This paper illustrates an approach for using university-wide service-learning student outcomes to assess student work for the purpose of improving service-learning student and faculty learning and course design. The author and a colleague used this approach to study the author's service-learning course. The results of this study generated an accessible and engaging assessment framework that integrates basic quantitative analysis of collective student performance, Polin and Keene's (2010) ethnographic sensibility, and Cooks, Scharrer and Paredes' (2004) social approach to learning from a faculty learning perspective.
Service-learning in higher education is becoming more common, with the Association of American Colleges and Universities now promoting service-learning as 1 of 10 High Impact Practices (HIPs) that engage students in meaningful college learning (Kuh, 2008). Reflecting this trend, service-learning theory and research is moving beyond questioning whether service-learning should be a standard component of higher education curricula (e.g., Eyler & Giles, 1999) to determining best practices (e.g., Holt, 2010; O'Meara & Niehaus, 2009). One area of best practices needing attention is outcomes-based faculty assessment of student learning. Although assessment approaches have been developed (Maki, 2010), engaging faculty in such work is a significant challenge (Driscoll & Wood, 2007; Wood, 2006).
This paper presents and illustrates an outcomes-based assessment approach and framework that can engage faculty in collaborative assessment and improvement of service-learning courses and student learning. The first part of this paper describes the approach, the second part presents a collaborative study of the author's service-learning course using this approach, and the third part describes the assessment framework that emerged from the study.
University-Wide Service Learning Outcomes
California State University, Monterey Bay, where this study was conducted, is a relatively new, four-year public university first admitting students in 1995. The University has a guiding vision statement (California State University Monterey Bay, 1994) emphasizing social responsibility, social justice, and a commitment to serve the local community. Students are required to take two service-learning courses: a lower-division introductory course and an upper-division course in the major. Each course requires 30 hours of service with a local community partner. The lower-division course introduces students to the University's service-learning philosophy and approach (California State University Monterey Bay, 2010). The upper-division course has students apply skills and knowledge introduced at the lower division in a context relevant to their major. To support service-learning, the University has a Service Learning Institute that provides administrative support to students, faculty and community partners; helps build course-community partnerships; develops and disseminates University-wide student learning outcomes; oversees all service-learning courses; and provides faculty development opportunities.
Because the University was mandated to be outcomes-based at its inception, all general education requirements, including service-learning, have university-wide student learning outcomes developed by faculty learning communities (Driscoll & Cordero de Noriega, 2006; Driscoll & Wood, 2007). Service-learning is considered more than just a pedagogical approach, but also "a knowledge-base that examines the complex intersection of justice, compassion, diversity and social responsibility with the technical, conceptual and theoretical world of the academic disciplines" (Cordero de Noriega & Pollack, 2006). Not only is educating about and preparing for civic engagement (Colby, Beaumont, Ehrlich, & Corngold, 2007; Colby, Ehrlich, Beaumont, & Stephens, 2003) a key component of the University's service-learning vision, but in addition the University also emphasizes a social justice framework that aligns with Mitchell's (2008) "critical approach" to service-learning that is "unapologetic in its aim to dismantle systems of injustice" (p. …