More Lessons without Borders: A Qualitative Study of International Service-Learning

More Lessons without Borders: A Qualitative Study of International Service-Learning

Jarrad D. Plante (University of Central Florida, USA), Lauren I. Murray (University of Central Florida, USA) and Thomas D. Cox (University of Central Florida, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch098


This paper utilizes the grounded theory method to study the ways in which service-learning participants internalize their experiences four months after returning from a three-week trip to Botswana. Grounded theory has both positivistic and phenomenological roots which sometimes leads to confusion about the method. Charmaz's social constructionist (1990) approach to the theory was used to develop and refine the research and interview protocol, identify terms and concepts, ask conceptual questions and ultimately develop results based on the levels and themes identified. Four themes were identified after engaging participants in a focus group discussion of their experiences completing international service learning: education, reorientation and acknowledgement of privilege, self-efficacy, and career goals. Additional themes were also identified after the completion of interviews with participants: cultural understanding individuals within cultures, and understanding individual lessons.
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Outside of the classroom, community engagement and involvement is the most important thing that a student can do while enrolled in college (Plante, Currie, & Olson, 2014). Community engaged learning (CEL) is a curriculum-based opportunity whereby students become engaged in the community as a critical part of their learning experience with the goal of CEL to promote critical thinking skills, enhance knowledge-based skills, and provide reflection activities on the well-being of the community (Tacelosky, 2013). This type of community engaged involvement that has had a longstanding history in American higher education (Burkhardt & Pasque, 2005).

The National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 describes service-learning as an effective method of teaching that enables students to learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service. The act describes four characteristics of service-learning: learning and development through active participation; integration into academic curriculum with structured reflection time; opportunity to apply information learned in the classroom in real-life situations; and extending student learning beyond the classroom (Cashel, Goodman & Swanson, 2003). The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse (2005) illustrates service-learning as, “…a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities” (para. 1).

As a pedagogical practice, service-learning combines academic coursework with hands-on volunteer activities within the community. It demands that service activities be tied to academic coursework and incorporate critical reflection to ensure that students make connections between their work and abstract academic concepts (Deeley, 2010). Service-learning research has been found to benefit student in many ways including increased social integration and feelings of belonging on campus, increased satisfaction with their collegiate experience and increased class attendance and improved academic performance. Students also demonstrate gains in academic self-efficacy, leadership development, choice of a service career, and plans to participate in service after college (Astin, Vogelgesang, Ikeda & Yee, 2000; Astin & Sax, 1998; Kuh, 2008; Yeh, 2010). Astin and colleagues (2000) determined that participation in service learning is linked to an increased awareness of societal and personal ignorance, injustices, inequities, and prejudices and allows students to expand upon their own goals of cultural adaptation, values, knowledge acquisition, and career plans (Aydlett, Randolph &Wells, 2010). Pascarella and Terenzini (2005) report that participation in community service and service-learning activities have significant and positive within-college effects on sociopolitical attitudes and beliefs on community and civic engagement.

Students participating in service-learning show increased commitments to civic engagement and social justice activities as well as deeper understandings of diversity. Previous qualitative and quantitative research has also provided evidence that outcomes of service-learning include self-confidence, social responsibility, civic-mindedness, greater diversity learning, increased self-esteem, and personal efficacy (Crabtree, 2008; Kezar & Rhoads, 2001).

In addition to these academic benefits, service-learning participants also demonstrate a greater capacity to consider social issues and diversity. Students also demonstrated a greater commitment to civic engagement and awareness of needs within the global community (Sternberger, 2005). Rockquemore and Schaffer (2000) found that “students [can make] positive changes in their attitudes toward social justice [and] equality of opportunity” (p. 15) as a result of their service-learning experiences. Everett (1998) found that 87% of students in a sociology class with a service-learning component agreed that their experiences “enhanced [their] understanding of social inequality” (p. 304) by enabling students to apply coursework to real-world problems.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Community Engaged Learning (CEL): Community engaged learning is a curriculum-based experience where students become actively engaged in the community as an integral part of their learning. The goal of CEL is to engage critical thinking, enhance knowledge, and promote and reflect on the well-being of the community. This pedagogy may include civic engagement, community-partnered research, service-learning, and other experiential learning that takes place in local, national, and/or international community ( Tacelosky, 2013 ).

International Service-Learning (ISL): International service-learning provides students with another lens from which to evaluate social issues. It combines traditional study abroad experiences with service-learning work and integrates a cultural component to the students’ experience (Tonkin, 2004 AU42: The in-text citation "Tonkin, 2004" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Service-Learning (SL): According to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), service-learning combines serving the community and student learning in a way that improves both the community and the student, and involves active student participation, fosters civic responsibility, and integrates an educational or academic component (“Principles and Concepts of SL and CBR,” n.a.). Similar to general community service, service-learning may be voluntary or mandatory where service activities can take place within or outside the school. Service-learning also draws lessons through critical analysis activities like classroom presentations, direct writing and group discussion, in addition to organized thoughtful reflection ( Spring, Grimm, & Dietz, 2008 ).

Leadership: Performance roles at various levels and in its collective influence, leadership shapes institutional practices and behavior ( Sandmann & Plater, 2009 , p.23).

Community engagement: Community engagement is described as the collaboration “between higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity” ( Driscoll, 2009 , p.6).

Worldview: Referencing the quantitative and qualitative ISL study, the researchers refer to a spectrum of four factors which include Engagement, Community, Diversity, and Education & Leadership – defined as students’ worldview ( Cox, Murray, & Plante, 2014 ).

Grounded theory: “The intent of a grounded theory study is to move beyond description and to generate or discover a theory, an abstract analytical schema of a process” ( Creswell, 2007 , pgs. 62-63).

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