Academic journal article New Waves

Learning through Service: Preservice Teachers' Reflections from an International Service-Learning

Academic journal article New Waves

Learning through Service: Preservice Teachers' Reflections from an International Service-Learning

Article excerpt


International service-learning has gained a lot of attention over the past few years; this pedagogy has been used in various disciplines in higher education. Bringle, Hatcher, and Jones (2011) describe international service-learning as a unique pedagogy that incorporates the domains of service-learning and international edu-cation but with a focus on intercultural competencies. According to Pusch and Merrill (2008), learning that enhances selfknowledge and intercultural development is central to international service-learning. Moreover, learning instructional practices such as experiential activity and reflection are also essential to international servicelearning (Montrose, 2002; Pagano & Roselle, 2009).

There are many types of international service-learning according to Jones and Steinberg (2011), depending upon the disciplines and institutes. Bringle and Hatcher (2011) define international servicelearning as "a structured academic experience in another country in which students (a) participate in an organized service activity that addresses identified community needs; (b) learn from direct interaction and cross-cultural dialogue with others; and (c) reflect on the experience in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a deeper appreciation of the host country and the discipline, and an enhanced sense of their own responsibilities as citizens, locally and globally" (p. 19). This report focused on the lens of student learning outcomes as their perspectives can inform future teaching and learning pertaining to international service-learning.

Service-Learning in Teacher Education

Integrating community service with learning in the university curriculum is a common practice in my university. Preservice teachers are expected to apply their major subject learning to help local residents. From this experience, students have the opportunity to transmit their major subject knowledge or skills and carry out a project or a series of activities that benefit others as well as themselves. Kerins (2010) points out that individuals' knowledge, skills, and value of their major subject can be enhanced through the reflection of service activities and subject theory. In turn, preservice teachers are able to apply their content knowledge while reflecting on the needs of the community. Chambers and Lavery (2012) quote the definition of servicelearning as a teaching method "which combines community service and academic instruction as it focuses on critical, reflective thinking, and civic responsibility." Servicelearning, therefore, can be seen as a bridge that assists students in connecting their theoretical learning to practical world needs.

Bernadowski, Perry, and Greco (2013) indicate that service-learning has gained the attention of teacher educators, with many incorporating service-learning into their teacher preparation programs through a variety of method courses. Compared to the field experience of student teaching, Spencer, Cox-Peterson, and Crawford (2005) argue that service-learning can benefit preservice teachers by including real life experiences that enhance and extend their knowledge/skills of teaching. Miller and Gonzalez (2010) confirm that servicelearning acts as a bridge to connect professional development and community needs. They listed the impacts of servicelearning on professional development of preservice teachers to include: academic achievement, career goal clarification, civic engagement, and cultural competencies.

Cultural competence is one's ability to interact effectively with diverse groups. Seeberg and Minick (2012) believe that teacher education needs to engage preservice teachers in empowering cultural competence so they can transmit subject knowledge to their future students. Seeberg and Minick (2012) found that service-learning has a significant impact on preservice teachers' awareness of the issue of cultural competence, as participants developed the ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with different culture backgrounders. …

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