Promoting Reflective Discourse through Connectivity: Conversations around Service-Learning Experiences

Promoting Reflective Discourse through Connectivity: Conversations around Service-Learning Experiences

Kathy L. Guthrie (Florida State University, USA) and Holly McCracken (University of Illinois at Springfield, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-863-0.ch003
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Connectivity is vital to the creation of virtual spaces in Web-based academic courses which allow for students to reflect on curricular content and personal experiences. This chapter provides a case study of online service-learning courses utilizing technology to promote reflective conversations and the development of emotional bandwidth.
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Dialogue and discourse are critical to students’ successful participation in applied learning experiences. It is through these processes that they develop capacities for reflection, autonomy and critical thought, essential to the process of learning situated in outreach and service. The creation of secure intellectual and emotional spaces within such academic contexts promote the development of a connectedness that enables both cognitive and personal transformation as well as directly impacts positive social change on local levels. Facilitating the development of “emotional bandwidth,” the capacity to learn through structured and reflective interactions, assists in creating such a connectedness among all stakeholders in the service-learning process. These stakeholders include the student, the instructor, and the placement staff and service recipients. The web-based courses presented in this case study were structured in such ways as to provide both the technical and interpersonal means to create such a capacity that extends throughout students’ service-learning experiences and beyond. To better understand the case presented background information related to service-learning theory and practice, emotional bandwidth, and a range of pedagogical approaches, including the facilitation of reflective dialogue and the construction of learning communities, will be explored.


Waterman (1997) defined service-learning as “an experiential approach to education that involves students in a wide range of activities that are of benefit to others, and uses the experiences generated to advance the curricula goals” (p. xi). Stanton, Giles and Cruz (1999) defined service-learning as education through active service using the structure of courses and field seminars attached to curriculum and a grading system. While definitions vary slightly, both authors identified service-learning as tied to academic curricula and credit generation. This connection to academic curriculum and graded requirements make it different from co-curricular community service, often seen in institutions of higher education. Co-curricular community service is completed outside of the classroom, perhaps with a group of friends or a student organization. However, service-learning is completed within a course structure and attached to credit generation.

Service-learning joins two complex concepts of knowledge and community action. Creating true service-learning experiences can prove to be difficult; finding appropriate community service experiences that complement specific academic learning is difficult because of the ever changing needs and demands of the community. The service component, community action, when combined with learning is truly service-learning. The learning in this context is connecting the development that occurs in the service experience to already existing knowledge (Stanton, Giles & Cruz, 1999). This service-learning pedagogy is typically achieved through a structure of courses, field seminars and critical reflection workshops. Structured reflection is vital for learning to be connected to service in this pedagogical framework.

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