Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Faculty Use of Service-Learning: Perceptions, Motivations, and Impediments for the Human Sciences

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Faculty Use of Service-Learning: Perceptions, Motivations, and Impediments for the Human Sciences

Article excerpt

This study examines characteristics of human sciences/Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) faculty who do and do not incorporate service-learning in their teaching, examines their perceptions about service-learning as an effective teaching strategy, and identifies the factors that motivate and deter use of service-learning. Survey results from 368 human sciences/FCS faculty members in institutions of higher education across the United States perceive service-learning to be an effective tool for learning and teaching within the human sciences.


According to Giles and Eyler (1998), identifying ways service-learning can enhance subject matter learning is the first of their top ten unanswered questions in service-learning research. Zlotkowski (2000) recommended careful consideration be given to service-learning's relationship to individual disciplinary/ interdisciplinary areas. Historically, state Campus Compacts have provided discipline-specific service-learning workshops. National Campus Compact has also encouraged development of proposals to enhance service-learning in the disciplines.

Unfortunately, in spite of such initiatives, there has been little investigation on service-learning's discipline-specific efficacy. Research on general disciplinary differences spans a range of issues (Braxton & Hargens, 1996). Braxton (1995), Braxton and Hargens, and Neumann, Parry, and Becher (2002) analyzed studies on a variety of topics and identified implications for how a discipline influences teaching, paying particular attention to differences between hard and soft dimensions. Biglan (1973a, b) clustered higher education disciplines according to their subject matter characteristics as hard or soft, pure or applied, and with a living or non-living object focus. According to Zlotkowski (2000), "disciplinary areas operate within a discourse community and the privileged discourse of each discipline not only determines what most members of that discipline are prepared to take seriously, but also carries epistemological and methodological implications that structure their work" (p.62). To improve subject matter learning, it is time to engage in dialogue concerning service-learning's fit and efficacy within individual disciplines.

The present study investigates characteristics of collegiate faculty in the soft, applied, life-based field of human sciences who do and do not incorporate service-learning in their teaching. The terms "human sciences" and "family and consumer sciences" (FCS) are used interchangeably in this paper. Family and consumer sciences is a multidisciplinary field comprising areas related to child development, family studies, resource management, housing, apparel and textiles, and food and nutrition, to name a few. It centers around the relationship between humans and their natural, social, and created environments and uses a holistic approach to help people solve problems and enhance their potential within their near environments--family, home, and community. Family and consumer scientists promote the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through education, prevention, and empowerment. The discipline has a tradition of service and civic engagement.

This study examines faculty perceptions about service-learning and factors that motivate/deter faculty to incorporate service-learning in teaching. Weigert (1998) queried that given the formidable challenges presented by service-learning, why should faculty take on the hard work of incorporating service-learning in courses? Although service-learning enables faculty to integrate academic goals with their own desire to "make a difference" in communities or to work toward social change (Driscoll, 2000), it is imperative that scholars in administrative and other decision-making levels acknowledge faculty's efforts.

Past studies looked at faculty motivation and deterrents in various disciplines such as the humanities, physical, biological, and health sciences (Abes, Jackson, & Jones, 2002; Hammond, 1994; McKay & Rozee, 2004). …

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