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South Carolina Honors College

BIG thinking for virtual learning

SCHC innovates new service learning curriculum for students across the country


By Maddox McKibben-Greene,

Every summer, many South Carolina Honors College students typically take on an internship, complete research or study abroad. However, COVID-19 complications have caused these students to lose these opportunities unexpectedly, and the SCHC is doing what it can to help with new online course offerings and financial aid.

Dr. Andrea Tanner, SCHC’s associate dean, is excited for students to gain their Honors “beyond the classroom” or Carolina Core requirement in a novel way.

“It’s unprecedented for the Honors College to have summer classes to begin with, and it is extraordinary to have online classes,” Dr. Tanner says. “We are trying to be innovative, creative and resilient and do what’s best for our students. We’re offering several Honors history courses and also service-learning courses.  In our service learning courses, students will be able to serve their community from home by virtually assisting nonprofit organizations.”

Dr. Tanner also says that financial help is especially important right now, and the SCHC wants students to have access to these online courses regardless of their current financial situations. 

“Because so many students are in financial need, we are reallocating some money typically used for study away and using it for Honors summer course scholarships to help students pay summer tuition and fees,” she says. 

Dr. Joe Jones, UofSC professor and Green Quad faculty principal, has extensive experience teaching students about food sustainability, the course he will be teaching virtually this summer.

In his online SCHC 389: The Sustainability of Food course, his students will work with the Gamecock Pantry, a university initiative that provides food assistance to students who need it. 

Because his students won’t be able to take a hands-on approach in their work, Jones has thought about other ways his students can help the pantry.

“This summer, my students will be able to work on educational materials for those who use the pantry – for example, how to create nutritious meals and use some of the ‘staple’ food items found there in different ways,” Dr. Jones says. “Also, any communications students will be able to create promotional materials for the pantry so more students can utilize its services.” 

Dr. Jones also says that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many food inequities seen in current society, leaving vulnerable populations more at risk for food shortage. 

“If you look at a map of the state, there are several food deserts nearby. It is difficult for people to access the resources they need. Through my class, I want my students to realize how everything sort of comes together and how they can help,” Dr. Jones says.

Dr. Mary Waters, an adjunct instructor in the Women and Gender Studies department, is another faculty member moving her Honors course online. She says the virtual model can work well with the Honors College and provide insight to the future of learning.

“The small groups paired with the succinct course design makes Honors perfect for this model,” Dr. Waters says. “I’m glad they’re doing this and that I can be a part of it.” 

During her online service-learning course, Introduction to Women and Gender Studies, Waters will have her students partner with Columbia-based organizations, including the Carolina Survivors Clinic and WREN (Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network). These students will also have the option to work with local organizations in their hometown, since many students are now scattered all over the country as they self-isolate. 

Additionally, Dr. Waters says that the online model could possibly help students create more structured relationships with their chosen organizations. 

“The students can continue work they have done previously with an organization. They can write grants, work with people in the organization to see how their partnerships will look and more,” Waters says.

Dr. Waters also says that this move to online teaching can be a powerful tool for advancing student activism within their communities. 

“This is a new typology, combining the intersections of technology and current knowledge. If this is implemented correctly, it can free service learning from geographic constraints,” Waters says. “This approach would provide the necessary tools to promote civic engagement anywhere.” 

Dr. Tanner says that in adapting popular Honors courses to online learning, the SCHC wants to provide students with a holistic experience without feeling as though they have missed out on summer opportunities.

“Our goal is to provide a productive way for our students to progress toward graduation and still provide that Honors experience — and help the community in the process,” Dr. Tanner says.

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