Progress and Promise for International Service-Learning

By Crabtree, Robbin D. | Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Progress and Promise for International Service-Learning


Crabtree, Robbin D., Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning


International Service Learning: Conceptual Frameworks and Research

Robert G. Bringle, Julie A. Hatcher, and Steven G. Jones, Editors

Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2011

When I began practicing International Service Learning (ISL) as a junior faculty member, there was no academic literature about this transformational pedagogy. Indeed, at that time, the domestic service-learning literature had just begun to emerge following proliferating calls for community-engaged pedagogies that would enhance the civic education of America's college students (e.g., Boyer & Hechinger, 1981; Barber, 1992). Two decades later, I am happy to report that ISL has become the subject of serious scholarship, certainly informed by decades of research on international education and the more recent growth in service-learning literature, but now elaborated in its own right with empirical support for why and how this pedagogy can produce "high impact" (Kuh, 2008) learning and other outcomes for participating students and communities. International Service Learning: Conceptual Frameworks and Research is a clear sign that ISL has matured as a compelling applied pedagogical approach and also as a field characterized by multiple and inter-disciplinary conceptual frameworks and rigorous academic inquiry. This volume signals the consolidation of several concurrent and intersecting trends in higher education, reveals the progress to date in ISL practice and research, and points the way forward for the field's further progression.

The editors divide International Service Learning: Conceptual Frameworks and Research into four parts. The first section focuses on the conceptual work of defining ISL and situating it in relation to other familiar educational trends: service-learning, study abroad, and international education. The second part explores the relationship between ISL courses and research, providing several specific examples of ISL engagements and the study of their learning outcomes. The third section outlines a research agenda for ISL and provides multi-methodological approaches for realizing it. Finally, a single essay in the concluding section offers reflections on ISL from the vantage point of contexts and host communities outside of North America. A quick perusal of the table of contents affirms that the contributing authors are experienced and well-regarded service-learning scholars, the chapters are complementary and together comprise a thorough exploration of the topic, and issues such as context variables and ethical dilemmas are covered. The chapters reference each other throughout, and this contributes to the way the book coheres as a whole, even though most of the chapters succeed well on their own. Some repetition in the introductory material of each chapter is a common occurrence in volumes of this type. The book includes author biographies and is well indexed; the reference section of each chapter supplies an invaluable multi-disciplinary bibliography inclusive of the philosophical foundations for service-learning as well as educational and learning theory, cross-cultural psychology and communication, and many other disciplines whose empirical traditions inform ISL practice and research.

In their introductory chapter, Bringle and Hatcher do a fine job of laying out the terrain, pointing out the intersections between service-learning, study abroad, and international education, and identifying ISL at "the triple intersection" (p. 14). The authors provide a useful definition of ISL (achieved through a strategic revision of their earlier definition of service-learning):

   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 understanding of global and
   intercultural issues, a broader appreciation of the
   host country and the discipline, and an enhanced
   sense of their own responsibilities as citizens,
   locally and globally. … 

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