Academic journal article Journal of Education and Learning

Prospects for Integrating Service Learning into Short-Term International Study

Academic journal article Journal of Education and Learning

Prospects for Integrating Service Learning into Short-Term International Study

Article excerpt

"The best part of the trip was the community work...I would have liked to build more homes...lots of meaningful things were exchanged between us and the community members."

Student Testimonials, La Gloria, Mexico (2009)


In an era of significant social, political, and economic globalization, it is crucial for health and human services educators to adopt a more hands on international view vis-à-vis student education. This article presents information that will assist educators in extending domestic service learning concepts and activities into the undergraduate international study arena. The authors also introduce a research framework for further data collection and analysis. Finally, the article shares lessons learned and presents a continuum that features five milestones, institutional support, faculty buy-in, agency partnership, student engagement, and pre-post assessment that contribute to the successful incorporation of service learning activities.

Keywords: service learning, higher education internationalization, globalization of higher education

1. Introduction

We live in an era of social, political, and economic globalization which profoundly impacts domestic policies and international relationships. Technological advances enable innovative concepts and vast amounts of information to rapidly traverse the globe. This worldwide exchange provides opportunities to health and human services professionals for cross-fertilization of ideas, policies and practices, and for enhanced cultural awareness and sensitivity. Consequently, it is crucial for health and human services educators to adopt a more international view vis-à-vis student education. Although static exposure is beneficial, in international education this goal may be greatly enhanced using a more dynamic or interactive service learning approach. Service learning entails active student involvement in their exposure by being a participant rather than merely an observer; for example, by homebuilding with, rather than just watching, local people construct a home.

Study abroad components of educational programs are especially likely to benefit from service learning's effect of further integrating the impact of local experiences on student impressions and cultural exposures. To move from visiting and observation to direct involvement raises the bar on learning opportunities. This is especially valuable in client service and culturally dependent fields such as health care. However, meaningful service learning is an instructional challenge, especially in the context of short-term study abroad. Short-term experiences are critical in the health and human services fields owing to time and context limits in curriculum components relative to international education. For many students, only short-term programs are feasible.

The task of internationalizing health and human services education is especially challenging due to limited empirically-based models and research on developing successful international academic partnerships that fuse theory and practice. This article reviews prospects and shares lessons learned for integrating service learning into an undergraduate course featuring a short-term international study component. The context presented is generalizable to many other academic settings. Finally, research considerations and a framework for further data collection and analysis, recognizing the need to validate these concepts in an empirical context, are presented.

2. Service Learning

The term "service learning," dating back to 1967 in earlier forms, denotes an experiential approach to education that is characterized by "reciprocal learning" (Sigmon, 1990). Although "service learning" has several definitions, it is critical to note that the concept involves more than just providing an important service to a community. Students must also derive an academic benefit, and the activity must contribute to civic participation and the pursuit of democratic citizenship in the sense of social responsibility (Howard, 2003). …

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