A Case Study for Service-Learning: What Students Learn When Given the Opportunity

By Robinson, J. Shane; Torres, Robert M. | NACTA Journal, December 2007 | Go to article overview
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A Case Study for Service-Learning: What Students Learn When Given the Opportunity

Robinson, J. Shane, Torres, Robert M., NACTA Journal


Today's communities and organizations benefit from service-learning. Service-learning uniquely blends disciplinary knowledge with civic knowledge while making communities a better place to live. Students enrolled in a leadership course in a department of agriculture were given an out-of-class assignment consisting of a service-learning project. The goal of the service-learning project was to provide students with real experiences in leadership in which they were faced with identifying a community-oriented project, executing a plan, and completing the project. The assignment called for students to gain experience with course content (team leadership) by participating in a service-learning team project. Upon completing the service-learning project, students revealed five leadership themes, classified as the five Cs, must exist for team leadership to be effective. The five Cs were: 1) communication, 2) commitment, 3) consideration, 4) courage, and 5) competence.

Introduction and Theoretical Framework

A purpose of higher education is to prepare students to enter the workplace upon graduation (Cole and Thompson, 2002; Evers et al., 1998; Martin et al., 2000; McLaughlin, 1995; Peddle, 2000). However, several authorities (Askov and Gordon, 1999; Atkins, 1999; Evers et al. 1998; Kivinen and Silvennoinen, 2002; Morley, 2001) noted that today's students are not being prepared with the appropriate skills needed to face the challenges that linger outside the confined, structured environment of a college classroom. In fact, Evers et al. (1998) stated that "the skills most in demand are least in supply" (p. 16).

Peddle (2000) stated that college graduates need to possess more transferable skills and as such are not ready to enter the workplace. According to Schmidt (1999), graduates entering the workplace must be able to "solve complex multidisciplinary problems, work successfully in teams, exhibit effective oral and written communication skills, and practice good interpersonal skills" (p. 31). However, a review of the literature revealed that such transferable skills are lacking in today's college graduates (Candy and Crebert, 1991; Coplin, 2003; Dunne and Rawlins, 2000; Radhakrishna and Bruening, 1994; Robinson and Garton, 2006).

In an attempt to address the growing need for transferable skills, Sapp (2000) stated that institutions of higher education have begun shifting emphasis away from simply providing instruction to a teaching philosophy of producing authentic learning. One method for including authentic learning is through service-learning. Service-learning is a form of experiential learning, created through a spirit of civic responsibility, (Binard and Leavitt, 2000) and exists as a means to bring ownership to the learning process and enable students to experience the transferable skills most in need in the workplace.

Experiential Learning

In 1984, David A. Kolb developed a model of experiential learning consisting of: concrete experience, observation and reflection, forming abstract concepts, and testing in new situations. To better understand the theory behind experiential learning, Kolb (1984) stated that it was "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience" (p. 41). Scales et al. (2006) added that experiential learning implies: concrete experiences help students grasp information when students can reflect on those experiences and experiment actively with the concepts they are learning. Experiential education can provide greater depth of information processing, and thus a greater potential impact on learning, than less active methods.

Service-learning provides educators a vehicle for integrating, experiential learning activities into the curriculum (Barkley 1999). Scales et al. (2006) stated that service-earning integrates concepts learned in class with real-world, authentic problems in society. Service-learning should be conducted in a community setting and should entail a reflection component (Barkley, 1999; Bringle and Hatcher, 1996; Karayan and Gathercoal, 2005).

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