Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Organizational Development Students as Engaged Learners and Reflective Practitioners: The Role of Service Learning in Teaching OD

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Organizational Development Students as Engaged Learners and Reflective Practitioners: The Role of Service Learning in Teaching OD

Article excerpt


There is a significant overlap between the values that underlie the instructional pedagogy of service-learning and the culture of organizational development. This paper discusses the similarities between the value systems and processes that guide both service-learning and organizational development efforts. The authors present evidence that the symmetry between the two is so significant that service-learning may be the ideal way in which to teach organizational development students.

Traditional Learning v. Service Learning

Traditional non-experiential forms of instruction in Organizational Development (OD) reflects instructors' perceived positions as experts and students as empty vessels. Under this approach, students never fully come to understand the complexity of organizational life nor the variety of skills that they must develop in order to be successful as organizational service providers. Yet, instruction that students receive on the topic of OD has significant consequences for the future of OD as both a science and a practice.

Students whose faculty rely upon the use of cases in order to make their courses more experiential are better off, yet cases themselves vary in realism and in ability to engage student learning (Cummings, 2000; Golembiewski, 2000). Furthermore cases have limited consequences for students. That is, students' learning and choices have few consequences for the success or failure of an organization initiative or the company itself. The organization presented, for the case method student, is still distant and removed and it no longer exists after the class is over. In either situation, students are short-changed of the experiences needed, and subsequently the knowledge and skills that develop from those experiences in order to investigate relevant questions for organizations and to provide adequate services as well.

In this paper we argue that service-learning (SL) may be an ideal instructional pedagogy for the OD classroom. SL experiences provide students with the opportunities to become engaged learners and reflective practitioners while they fulfill the needs of real organizations in their own communities. In presenting the argument for service learning in OD instruction we will: 1) discuss the significant overlap in the value systems and processes inherent in both SL and OD; 2) provide information on a successful SL and OD venture, a doctoral seminar on Organizational Effectiveness and Change (OEC); and 3) provide evidence of the effectiveness of this venture through summarizing the reflections of the engaged scholar (instructor) who led the seminar and insights from an engaged learner (a student) who participated in the OEC class. In addition, feedback from the client/sponsors in the community who supported this effort is shared.

What is Service-Learning?

SL programs are educational experiences led by faculty and community client/sponsors in which the service provided enhances student learning and the student learning (in-class) enhances the service provided (Furco, 1996). Some examples of service learning include conducting action research for a non-profit agency (Nigro & Wortham,1998), or providing a formative evaluation study of a newly implemented social program as part of students' course responsibilities. Unlike other forms of experiential education, SL programs employ a unique balance between service and learning that distinguishes them from volunteerism, field education programs, and internships (Furco, 1996). SL programs are also unique as compared to these other learning or service programs in that the SL programs must have some academic content and they are developed so that the service is illustrative of the academic mission of the class (Furco, 1996). SL reflects a change in the role of formal education from that of imparting knowledge upon others to facilitating the connection between what one hears and reads to what one experiences and observes (McAleavey, 1996). …

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