Last week I set up a service learning trip to Free Geek Columbus. Service learning falls roughly in the middle of a continuum between an internship, which largely benefits the student, and volunteering, which largely benefits a community organization or charity.
Free Geek is an organization that takes donated computers, refurbishes them, and gives them to people and organizations in the surrounding community that cannot otherwise afford new computers. They also offer training so people can learn to use the computers.
After a quick tour, students were trained to do two tasks: pull and sort parts from donated machines, and install Ubuntu Linux, an opensource operating system, on computers which had already been assembled. The tasks were simple and straightforward, but interesting and productive. Students also got to work alongside other volunteers, who were native speakers of English, which gave them more opportunities to communicate.
In addition to being a great organization, Free Geek was a great place to volunteer because students can go back on their own, if they wish. At least three of the students expressed an interest in volunteering again. By participating in this project, these students have made an authentic connection within the community, which can be very difficult to do.
Thanks to Scott Merrill and the other great volunteers at Free Geek, we plan to continue this relationship by offering this activity to students each quarter. I also plan to seek out other organizations that can offer this kind of opportunity to our students.