This paper presents a novel pedagogical approach of Blended Service Learning (BSL) which was applied in an undergraduate Health Degree Program at an Austrian University. Blended Service Learning combines academic learning with practical experience and social commitment, using a range of tools and methods from online didactics. The course pursues the ambitious goal of promoting reciprocal empowerment, i.e. the promotion of mutual educational processes. "Reciprocal" here refers to all stakeholders, directly and indirectly, involved in the course: the university students, the pupils and teachers in India, the Austrian NGO, and myself as a university lecturer.
At the heart of the course is the "Bihar Health Advocacy Project", in which students are commissioned to develop a practical health promotion concept for socially disadvantaged girls and women from the Dalit population in India’s Bihar state, which is to be actually implemented. The course follows a transdisciplinary approach and incorporates non-academic, external stakeholders (e.g., NGO staff) in the project, such that the topic can be approached from several different perspectives and many voices are heard. Survey and qualitative data results have shown that the fundamental triad of learning, acting and reflecting in Blended Service Learning not only leads to a deeper understanding of the course content and discipline, but also to increased self-awareness, empathy and a heightened sense of the highly complex social realities in different parts of the world.
Birgit Phillips, University Graz and Burgenland University of Applied Sciences, Austria