Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Community Projects in a Senior Capstone Course

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Community Projects in a Senior Capstone Course

Article excerpt

Abstract

Working in groups, students in a senior-level capstone class completed service learning projects addressing specific needs of community agencies. Students were generally positive about the extent to which course objectives were met and assignments were valuable for their learning. Students were also generally positive about the value of service learning, indicating that the class helped them become more interested in solving community problems and that they gained a better understanding and appreciation of civic engagement.

Introduction

Research on service learning has demonstrated positive impacts on both students and community agencies. Not only do students who participate in service learning better learn course objectives (Knapp & Stubblefield, 2000; Valerius & Hamilton, 2001), but students also report an improved sense of social responsibility, increased sense of the meaningfulness of college, and an increased likelihood of choosing a service-related occupation (Primavera, 1999; Reed, Jemstedt, Hawley, Rebel & DuBois, 2005; Roschelle, Turpin, & Elias, 2000). In addition, some studies show long-term impacts of service learning, including better grades, a more integrated identity, openness to experiences, and more complexity when thinking about themselves and their relationships with others (Jones & Abes, 2004; Strage, 2004). Similarly, interacting with clients and staff that come from a marginalized group (e.g., HIV infected) may make students re-examine their own stereotypes and preconceived notions of what individuals from certain marginalized groups are like and how they should be treated as well as improve students' interpersonal skills (e.g., conflict resolution, communication) and their own sense of self-efficacy (Aberle-Grasse, 2000; Jones & Abes, 2003; Knapp & Stublefield; Tucker & McCarthy, 2001).

Students are not the only ones who benefit from the service learning experience. For example, when undergraduates as part of their service learning tutored elementary school students, the students' math ability increased over the course of the project (Pezdek, 2002). Agency personnel as well as their clients tend to overwhelmingly report the positive impacts that undergraduate service learning students have at their agencies (Vernon & Foster, 2002). This is in part because agency personnel value the knowledge that students bring (Roschelle et al., 2000) and often report that student service learning projects provide significant contributions to their agencies (Reeb, Sammon, & Isackson, 1999).

There are many options for bringing service learning into the classroom. One popular option is to create a stand-alone service module or laboratory, where students complete a certain number of service hours in addition to their regular coursework (Enos & Troppe, 1996). This is a relatively hands off approach for faculty who just want to get their feet wet with the service learning experience. However, students also report fewer benefits from this type of course experience because they have little opportunity to integrate their experience with classroom learning. Another option is to offer a course that solely centers on service learning (Enos & Troppe). These courses allow a more integrated service approach where students complete a certain number of service hours, but also spend a significant amount of time in the classroom reflecting on their experience. One drawback with this kind of experience is that, without carefully designed reflection assignments, students are not likely to connect their service experience to their discipline and thus may not make connections between their service experience and career options in their field of study. A third option is leadership-oriented service courses (Enos & Troppe). These courses are a bit more directed toward career goals, but still lack the focus of major-specific service and thus students may learn to be better leaders, but may not be able to connect that to their discipline. …

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