Journal Header
       

The Affect of Previous Service Activities on Student Experiences
in a Service-Learning Course
by David M. Deggs, Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas
Gayle Hilleke, Executive Director, Kentucky Campus Compact
Margaret Carnes Stevens, Executive Director, Indiana Campus Compact &
Krisanna Machtmes, Associate Professor, Louisiana State University

Introduction

Colleges and universities have made investments in service-learning because of its "capacity to enliven colleges' mission statements and advance developmental goals for students" (Keen & Hall, 2009, p. 76). The benefits of service-learning for students exist both in and out of the higher education classroom. Specifically, service-learning participation can benefit higher education students by offering opportunities for career exploration, improvement of interpersonal and human relations skills, and enhancing self-concept (Prentice & Garcia, 2000).

Despite the benefits associated with enrollment in service-learning courses, it has been established that motivation ultimately affects students' decisions to participate in service-learning and civic engagement activities. A study conducted by Serow (1991) examined student motives toward volunteerism and found what has been termed "a norm of personal assistance among community service participants" (p. 553). Serow further stated that these participants are often empowered through service which is "an attractive alternative to the passivity of the student role and to the marginality of part-time paid employment" (p. 556).

This study sought to further explore Serow's (1991) findings about motivation for participation in service. In order to do so, this study focused on the affect of previous service for students enrolled in service-learning courses. The rationale for this study was that further exploration of the affect of previous service among higher education students could enable service-learning practitioners and faculty at higher education institutions to develop an understanding of what prompts students to enroll in service-learning courses.

A total of N=380 higher education service learners participated in this study. These service learners were enrolled in courses supported by a Learn and Serve America - Higher Education consortium grant funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). The primary grant was awarded to a state Campus Compact. Students at three institutions, including two community colleges and one four-year public university, participated in this study.

This study included two objectives which focused on the affect of previous service experiences among students in higher education. The first objective of this study was to investigate the affect of previous involvement in community service, philanthropy, or volunteer projects on student current experiences in service-learning classes. The second objective of the study was to investigate the affect of previous enrollment in a service-learning course on student current experiences in service-learning classes.

The results of this study indicated that the affect of previous involvement in community service, philanthropy, or volunteer projects differed from the affect of previous enrollment in a service-learning course on student current experiences in service-learning classes. Analysis of data in this study indicated that students who had previously participated in community service, philanthropy, or volunteer projects were different from students who had not. However, data from this study suggested that there was no difference between students who had and who had not previously completed a service-learning course.

Literature Review

The roots of today's service-learning initiatives on college and university campuses can be traced to the student revolution of the 1960s and to the rise of experiential education (McKeachie, 1999). Service-learning has emerged on college and university campuses "as one of the most exciting and potentially valuable educational innovations available to faculty and the departments within which they work" (Zlotkowski, 2000, p. 196). Its use as a teaching practice has been established in American higher education as faculty have acknowledged that it is a vehicle for learning just like a problem set, case study, or laboratory experience (Zlotkowski, 2000) that can be incorporated into most any courses on a college campus (Spiezio, Baker, and Boland, 2005). Service-learning is often viewed as "the process of integrating active assistance in the community into the learning that is occurring in the classroom" (Kronick, 2007, para. 30). As such, service-learning provides a means to positively impact students' understanding of course material (Waskiewicz, 2001) while providing a venue in which to apply course theory and content outside the classroom (Weglarz & Seybert, 2004).

The benefits of service-learning are not reserved for the higher education classroom, as service-learning also promotes civic responsibility (Smith, 2008). It has been found that service-learning participation can impact civic engagement, clarify career choices, and assist in the development of cultural competencies (Miller & Gonzalez, 2009). For example, Weglarz and Seybert (2004) found that service-learning can "contribute to students' affective, non-cognitive growth and development, particularly in the areas related to civic responsibility" (p. 131). Finally, Franco (2002) stated that both service-learning and American higher education should "prepare students for lives of critical inquiry, active civic participation and leadership" (Franco, 2002, p. 135).

Despite the documented value that service-learning brings to the teaching and learning process in higher education, not all students choose to participate. As Jones (2002) argues, some students do not understand the benefits of service-learning and therefore do not wish to be "gracefully transformed or engaged" through the process (p. 10). The reality of where students are developmentally determines if they are able to embrace the process of participating in service-learning. If students are not developmentally ready Jones warns that "students will quickly get in over their heads if course design and expectation requires skill and competence in areas for which they are unprepared" (p. 14). However, research by Madsen (2004) suggested that students who are willing to participate in service-learning projects benefit from the experience and have positive experiences about themselves and the project. Madsen classified student perceptions of motivation into three categories including general motivation toward the project, motivation to complete the project for others, and motivation for personal reasons.

Methods

The instrument used in this study was based partially upon the "College Student Post-Program Survey" which is available through Learn and Serve America's National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. The instrument as used in this study included nine scale items on a four-point Likert-type scale. Students were asked to indicate whether they strongly agreed, agreed, disagreed, or strongly disagreed with each of the following scale items:

  • I enjoyed participating in this class service-learning project.
  • I learned from participating in this service-learning project.
  • I understood how the class service-learning project related to the course I was taking.
  • I believe I made a difference in the lives of people who I worked with in this service-learning project.
  • I would recommend this service-learning project or course to my friends.
  • I will likely continue as a student at my college or university because of my experiences in this service-learning course.
  • I will likely take another service-learning course.
  • I will likely participate in a community service, philanthropy or volunteer project in the future because of my experiences in this service-learning course.
  • I have shared information about emergency preparation and disaster response that I learned through this class service-learning project with family or friends.

Cronbach's α (alpha) was calculated in order to determine if the instrument had an acceptable level of reliability for use in the study. The scale items included in the instrument as used in this study had a Cronbach's ? of 0.916, which is well above the acceptable level for social science research. The instrument also included demographic information including classification, gender, GPA, and type of institution attended. Questions about previous involvement in community service, philanthropy, or volunteer projects as well as previous enrollment in a service-learning course were included in the instrument.

The state Campus Compact staff distributed the instrument to three institutions which had received subgrants under a Learn and Serve America - Higher Education consortium grant. Data was collected from subjects during the fall and spring semesters. Institutional review board (IRB) approval was obtained prior to commencing with data collection activities. Grant coordinators at each of the three institutions were asked to administer the instrument in service-learning courses which were supported by the grant. It was requested that instruments be administered near the end of the semester after the service-learning project had been completed. Grant coordinators were instructed to advise respondents that they were asked to complete the instrument because they were enrolled in a service-learning course supported by the Learn and Serve America - Higher Education consortium grant. Completion of the instrument was voluntary and a total of N=380 students completed the instrument.

Data Analysis

Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) was used to analyze data collected through the instrument. Both descriptive and multivariate statistics were used in this study. Descriptive statistics used for the demographic items in the instrument included frequencies (numbers) and percentages.

A total of n=191 (50.3%) students completed the instrument during the fall semester and a total of n=189 (49.7%) students completed the instrument during the spring semester. A majority of the respondents were lower classmen including sophomores, n=176 (47.3%), and freshmen, n=111 (29.8%). A majority of the respondents were female, n=273 (72.8%) and the majority of respondents were enrolled in community colleges, n=335 (88.2%). A total of n=190 (52.5%) indicated that they had a GPA between 3.0 and 3.49 and a total of n=92 (25.4%) indicated that they had a GPA between 3.50 and 4.0. Finally, a total of n=257 (69.3%) of respondents indicated that they had participated in community service, philanthropy, or volunteer projects in the past. However, only n=99 (27%) of the respondents indicated that they had completed a service-learning course in the past.

ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) was the primary multivariate statistic used in order to determine the impact of the previous community service, philanthropy, or volunteer projects; or previous completion of a service-learning course on participants' current experience. It was necessary to condense the information from the Likert scale items in order to create one variable which represented each individual's experience in the service-learning course. Therefore, the nine items in the four-point Likert scale were initially analyzed using Principal Component Analysis (PCA). According to Hair, Black, Babin, and Anderson (2010), PCA is used to "analyze interrelationships among a large number of variables and to explain these variables in terms of their common underlying dimensions (factors)" (p. 16). The PCA procedure extracts components from the variables by "condensing the information contained in a number of original variables into a smaller set of variables (factors) with minimal loss of information" (p. 16).

The first extracted component of the PCA explained 61.07% of the total variance in the data and it was used to form a summated scale of the survey items which was later used to calculate the new response variable for each participant in the study. The results of the PCA indicated that the Kaiser-Meyer-Olklin value was .922 and the Bartlett's Test of Sphericity reached statistical significance. The components extracted via PCA and percent of variance explained are presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Components Extracted via Principal Component Analysis

Component
Variance Explained
1
61.07%
2
8.82%
3
7.66%
4
5.32%
5
5.00%
6
4.03%
7
3.65%
8
2.74%
9
1.71%

The scale items and weights as determined within the first principal component are presented in Table 2 in descending order along with a brief description of each item.

Table 2: Scale Items and Weights as Determined within First Principal Component

  Item
 number
Descriptor
Weight
Question
5
Would recommend S-L project/course to friends
.877
Question
1
Enjoyed participating in S-L project
.868
Question
2
Learned from participating in S-L project
.840
Question
3
Understood how S-L project related to course
.793
Question
7
Would like take another S-L course
.778
Question
8
Participate in community service, volunteer in future
.770
Question
4
Believe made a difference through S-L project
.757
Question
9
Shared S-L project information with family/ friends
.731
Question
6
Likely continue as a student at institution
.578

The first extracted variable was used to form a summated scale of the survey items which was used to calculate the new response variable for each participant in the study. In order to do so, each scale item for each respondent was transformed to a z-score. Scales items were transformed to a z-score in order to obtain a standard or normal score for each scale item in preparation for further analysis of the data. The z-score for each scale item was then multiplied by the weights as determined within first principal component. The formula for calculation of the new variable for each respondent in the study was: y = z1w1 + z2w2 + z3w3 + z4w4 + z5w5 + z6w6 + z7w7 + z8w8 + z9w9 (Notes: y = new variable; z = z score; and w = weight given to each corresponding variable within first principal component).

This new variable was used to run two ANOVAs (Analysis of Variance) to compare differences between groups. The groups compared in the study were (1) students who had and who had not previously participated in community service, philanthropy, or volunteer projects and (2) students who had and who had not previously completed a service-learning course. ANOVA is commonly used to statistically compare the means of two or more groups on a specific measure. The specific measure in this study was the new response variable for each participant in the study which was calculated as previously described.

The first objective was to investigate the affect of previous involvement in service on student outcomes in the class service-learning project. ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) was used to compare the two groups of students, including those who had and who had not previously participated in community service, philanthropy, or volunteer projects. A significant F value was found indicating that there was a statistically significant difference between students who had and who had not previously participated in community service, philanthropy, or volunteer projects, F = 12.724 (2, 361) p = .000 (see Table 3).

Table 3: One-Way Analysis of Variance for Previous Involvement in Service

Source
df
MS
F
p
Between Groups
2
360.930
12.724
.000
Within Groups
361
28.366
   
Total
363
     

Note. Delivered sample for previous involvement in service was n=363. p < .05, two-tailed.

The second objective of the study was to investigate the affect of previous enrollment in a service-learning course on student outcomes in the class service-learning project. ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) was used to compare the two groups of students, including those who had and who had not previously completed a service-learning course. An F value, F = .078 (1, 358) p = .780, was found, indicating that there was a not a statistically significant difference between students who had and who had not previously completed a service-learning course (see Table 4).

Table 4: One-Way Analysis of Variance for Previous Participation in a Service-Learning Course

Source
df
MS
F
p
Between Groups
1
2.273
0.78
.780
Within Groups
358
29.049
   
Total
359
     

Note. Delivered sample for previous participation in a service-learning course was n=359.
p < .05, two-tailed.

Discussion

The first objective of this study was to explore the affect of previous participation in service activities on the experiences of students enrolled in a service-learning course. This study indicated that there was a statistically significant difference between students who had and who had not previously participated in community service, philanthropy, or volunteer projects, suggesting that previous service experiences such as community service, philanthropy, or volunteer projects prepared students for service-learning experiences at the postsecondary level. Although service experiences such as community service, philanthropy, or volunteer projects have different goals and intended outcomes than service-learning courses, this finding speaks to the value of such co-curricular experiences and demonstrates that they can be as important and beneficial to students as service-learning (course-based) experiences.

The implications of this finding are further strengthened when considering that a total of n=368 (97.1%) agreed or strongly agreed that they understood how the class service-learning project was related to the course they were taking. This result supports previous research by Madsen (2004) which suggested that students who are willing to participate in service-learning projects benefit from the experience when they recognize the benefits of service projects for others as well as themselves. Likewise, a total of n=350 (91.3%) agreed or strongly agreed that they would likely participate in a community service, philanthropy or volunteer project in the future because of their experiences in the current service-learning course. This result suggests that the current service-learning course acted as a motivating factor to maintain the culture of service that they developed through K-12 education, youth organizations, or community organizations prior to enrollment at the college or university.

The second objective of this study was to explore the affect of previous completion of a service-learning course on the experiences of students currently enrolled in a current service-learning course. This study found that there was no statistically significant difference between students who had and who had not previously completed a service-learning course. This finding suggests that previous completion of a service-learning course did not affect students' current experiences in a service-learning course. The array of disciplines in which service-learning courses were supported through this grant program provides an explanation for this finding. Courses in nursing, allied health care, computer information systems, English, mathematics, social sciences, and sciences received funding for service-learning courses under this grant program. Therefore it is plausible to consider that the skills of one service-learning course are not always applicable to another service-learning course.

However, we are cautious in interpreting this result because a total of n=268 (73%) of respondents indicated that they had not completed a service-learning course in the past. This research question merits further investigation due to the uneven distribution of previous service-learners and non-service-learners in the delivered sample. The affect of previous completion of a service-learning course should be further explored in future research by comparing students who completed K-12 service-learning courses and those who completed other higher education service-learning courses. Such research would enable service-learning practitioners and faculty the ability to pinpoint where in the educational pipeline (either K-12 or higher education) that students develop a desire to engage in service or develop what Serow (1991) termed "a norm of personal assistance among community service participants" (p. 553). This future research should, as this study did, distinguish between service experiences and service-learning experiences in an effort to examine discernable outcomes for the two types of initiatives and determine the impact on students' including the development of citizenship skills, understanding of social issues, and commitment to future involvement as informed and involved citizens.

Conclusion

This study lends support to the continued need to promote a culture of service among youth in American society at both the K-12 and higher education levels. The results of this study demonstrate that previous participation in community service, philanthropy, or volunteer projects can influence and positively affect students' decisions to participate in service-learning at the higher education level and that service-learning opportunities at the higher education level can sustain student motivation to serve.

In order to sustain motivation to serve or recruit new students to the service experience, higher education institutions must link previous service experiences to current service-learning opportunities and increase efforts to make students aware of service-learning opportunities. This awareness should include an understanding of the goal of service-learning as well as the benefits to the student and beneficiaries of service. Hopefully the realization of these benefits will become a motivating factor that will cause students to reflect on previous service experiences and motivate them to seek service opportunities in higher education provided that they are prepared to do so.

Service-learning and civic engagement professionals as well as researchers should establish or continue efforts to evaluate the impact of community service, philanthropy, or volunteer activities as well as service-learning courses. A clear set of objectives and intended outcomes should guide both types of initiatives in higher education. Both should be equally valued for their contributions to student learning, affects on cognitive development, potential to develop citizenship skills, promotion of the of understanding of social issues, and commitment future involvement as informed and involved citizens.

Finally, the findings of this study suggest that community service, philanthropy, or volunteer activities as well as service-learning courses are necessary in order for colleges and universities to fulfill their civic mission by providing academic and co-curricular opportunities for students. Colleges and universities should recognize the merit of both types of initiatives and should never state or imply that one is more valuable than the other. As this study suggests, service activities can have sustained impact on students and likewise, service-learning course opportunities should be made accessible to more students with an understanding that each service-learning course offers different outcomes and skills for participants.


References

       Franco, R. W. (2002). The civic role of community colleges: Preparing students for the work of democracy. The Journal of Public Affairs 6, 119-138.

       Hair, J. F., Black, W. C., Babin, B. J., & Anderson, R. E. (2010). Multivariate data analysis (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

       Jones, S. R. (2002). The underside of service learning. About Campus 7(4), 10-15.

       Keen, C., & Hall, K. (2009). Engaging with difference matters: Longitudinal student outcomes of co-curricular service-learning programs. The Journal of Higher Education 80(1), 59-79.

       Kronick, R. F. (2007). Service learning and the university student. College Student Journal 41(2), 296-304.

       McKeachie, W. J. (1999). McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. (10th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

       Madsen, S. R. (2004). Academic service learning in human resource management. Journal of Education for Business 79(6), 328-332.

       Miller, K. K., & Gonzalez, A. M. (2009). Service learning in domestic and international settings. College Student Journal 43(2), 527-536.

       Prentice, M., & Garcia, R. M. (2000). Service learning: The next generation in education. Community College Journal of Research and Practice 24(1), 19-26.

       Serow, R. C. (1991). Students and voluntarism: Looking into the motives of community service participants. American Educational Research Journal 28(3), 543-556.

       Smith, M. C. (2008). Does service learning promote adult development? Theoretical perspectives and directions for research. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 118, 5-15. doi:10.1002/ace.291

       Spiezio, K. E., Baker, K. Q., & Boland, K. (2005). General education and civic engagement: An empirical analysis of pedagogical possibilities. The Journal of General Education 54(4), 273-292.

       Waskiewicz, R. A. (2001). Results of course-based service-learning experiences on sophomore students' personal and professional development. The Journal of Public Affairs 5, 35-52.

       Weglarz, S.G., & Seybert, J. A. (2004). Participant perceptions of a community college service-learning program. Community College Journal of Research and Practice 28, 123-132. doi:10.1080/10668920490253618

       Zlotkowski, E. (2000). Service learning and the engaged department: A strategy for many uses. In A. F. Lucas & Associates, Leading academic change: Essential roles for department chairs (pp. 195-214). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


About the Authors:

David Deggs is an assistant professor of workforce development education at the University of Arkansas and consultant to Kentucky Campus Compact. He teaches courses in adult education and program evaluation. His research is focused on community expectancy, service-learning, and adult literacy.    Phone: 479-575-4924;    Email: ddeggs@uark.edu

Gayle Hilleke is executive director of Kentucky Campus Compact which is hosted at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights. Prior to joining Kentucky Campus Compact, Gayle was an AmeriCorps program officer at the Corporation for ?National and Community Service.

Margaret Carnes Stevens is executive director of Indiana Campus Compact which is hosted at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. She was previously the director of service-learning at Northern Kentucky University.

Krisanna Machtmes is an associate professor in the School of Human Resource Education and Workforce Development at Louisiana State University. Her research areas comprise both quantitative and qualitative research methodology and program evaluation.


. .

 


Printable
Text
Version

Journal
Home
Page

.