Improving Interpersonal Communication through Community Service

By Hoffman, August John; Wallach, Julie et al. | Community College Enterprise, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Improving Interpersonal Communication through Community Service


Hoffman, August John, Wallach, Julie, Sanchez, Eduardo, Afkhami, Hasti, Community College Enterprise


The current study sought to determine if community based gardening projects would reduce perceptions of the need to use communication devices--cell phones or text messaging--and increase the likelihood of participating in future volunteer projects. Results strongly support the predictions in that the experimental group post-test mean score of the need and importance of community service work was significantly higher (46.33) than the control group (15.33), t (8) = -32.88, p < .001. Additionally, the post-data suggests that the experimental group's mean score of perceived needs for electronic devices (i.e., cell phones, MP3 players, and headset radios) and technology (1423) was significantly lower than the control group's mean scare (34.00), t (8) = 5.73, p < .05.

Introduction

Recent research shows that individuals who participate in a variety of community service activities show a stronger sense of community, increased assimilation among interethnic populations and higher levels of self-esteem (Hoffman, Morales-Knight & Wallach, 2007). Additionally, research shows that extended use of technologically-related devices can have a negative effect on interpersonal relationships and communication (Klein, Moon & Picard, 2002). The current research explores the relationship between interpersonal community service activities and individual perceptions regarding the need to use communication devices such as text messaging and cell phones. Additionally, the current study explores the perceptions of the need and importance of engagement in community service work activities.

While initially most technological advances have proved positive in terms of learning interpersonal communication (Wei & Lo, 2006), recent research has identified more cases involving the misuse of technology within the field of education that often has a negative effect on how individuals relate to each other (Coyle & Vaughn, 2008). The inevitable misuse of technology can have deleterious effects not only in how individuals relate to each other in society (i.e., emailing someone not more than 10 feet away), but how students process information (Howard, 2007). Furthermore, primary educational foundations that have been traditionally established via teacher-student interaction (i.e., basic reading comprehension skills and writing skills) are now being challenged by technological devices that tend to preclude student and teacher interaction (Auer & Krupar, 2001).

Many students now use cell phones as a preferred method of social interaction and leisure rather than face-to-face interaction with fellow classmates. Cell phones replace opportunities for individuals to engage in meaningful discussions with other people. Individuals choose cell phone conversations typically because they are "quick and easy methods of communication" and do not require one's full attention when talking to others. Users can simply "tune in and tune out" at their own discretion with cell phones.

Studies have addressed the benefits of allowing individuals to participate in a variety of projects involving interdependency (Hoffman, 2003). Group work typically allows individuals to directly communicate with each other by collaborating in achieving a single goal. While electronic technology can certainly enhance work that is done together in groups (i.e., through the use of the internet and email correspondence), most students would agree that the real value of group work is actual one-to-one communication.

Increased use of technology in society

How students engage in preferred and meaningful interactions with teachers as well as with each other has also changed dramatically in recent years (Wei & Lo, 2006). Students typically use technology now to correspond with teachers regarding missed assignments and examinations. During breaks in class lectures students often communicate with their preferred contacts outside the classroom via cell phones rather than interact with fellow students. …

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