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Students, Institutions, and Service-learning

Arguing that research on service-learning demanded a “systematic way of generating and organizing” scholarly findings (Giles & Eylcr, 1994, p. 78), Giles and Eylcr turned to John Dewey’s conceptualizations of learning and service to provide grounding for empirical social science projects designed to assess the impact and worth of these programs. Dewey’s contention that knowing was fundamentally dependent on experience, and that subject matter relied on experience for meaning, dissolved the long-held belief in and practice of the separation between knowing and experience (Dewey, 1958, 1966). Dewey reasoned that experience was not in opposition to rational knowledge, but rather gives rise to meaning. The alleged separation between the learner and the world or the environment assumed that “knowing, feeling, willing, etc., are things which belong to the self or mind in its isolation,” and are separate from subject matter (Dewey, 1966, p. 167). To understand experience and knowledge as relational processes, Dewey argued, enabled democratic societies to engage in effective moral action. Democratic societies, Dewey reasoned, did not disentangle the social and the moral. Instead, democracies reinforce the relationship between knowledge and experience through formal education, so that academic knowledge is applicable to life, and to the pursuit of the public good (Dewey, 1966). In similar fashion, PULSE is service-learning that aims to reinforce the relational nature of knowing and engage in effective moral action through Jesuit social justice praxis.

Student Outcomes of Service-learning

Early research on college student participation in service-learning and community service revealed that participating in service activities during the undergraduate years significantly increased students’ academic development, life skill development, and civic responsibility (Astin & Sax, 1998; Giles & Eyler, 1994; Gray et al., 1998). Academic outcomes such as college grade point average, retention, general and disciplinary knowledge, academic self-concept, contact with faculty, and time devoted to classwork have all shown positive relationships to service-learning activities. The significant positive relationship between engagement in service-learning and these and other academic outcomes has been reinforced and validated by follow-up research (Keen & Hall, 2009; Keen & Keen, 2002; Richard et al., 2016; Rockquemorc & Schaffer, 2000). In sum, the body of research strongly suggests that service-learning has a positive effect on college students’ cognitive skills, interest in academic subject matter, critical thinking skills, GPA, writing skills, and increased engagement in the classroom (Astin et al., 2000; Vogclgesang & Astin, 2000).

The development of an undergraduate student’s life skills is also positively affected by engagement in service-learning. Self-efficacy, leadership, and interpersonal skills arc all positively and significantly affected by service-learning experiences (Astin et al., 2000). Communication skills arc improved by participating in service-learning (Eyler et al., 2001; Tucker & McCarthy, 2001; Tucker et al., 1998), and students report that the service-learning experience improved their cultural and racial understanding (Boyle-Baise, 2002; Bringle & Kremer, 1993; Giles & Eyler, 1994).

Service-learning has also been shown to have a positive effect on a student’s commitment to service, on a student’s sense of social responsibility, and on citizenship skills (Eyler & Giles, 1996; Eyler, Giles & Braxton, 1997; Fenzel & Leary, 1997'; Fenzel & Peyrot, 2005; Giles & Eyler, 1994;

Sax, Astin, & Avalos, 1999). Battistoni (1997) noted the importance of anchoring service-learning’s curricular content and pedagogy to democratic principles in order to improve students’ sense of civic responsibility. A mcta-analysis of the effects of service-learning on citizenship outcomes (personally responsible citizenship, participatory citizenship, justice-oriented citizenship, and a combination of these types of citizenship) reveals the positive link between service-learning participation and citizenship outcomes (Conway, Amel, & Gerwien, 2009). In particular, results suggested that service-learning will produce larger effects on participants’ citizenship/civic mindedness when structured reflection is a focal component of the pedagogy.

 
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