Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Examining the Impact of Service-Learning on College Science Students' Self-Report of Their Learning Styles1

Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Examining the Impact of Service-Learning on College Science Students' Self-Report of Their Learning Styles1

Article excerpt

Abstract

Service-learning has garnered a great deal of attention as a teaching methodology with the potential to influence students' development as citizens while providing them rich contexts in which to learn academic material. Many believe that servicelearning is related to gains in academic achievement, though the mechanisms underlying this relation are not well understood. In this research, an attempt was made to clarify a mechanism by which servicelearning may foster gains in academic achievement. Science majors enrolled in a K-12 service-learning partnership completed a quantitative instrument, the Inventory of Learning Styles. Participants reported that views about their own learning changed significantly during the service-learning program, such that they became more conceptual in their approaches to learning content and began to take responsibility for their own knowledge construction. These changes in learning views have been correlated with greater academic success in previous research.

Introduction

The land-grant university's threefold mission of teaching, research, and extension is one of its significant strengths. The history and value of this mission are incorporated into undergraduate teaching programs in colleges of agriculture, and frequently undergraduate students conduct research as part of their college experience (Kardash, 2000; Knauft, 2006; Seymour et al., 2004). Meshing extension or outreach activities with teaching has been more difficult. The recent development of service-learning as a teaching methodology has provided a framework for faculty to include outreach components in their courses, effectively combining the teaching and extension missions.

Service-learning

Service-learning has garnered an increasing amount of attention in the literature from researchers and practitioners alike (Boyle-Baise, 2002; Butin, 2003; Scott, et al., 2005). For this study servicelearning is described with a variation of the definition provided by the National Service-Learning Clearing House (2006). It is as follows: Service-learning activities combine service objectives with learning objectives with the intent that the activity fosters change in both the recipient of the service and the provider of the service. This is accomplished by combining service tasks with structured opportunities that link the tasks to self-reflection, selfdiscovery and the acquisition and comprehension of values, skills, and knowledge content.

Research has indicated that service-learning programs can foster positive attitudinal outcomes in students who participate in them. It has been reported that service-learning programs aimed at helping marginalized groups in society (e.g., college students participate in a project to ameliorate poverty) may lead to an appreciation of diversity and a sense of civic responsibility for the students involved (Barton, 2000; Good, 2005; Jones and Abes, 2004; Jones and Hill, 2001). There have been some reports in the literature of service-learning positively influencing students' academic achievement as measured by traditional means (e.g., GPA, course grades, exams), but evidence in this area is conflicting (Butin, 2003; Michael, 2005; Strage, 2004). The relationship between service-learning in higher education and college students' academic performance needs to be investigated if service-learning is to be considered an effective instructional methodology by academics and not just viewed as soft teaching designed to improve university and community relations. However, making broad claims about effects of service-learning on academic achievement is not prudent, given that service-learning programs vary widely in terms of their goals and outcomes (Butin, 2003). In light of current conflicting evidence about the effects of service-learning on academic achievement, this investigation specifically focused on understanding mechanisms by which university student learning habits might be influenced as they participated in a service-learning partnership. …

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