Partnering with Serve-Learn-Sustain

Enhancing Writing and Communication Courses through the Theme of “Sustainable Communities”

Brittain Fellows and other Georgia Tech faculty take a tour of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, as part of the SLS cohort of CTL’s Course Design Studio in summer 2016.

The Georgia Tech Writing and Communication Program helps students think critically about social issues, communicate effectively to a variety of audiences, and develop rhetorical strategies appropriate to the wider professional and social world. At Georgia Tech, the opportunity to partner with the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain (SLS) enhances your course’s ability to achieve these objectives by engaging with various communities, be they on campus, in the city of Atlanta, or at regional, national, or international levels (not to mention communities not constituted by geography, such as virtual communities). For example, the integration of service-learning elements into introductory and upper-level writing and communication classes offers students experience working with community partners, both within and beyond the Institute. Such opportunities allow students to apply the implications of rhetorical questions; to extend critical thinking about social issues beyond the classroom; and even to apply their rhetorical, communication, and design strategies to public-facing documents for Institute and community clients. Whether an SLS-affiliated course requires design or product development for community organizations, introduces students to the larger Atlanta community, or simply encourages students to research and think critically about pressing social issues, SLS-affiliated courses engage student interest, connecting the development of rhetorical strategies to community problems.

Many ways exist to connect with SLS in your teaching, research, and/or service, and to receive various types of funding and support. Brittain Fellows have already begun participating in various ways:

  • Course Affiliation: You can choose to officially affiliate your course with SLS by following the steps here (course affiliation link). If your course is approved, it will be listed on the SLS website and will be advertised widely, thus potentially attracting students interested in issues related to sustainable communities. You will also receive support in designing your course and connecting with community partners, as well as opportunities to participate in special SLS events and to apply for SLS grants.
  • Course Design Studio: One of SLS’s primary pedagogical initiatives is a summer Course Design Studio (CDS) organized by the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). The SLS CDS ran for the first time in summer 2016, and plans are underway for it to recur annually. You can find numerous teaching resources from the first CDS, including course outcomes and FAQs for working with community partners.
  • Fellows Programs: SLS creates practice-based interdisciplinary communities focused on issues central to building sustainable communities. Brittain Fellow Melissa Sexton is a member of the SLS Fellows Program for 2016-2017, which is focused on Food, Energy, Water Systems (FEWS)
  • Writing: WCP instructors are invited to contribute their pedagogical and research expertise to SLS’s growing website. Submissions to the “Big Ideas” section of the SLS website and to the SLS blog are welcome, as is soliciting students’ involvement in writing for these sites.
  • Part-time Work Positions: In fall 2016, SLS plans to hire a Brittain Fellow to work in a paid, part-time position focused on developing SLS communications. The application process will be posted to all Brittain Fellows. Please contact Dr. Rebecca Burnett and Dr. Jenny Hirsch, Director of SLS, if you are interested in learning more about this position.
  • Ongoing Events and Opportunities: You can connect with SLS more informally by attending—and encouraging your students to attend—one of the SLS’s many activities and events. You can stay abreast of SLS news and events, as well as teaching and research opportunities, by signing up for their email list.
  • Ivan Allen College’s SLS Strategy: IAC is launching an SLS strategy specific to our college. Please contact Dr. Kelly Comfort ( for more information.

The following overview of different models of engaging sustainable communities in the classroom can assist you in developing your own course focused on issues of sustainability or integrating with community engagement opportunities. The overview begins with a snapshot of pedagogic models for engaging community in the classroom. The overview then provides a series of recent, illustrative examples of WCP courses either affiliated with SLS or invested in concerns related to it; gives a selection of digital and print resources; and, finally, offers guidance for taking your students out of the classroom once you’ve developed your course.

Models of Engaging Community in Your Course

Principles of Engaging with Community Partners.

Writing and Communication Program courses typically engage community through “service learning” that is conceived of as either “reflective” or “client-based” (or a mixture of the two). The “Service Learning” section of this Writing and Communication Program Handbook offers an excellent definition of these models: [1].

A variety of other models for conceptualizing the relationship between community engagement and teaching have been elaborated. In the Institute at large (i.e., beyond writing and communication courses), community engagement or service learning is often separated into the following models:

  • pure service learning
  • discipline-based
  • problem-based service learning (PBSL–akin to the “client-based” approach)
  • capstone courses
  • service internships
  • undergrad community-based action research
  • directed studies

adapted from Kerissa Heffernan, “Six Models of Community Engagement Teaching” and from William and Mary.

Put another way, community engagement/service can be incorporated into courses such as these:

  • one-time group service project
  • option within a course
  • requirement within a course
  • action research project
  • disciplinary capstone project
  • multiple course projects

from Vanderbilt University.

As you think about the design of your course, consider ways some of these models may augment a “reflective” or “client-based” approach. This step-by-step guide to community-engaged teaching may also assist you in conceiving and enacting your approach.

The following resources translate ideas about the relationship between community engagement and teaching into visual representations. These images can help you conceptualize your own classes or help your students discuss the relationship between service, academic learning, and professional development:

Recent WCP Courses and Projects Focused on Sustainable Communities

In the following course descriptions, you will see a variety of methods that Brittain Fellows in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years incorporated into their Writing and Communication Program courses. In each case, you will see that instructors have woven their experience in writing and communication, their disciplinary expertise, and elements of established practices in service learning to create their own approach to addressing sustainable communities in WCP courses.

You can find syllabi and assignment sheets for these and additional courses [ here] in the WCP tab on T-Square (Teaching > Resources > Serve Learn Sustain Sample Materials). Links to these documents are also provided in the descriptions and will be updated for 2016-17 courses. Note that you will need to sign in with your GT credentials to access these materials.

You can showcase your own community engagement-related teaching materials here and/or in the T-Square folder, which can be a great link for your teaching portfolio. In 2016-17, please contact Brittain Fellow Anna Ioanes, TECHStyle co-editor, or the Assistant Director of the Writing and Communication Program, Monica Miller. In succeeding years, please contact the Brittain Fellow serving as an SLS Fellow, the current TECHStyle editor, or the current Assistant Director of the Writing and Communication Program.

Some listings provide contact information for course projects; these partners will be familiar with WCP course goals and outcomes. WCP instructors who are looking to partner with community organizations may want to contact them.

Keep in mind that “community” includes our larger campus community, and you may want to consider working with any of the following campus partners: ● Office of Campus Sustainability:, Contact, Anne Rogers ● Office of Student Engagement:, contact: Sarah Perkins ● Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC), contact: Sabrina Grossman ● Facilities Management: Contact, Jessica Rose

You can also consult Living Laboratory for ideas and opportunities in Campus Sustainability and Facilities Management about using the GT campus as a living laboratory for sustainability.

Sample of student work for Dr. Young’s “Art of Advertising” course. This logo was made for the campus partner VOICE.

ENGL 1101: The Art of Advertising, Fall 2015, Dr. Caroline Young
Course materials here. As part of six-member teams, students worked with a local non-profit organization in the development and execution of group-orchestrated, multimodal public service campaigns that addressed the local community. Each team generated creative strategies, promotional materials, and a marketing pitch to be presented to the client at semester’s end. In a demonstration of WOVEN strategies, final deliverables included marketing one-sheets, print ads, stickers, keychains, public service videos, social media marketing recommendations, etc., along with style guides for future users. Community contacts:

ENGL 1101: “If Not Us, Then Who?”: Student Activism, 1960-Present, Fall 2015, Dr. Ruthie Yow Course Materials here. This was an interdisciplinary course that included ethnographic interviewing; engaging with protest documentary film, literature, and journalism; collaborating with local nonprofits to expand the reach of their programs that serve Atlanta youth; and creating a final project that answered a defined need among student activists and leaders in the metro-Atlanta area. In the course, students undertook several major multimodal projects that developed their existing communication strategies and helped them to forge new ones. These included a podcast introducing listeners to a local activist movement or advocacy group; a photo essay-pamphlet project that engaged principles of visual rhetoric to explore a historical or contemporary student movement; and a group project that required students choose a service experience in the local community and “teach” the key lessons of that experience to the class. This last WOVEN project required a video presentation, an essay produced through a recorded and annotated team discussion of group debriefing after they performed their service, an artifact that supported the work of the organization with which the students served, and an in-class activity that each group designed for classmates to immerse them in the service experience and the insights the group members gained.

ENGL 1102: Ecomedia, Spring 2016, Dr. Sarah O’Brien (funded by SLS’s Public Service Pathway grant) Course website. This course invited students to consider media’s rhetorical and material effects on environmental issues, particularly in local and regional contexts. To this end, students worked in groups of five to create a series of public-service announcement videos for Trees Atlanta, a longstanding community organization that cultivates and sustains Atlanta’s tree canopy. The PSAs focused on Trees Atlanta’s ongoing construction of an arboretum—a living “tree museum”—along the Atlanta BeltLine. The class traveled as a group to the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail for a tour of the arboretum led by a Trees Atlanta docent and returned in the following weeks with their groups to shoot footage of the site. LMC faculty member and filmmaker John Thorton provided tutorials on the basics of documentary shooting and editing in Adobe Premiere Pro. The three short videos produced by each group served different rhetorical purposes: to introduce the public to the BeltLine arboretum, to explain the growth phases of the prairie grasses that provide its ecological foundation, and to enlist volunteers in participating in Trees Atlanta’s many service opportunities. The students screened their videos and explained the reasoning behind their rhetorical and design choices in presentations attended by representatives from Trees Atlanta and SLS. Community contact: Trees Atlanta,, Contact: Karla Vazquez, Communications and Special Events Coordinator for Trees Atlanta,

ENGL 1101: Documenting Atlanta, linked course with Dr. Sarah O’Brien and Dr. Ruthie Yow (SLS affiliated) This section of English 1101 introduces students to the city at their doorstep: they will begin to watch Atlanta, listen to it in ways that enrich their time here and better equip them to make sense of, and perhaps even make long-lasting change in their adoptive city. Students will study and apply methods of oral history, documentary film analysis, and built environment studies in projects including a collaboratively produced podcast, a digitally composed analytical essay, and the design and presentation of posters at a public gallery walk. Across forms and genres that include documentary film, visual culture, oral history, music, and journalism, the course focuses on particular places and spaces in the city—from celebrated Sweet Auburn Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr.’s boyhood neighborhood to the lesser-known mill community of Cabbagetown. The course spans the city’s environs but also its history in order to explore the ways sustainable community is differently defined and pursued in three different moments: the social movements of the mid-century; the 1996 Olympics (race and class dramas that unfolded right under our feet on Georgia Tech’s campus); and Atlanta’s contemporary urban renaissance, signaled by projects such as the Atlanta BeltLine. The course objectives include diversifying and refining multimodal communication strategies by engaging with the city’s past and present as documentarians, scholars, and volunteers. In doing so, students will grapple with these key questions: How is knowledge about the city produced, and why does that matter? How do evidence-based texts make arguments [claims to reality] about the city? Finally, what is evidence and how do you use, generate, evaluate, and categorize it?

ENGL1102: “One World is Not Enough,” Dr. Caroline Young, Fall 2016 (SLS affiliated) In this course, students explore sustainability themes in contemporary adult and children’s literature. In coordination with children from Fred Armon Toomer Elementary School, students will write, illustrate, and hand-bind a sequence of children’s books that focus on sustainability and its broad range of issues. Course projects include critical essays on sustainability as a literary theme, websites that strategize and critique the stories composed, print and electronic copies of the stories, and a project designed by a local artist working with the Georgia Tech Ferst Center. Print copies of all book sequences to be donated to the Toomer Elementary School library. The elementary school partnership was facilitated by Sabrina Grossman of CEISMC.

ENGL 1101: Afterlives of Slavery, Dr. Anna Ioanes, Fall 2016 (SLS affiliated) In this course, students consider the theme of sustainable communities by examining forms of communication that mine the history of US slavery to make claims about the past and the present. Using a WOVEN approach to communication, this course equips students to analyze the rhetorical strategies of others and discern the most successful strategies for articulating complex ideas. The course will consider the affordances of creative genres for articulating the ways communities sustain themselves by resisting damaging stereotypes and fighting for environmental, economic, and representational justice. Students will hone multimodal communication strategies and cultural literacy through assignments that include multimodal research presentations about the cultural context of texts such as Beyonce’s Lemonade and Kara Walker’s sculpture. They will develop strategies of rhetorical awareness and argumentation by developing multimodal essays focused on the historical development of anti-black stereotypes and the ways contemporary artists and writers resist and remake such stereotypes. In collaboration with a Ferst Center visiting artist, students will create site-specific video diaries that respond creatively to spaces including the Smith Family Farm and the Oakland Cemetery.

ENGL 1102: Un-Natural Disasters, Fall 2016, Dr. Melissa Sexton (SLS affiliated) Students in this course examine the ways in which films, novels, and short stories represent the relationship between technology and disaster. We’ll trace complicated perceptions of technology back to the Industrial Revolution, seeing ways in which technological innovations have been portrayed as both the cause of and the solution to acute social and environmental problems. We’ll then look at depictions of technology in more recent disaster narratives. With a sophisticated historical understanding of this topic, we will also be able to consider ethical questions about sustainable technological development; we will think about the ways past examples of disaster can help us work towards technological development that is directed towards environmental justice and general social good. Texts range from nineteenth-century essays about industrial development to present-day dystopian films with a focus on environmental degradation and technological innovation. As we investigate these themes, we will focus on developing our own critical thinking and communication skills. Specifically, in this class, we will be working on honing our WOVEN (Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic, and Nonverbal) communications strategies as we produce our own essays, videos, and presentations. This class will also enable us to integrate research about historical environments and technologies into our own critical and creative work.

ENGL 1101 and 1102, sections including Shakespeare and Law and The Violence of the Law Dr. Sarah Higinbotham, Fall 2014 to Spring 2017 Course materials. Brittain Fellow Sarah Higinbotham regularly incorporates her longstanding work teaching in men’s prisons into her WCP courses, as a non-credit option. If you are interested in learning more about college and incarceration, please contact Dr. Higinbotham ( You can also visit Sarah Higinbotham and Bill Taft’s website, Common Good Atlanta, for more information.

Shakespeare in Prison Project, Dr. Sarah Higinbotham, 2016-2017′ As the world celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016, Georgia Tech students will travel to a high-security men’s prison outside Atlanta to discuss Shakespeare with incarcerated students. While the United States represents only about 5% of the world’s population, we incarcerate 25% of the world’s inmates—more than any other country in the world. With a recidivism rate of nearly 60% and eight black and Hispanic males incarcerated for every one white male, mass incarceration is exorbitantly expensive, socially deteriorating, racially unjust, and insufficient to deter crime or to fully satisfy victims. But college-in-prison programs intersect with incarceration’s empirical failures by restoring dignity and humanity to prisoners. And Shakespeare remains a creative force in our society because he taps into what makes us human, making him a perfect magnet to draw two different groups of students together. Students who visit the prison report that it’s a profoundly meaningful experience, and the prisoners say that academic discussions with visiting students “make them feel human again.” While the prison trips are currently full for the fall semester, please contact Dr. Higinbotham ( if you’d like to be added to the waiting list or to learn more about college and incarceration.

Additional Resources for Engaging Community in Your Course

School Pages on Service Learning

The following universities have particularly helpful pages dedicated to providing resources related to service learning and sustainability issues within the classroom.

Additional Online Resources

Teaching Handbooks

Books on Sustainability

  • The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Bloomsbury, 2011)
  • Introducing Just Sustainabilities: Policy, Planning, and Practice (Julian Agyeman, Zed Books, 2013)
  • Transformational Thought: Radical Ideas to Remake the Built Environment (Jason McLennan, Ecotone, 2012)
  • Emergent Possibilities for Global Sustainability: Intersections of Race, Class and Gender (ed. By Phoebe Godfrey and Denise Torres, Routledge, 2016)
  • Engineering and Sustainable Community Development (Juan Lucena, Morgan and Claypool Publishers, 2010)

Guide to Taking Students Off Campus

The following suggestions and tips make venturing off campus with your students less daunting—and affirm the value of doing so. You may find that many of your students (especially if you’re teaching ENG 1101 in the fall) haven’t spent much, if any, of their scant free time off-campus, and, thus, field trips and service work present an even more important opportunity for them to engage with communities beyond the university.

Official Business: If you are leaving campus, all students should sign and return to you Georgia Tech’s official “Waiver of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement.” You can find a copy of this form here. You should keep the signed forms on file for the duration of the school year.

Scheduling trips: One option is for students to complete service assignments or visit sites such as the Beltline individually or in small groups to. Organizing off-campus activities in this manner saves class time, fosters students’ sense of autonomy and ability to navigate the city, and may be the most feasible way to go if you have three sections (up to 75 students). Another option is to undertake off-campus activities as a class. Here you may choose to travel together or have students meet at a specified location. This option works well if one of your objectives is to build class rapport or if your community partner only has time to meet with one large group of students. Brittain Fellows have found success in scheduling trips in either fashion; the key for both is to prepare students with travel details and expectations for what they will accomplish at the given site.

Tip: Can you use the Tuesday-Thursday campus-wide break (11 a.m. to noon) to your advantage? If your class falls before or after, you can add this time onto your trip. Brittain Fellows have also used this time block to schedule guest speakers, as it allows a speaker to come to campus and meet with all of your sections at once. Note that you will need to book a larger room: to book in the Hall Building, contact the Assistant Director of the WCP; to book in Skiles or Clough, speak to JC Reilly. You may want to schedule this one-off session in lieu of a regular class meeting in the week.

Getting There

  • Walkable off-campus destinations: A number of places close to campus offer interesting field trips that do not entail transportation.
    • Westside: The area west of campus is home to several historic neighborhoods (Vine City, English Avenue, and Washington Park) and dozens of organizations dedicated to sustaining them. If you are interested in partnering with one of organizations, your first contact should be with the Westside Communities Alliance (WCA), a communication network sponsored by Ivan Allen College, among other GT offices, which seeks out and sustains relationships with these communities: A list of their partners is here: Along with serving as an important community liaison, the WCA strives to deepen the knowledge base of all involved. Their Data Dashboard is a rapidly growing resource for community data that can easily be incorporated into the WOVEN curriculum; there are also opportunities for classes to contribute to the Dashboard.
    • Centennial Olympic Park, the gathering spot for the 1996 Olympics, now serves at the primary built legacy of the Games and as a hub for several cultural and entertainment attractions. The north side of the park (the side closest to Tech) is home to the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coke, and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights (NCCHR). The NCCHR features technologically innovative exhibits on the Civil Rights Movement (e.g., a simulator of a segregated lunch counter) and is highly recommended for courses that address issues of social justice and/or changing dynamics of museum exhibition.
    • The Eastside Trail of the Atlanta BeltLine is accessible by foot. It’s a long scenic walk down Tenth Street, along Piedmont Park, and onto the BeltLine at the Monroe St. access point.
    • The BeltLine’s Westside Trail is under construction and closed to the public (as of fall 2016). Its completion, anticipated in fall 2017, will facilitate foot and bike traffic in the area southwest of campus.
  • MARTA: If your classes are venturing en masse to sites further afield, MARTA ( is likely your best bet. The stations closest to campus are North Avenue and Midtown. MARTA fare is $2.50 one way and must be loaded onto a Breeze Card, which itself costs $2. In other words, a round-trip journey for a student who doesn’t already have a Breeze Card costs $7. If you would like to buy many Breeze Cards pre-loaded with fares, you need to purchase them in-person at the ticket station at Five Points Station.
    • Tip: Be sure to budget extra travel time into your plans–and then add at least 15 more minutes! Students will need to buy Breeze Cards (and thus negotiate credit cards in the card machines) and you will need to occasionally re-group, etc.
  • Private transportation: If you are working with a small class or dividing your classes into small groups, consider the feasibility of private transportation.
    • Car pools can be arranged, though keep in mind that many students, especially first-year students, do not have cars, and insurance coverage may not be sufficient for transporting others.
    • Vans: The Campus Recreation Center (CRC) rents 7-, 12-, and 15-passenger vans for $35/day. To be eligible to drive a campus van, you must complete two online certification courses and have a clean driving record. Details can be found here:

Safety The main ideas to convey to students before field trips is that they need to use good judgement and keep in mind that they’re in a city, not a contained campus. You should also provide the following information:

  • Brief students on basic safety precautions before field trips.
  • Encourage students to travel in groups and to exchange their cell-phone numbers with at least a few members of the class.
  • Provide students with a printed map and key phone numbers/addresses, including your own cell number.
  • Remind students to wear weather- and context-appropriate clothing and to definitely leave device-stuffed backpacks at home.