Service-Learning Projects Enhance Student Learning in Strategic Management Courses

Article excerpt

Abstract

Academia has been criticized for its supposed isolation from society and its lack of emphasis on practical applications and hands-on experience. Institutions of higher education are responding to this criticism by incorporating experiential service-learning in their curricula. One business course which is particularly appropriate for integrating service-learning into the curriculum is Strategic Management.

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Introduction

Over the years much criticism has been directed against academia arguing that it is inward focused and preoccupied with abstract ideas and fanciful ideals, that it has become isolated from the complex and dynamic social environment, and that its graduates lack the educational preparation for the real world. In response, many academic institutions in recent years have embarked on a soul-searching exercise to reconnect themselves with their original mission of preparing good citizens who possess practical skills and are able to utilize and promote knowledge for the improvement of a dynamic and diverse democracy [2].

Among the disciplines, business is critically positioned to play a significant role in academia's reconnection with society. Business, after all, can be considered as the applied part of the social sciences. Its subjects can be applied to all types of organizations regardless of whether they are for-profit or not.

Business schools have utilized a variety of ways to prepare their students for the real world. Some are using internships, where students are placed with companies to work in positions that allow them to apply what they learn at school. Others utilize executive-in-residence programs where current or retired corporate executives serve either as lecturers or mentors. Frequently these executives discuss with students the various challenges that their companies are confronting; the students are then asked to develop alternative courses of action [6]. Another common approach is to invite business people and other professionals as guest lecturers. Other institutions use service learning as a means to bring the world into the classroom and vice versa. Many colleges use a combination of these and other techniques.

Service-Learning Defined

In recent years business educators have sought ways to nurture the service commitments of their students while promoting interactions with their communities. Service-learning is a pedagogy that links community service with academic experience. It can be defined as learning by utilizing course assignments that give the opportunity to students to apply knowledge and skills taught in the classroom to projects benefiting the community. Although a seemingly simple task, service-learning encompasses several learning challenges since it is set up to create an interaction among students, teachers, and the community. It achieves this task by:

1. Sharpening the students' skills in applying academic knowledge to a practical "real world" setting.

2. Improving students' awareness of the community around them and helping them develop a greater sense of civic responsibility.

3. Changing the role of the teacher to that of an advisor to the student and the community.

4. Deepening the relationship between a university and a community that welcomes and appreciates the advice it is receiving.

The basic educational underpinnings of this learning method are based upon John Dewey's experience theory that considers education as a "deliberately conducted practice," and Paulo Freire's co-intentional education, where teachers and students together reveal and recreate reality [8]. This approach changes the passive learning of lecturing into the active learning of doing. Students experience the hard work, the trade-offs, the frustrations, as well as the rewards and satisfaction the real world has in store for them.

We can trace service-learning back to the beginnings of the twentieth century. …