesting Gradebook. But more than just documenting the student work, the process would have transformative impacts on the educational institution also, far more profound than the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) or the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standardized testing.

The importance of this strategy is its immediacy. It can be launched rapidly (its already started), it can target needs in communities without a large bureaucracy to decide what the needs are. It can tap local resources and world resources at the same time. It scales well.

Examples

Harvard Program in Networked Governance “The traditional notion of hierarchical, top down, government has always been an imperfect match for the decentralized governance system of the US. However, much of what government does requires co-production of policy among agencies that have no formal authority over each other, fundamentally undermining the traditional Weberian image of bureaucracy.”

United Nations Volunteers “The paper argues that volunteering, like social activism, can be purposeful and change-orientated. Volunteering can be directed at influencing agenda-setting, policy-making, decision-making and representation, and is also an important mechanism for promoting empowerment, personal transformation and social inclusion.

The paper also highlights the complementary and supporting roles that volunteering and activism play in fostering participation. For example, social activism plays an important role in providing leadership, defining areas for engagement and mobilising individuals.”

EDUCAUSE Tower and the Cloud “The emergence of the networked information economy is unleashing two powerful forces. On one hand, easy access to high-speed networks is empowering individuals. People can now discover and consume information resources and services globally from their homes. Further, new social computing approaches are inviting people to share in the creation and edification of information on the Internet. Empowerment of the individual — or consumerization — is reducing the individual’s reliance on traditional brick-and-mortar institutions in favor of new and emerging virtual ones.

Land Grant 2.0 “Dramatic shifts in the economy associated with the rise of globalism call into question the traditional ways in which land-grant institutions have defined their roles in contributing to economic and social well-being. Since the assets most needed for global economic viability – a base of innovation, talented people, and ubiquitous connectivity – are core strengths of universities, it is fair to ask how these institutions can more holistically engage with economically distressed regions to build critical innovation economy competencies.” see also University of Illinois Global campus.

WSU ePortfolio Contest “The goal of the 2007 – 08 WSU ePortfolio Contest was to harness the interests and expertise of the WSU community to address real world problems encountered by communities both locally and globally. It called upon contestants to collaborate with community members – institutional, local, or global – to identify a problem, explore solutions, develop a plan, and then take steps toward implementing that plan.” See also specific winners: Margo Tamez, Kayafungo Women’s Water Project

ThinkCycle This is the thesis to study the (now-defunct) ThinkCycle project exploring “How can we create an environment that encourages distributed individuals and organizations to tackle engineering design challenges in critical problem domains? How should we design appropriate online collaboration platforms, support learning, social incentives and novel property rights to foster innovation in sustainable design?” This concept can be broadened out beyond the engineering domain to other problem domains. An example is National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, that says of itself, “The NCIIA works with colleges and universities to build collaborative experiential learning programs that help nurture a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs with strong technical and business skills and the tools and intention to make the world a better place.”

A final example is Talia Leman, at age 10 organized fund raising for Katrina relief, and has since started RandomKid.org to help other children become social entrepreneurs. In this NYTimes OpEd notes “Frankly, these kinds of initiatives have a mixed record in terms of helping the poor in a cost-effective way. But they have a superb record in enlightening and educating the organizers.” which may be exactly the outcome that is most important from some of these efforts. The Times piece also points out some other efforts along similar lines.

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One Response to “Implementing Obama’s 100 Hours of Service Plan”

  1. One small step for man » Blog Archive » After the Election - Solving the next problem Says:

    […] (and one assumes network into cells for action). Based on work at CTLT, I’ve suggest how to bring in formal education into the mix in ways that will make learning powerful and transform education […]

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