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Just like last week, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed a seemingly dry and uninteresting topic. While spending a few hours on a weekend researching scholarly articles on education might not sound like a relaxing or enjoyable experience, it was for me! (It probably helps that the weather is turning nice and construction at my house is finished.) Here’s a brief explanation of how I did my research and then a somewhat detailed annotation of the specific sources I found and what I learned from them.

First, here’s how I went about doing my research. I had no idea where to start with accessing the MSU Library, and contacting a librarian isn’t easy since I am 1) on the other side of the world in Hong Kong, and 2) 13 hours into the future, meaning that their opening hours coincide with my sleep. But I saw on the library homepage that there was a 24/7 chat function. So one day while taking the ferry home from work I used my iPhone (how cool is that!) to have a chat with a someone who was “helping out your library as their staff aren’t available to chat right now”. I like to think that I was talking to someone working for an Indian remote support desk. Regardless of who I was speaking to, they proved to be helpful, giving suggestions on various places to begin my search and also provided me with a link for resources to evaluate the quality of the journals I would be reading.

I used ERIC to search for a number of topics that interest me: inquiry, technology, sleep impact on learning, labeling students, and service-learning. But rather than read an article on each of these disparate interests, I decided to focus on service-learning. It’s a topic that I’m aware is important, and a colleague of mine has spent over a decade developing a number of service-learning courses. But I have never read a single sentence of research on the topic. What follows are my summaries, evaluations, and explanations of what I learned from each of my five sources.

Source One: Inside out, outside in: A comparative analysis of service-learning’s development in the United States and South Africa

This extremely readable article explains the history and development of service-learning in the United States and South Africa. The authors give a brief definition of the term and in a few short pages explain the development of the pedagogical approach in each country. The article identifies strengths and weaknesses of the approach in each country and concludes with a comparison and possible next research steps. It seems that both authors are proud of something in their own context but recognize the strengths of the other approach. For example, South Africa lacks the student involvement that exists in the US, but it has the benefit of a more centralized approach to curriculum and change so in theory it could adopt policies and programs on a wider scale. And service learning in the US, while having a longer history and more deeply rooted ties in higher education, seems to be based on a model that ignores the fact that sometimes the service provider does not mirror the interests and needs of the community, a facet of service-learning embedded in the South African approach.

This article provided a fabulous introduction to service-learning by comparing two very different approaches. It also gave me a strong background on the historical development of service-learning. However due to its brief nature it had to leave out a lengthy discussion of how societal movements in each country have influenced the development of service-learning. Two major takeaways were the diagrams on how service-learning is conceptualized in the US and South Africa. I find it extremely helpful to have a conceptual overview of a new concept.

Source Two: Service-learning and critical emotion studies: on the perils of empathy and the politics of compassion

The authors manage to tie together the disparate fields brain research, philosophy, and service-learning in this concise examination of the role of emotion in service-learning. They focus on the small but hugely significant differences between empathy and compassion and the corresponding impact on the pedagogy of service-learning. The article culminates with an examination of a course taught by one of the authors, setting a context for the theoretical discussion of the first two-thirds of the article. The authors very clearly state their disagreement with the idea of “value-less education” and argue that more attention needs to be paid to the role of emotions in education.

I found this article to be a fascinating introduction to a current issue in service-learning, the proper role of emotion. I’ve long believed that teaching empathy alone isn’t a good enough goal and can even sometimes be damaging, and this article provided a strong theoretical explanation for this intuition. The article also gave me a clear definition of the next step after empathy, compassion. However in order to fully understand the nuances of the differences between empathy and compassion I think that I would need to be more engaged in the practice of service-learning. This article provides the necessary background in brain research and philosophy to do so.

But lest you read this thinking that the article was dry and not worth your time, that’s not true. The authors contextualized their research by discussing the experience of students who volunteered both to work with people living with HIV / AIDS and also to promote awareness about HIV / AIDS to their college classmates. The students were surprised to discover that they found their college classmates the more difficult group to work with. I thought that this was a fascinating discovery. Read the article to find out more!

Source Three: A faculty learning community’s reflection on implementing service-learning goals

This article is exactly what it says it is in the title, a discussion of how a group of teachers attempted to implement their university’s mission statement and introduce service-learning to their English curriculum. After a short introduction of the university context and the goals of the Faculty Learning Community (FLC), the article focuses on sharing three specific courses that attempted to incorporate service-learning. Rooted in the idea of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, this article provides an excellent overview of the challenges faced while implementing service-learning. One key tension that is highlighted is that between the needs of the community and the needs of the academic institution. Which should be more central, the learning of the students or the benefit to the community? Other issues such as the make-up of the student body and time constraints of a 10 week course are addressed. I honestly didn’t find this article that useful. Maybe that’s because it focused on tertiary education, which doesn’t really apply to me, or maybe it’s because I don’t understand enough of the conceptual background of service-learning to recognize what lessons I could learn from the experience of these researchers.

Source Four: Empirically Supported Recommendations for High School Service Learning Programs

This article provides a brief overview of some of the key components of a successful service-learning program at the secondary level. However a major caveat that the author acknowledges is that very little research has been conducted at the secondary level; most has focused on tertiary service-learning. The author acknowledges the centrality of motivation in service-learning: in secondary students it will often begin as extrinsic – do service in order to get into a better college – but it can then turn intrinsic in the right setting. A number of key components are listed by the author: the objective of service should be clear; it should be a quality activity (not busy work); it should be voluntary; it should take place in a community of involved volunteers; and students need the opportunity for reflection. All of these characteristics sound to me to be very similar to the characteristics of good learning environments in general. I do wonder if the fact that little research has been done on this area, as well as the fact that this article was self-published online and not in any journal, and lastly the lack of any significant insights, means that this article should be viewed as relatively less valuable that other ones out there on the topic.

Source Five: Does service-learning increase student learning?: A meta-analysis.

In this meta-analysis, the author has taken a previous study and expanded upon the measures used to analyze research on service-learning. The author has taken a more thorough approach, for example including unpublished papers in the meta-analysis and differentiating for the type of data provided in the research. And the resulting conclusion, that service learning does indeed further student learning, has been affirmed. I don’t think that this article helps me in any explicit way. After all, the author explicitly states that the research surveyed only applies to tertiary, not secondary, education. However that in itself is good to know. The field of service learning is still quite new but the initial signs of having a positive impact on student learning are there.

References

Source One: Stanton, T. K., & Erasmus, M. A. (2013). Inside out, outside in: A comparative analysis of service-learning’s development in the United States and South Africa. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 17(1), 61-94. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from http://openjournals.libs.uga.edu/index.php/jheoe/index

Source Two: Langstraat, L., & Bowdon, M. (2011). Service-learning and critical emotion studies: On the perils of empathy and the politics of compassion. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 17(2), 5-14. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mjcsl

Becket, D., Refaei, B., & Skutar, C. (2012). A faculty learning community’s reflection on implementing service-learning goals. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 12(1), 74-87. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from http://www.iupui.edu/~josotl

Source Four: Lockley, J. (2009). Empirically supported recommendations for high school service learning programs. Retrieved from ERIC database . (ED504285)

Source Five: Warren, J. L. (2012). Does service-learning increase student learning?: A meta-analysis. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 18(2), 56-61. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mjcsl

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