This study involved a service learning program where students mentored members of the faculty at Eastfield College in Dallas, Texas. The students who participated in the project mentored faculty by familiarizing them with new technology to enhance and improve the current curriculum. This service -learning program provided a unique opportunity to team up students with senior faculty members. The study demonstrated that students can be a valuable resource to the faculty and staff. The faculty also mentored the students. The research conducted in this study also provided limited insight into generational studies in education. In the service learning project described in this article, students took on the role of the teacher in the area of technology, and the faculty took on the role of mentor of the students outside the classroom. This role reversal, while challenging at times, helped each generation gain an appreciation of the others’ learning style.
Service-learning programs have been in place in higher education for many years. The focus of most service learning programs has been on students and faculty serving their communities. Most research conducted on service-learning has concentrated on how students benefit from civic engagement. Students are often required to go out into the community to provide a service. This program, conducted at a community college in Dallas, Texas, was unique in that it kept the students on campus, providing service to a “community” of faculty members. Students mentored faculty members to enhance and improve the curriculum through the use of the latest technology. In turn, faculty helped students with personal development.
The service-learning program described in this paper provided a rare opportunity to observe the relationship between millennial age students and older generation faculty members where the “expert” roles were reversed. The students who participated in the service-learning project were selected from a technology-based program at the college. These students tend to be very comfortable working with technology. This study demonstrated that students can be a valuable resource to the community by providing a service to the college which in turn serves the community.
The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse (2005) defined 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.” Quantitative and qualitative methods have been used to conduct research on service-learning. Quantitative methods have measured changes in students’ academic learning along with personal and interpersonal development. In contrast, qualitative methods have identified the processes associated with student development of increased tolerance, reduced stereotyping, and social, community and civic responsibility. This study conducted an explanatory, mixed methods approach combining both forms of research and added to the service-learning research by examining students’ and faculty members’ perceptions of the study while examining the effects of service learning in a localized community. In addition, this study produced insight into how the learning styles and personal development of different generations are represented and how they are influenced.
Several studies have suggested that service-learning has positive effects on students’ personal and interpersonal development (Eyler & Giles, 1999). In fact, service-learners often report gaining self-awareness and developing leadership skills. Mentoring represents a form of service learning in which college students can become more engaged in the college learning experience. They can provide service to a specific group within the college and learn about themselves and a generationally diverse population on the campus.
Abram Maslow’s (1998) hierarchy of needs should be considered in relation to service-learning projects, i.e.; self-actualization, esteem and belongingness. This service-learning project gave the participants the chance to reflect on their own learning style, build their self esteem, earn the respect of their faculty, develop a sense of belongingness, and contribute to the success of the college. Johnson & Notah (1999) extended Maslow’s work to the field of service-learning. Their findings revealed that when service-learning is a component in standard curriculum there is a drastic increase in achievement and motivation in the students.
When most students enter college, they feel a need to belong to a group or organization that shares their ideas and way of life. Millennials are the first generation since the baby boomers who are actively engaged in volunteerism. They have been the most socially connected generation in history, thanks mainly to the internet and online social networking. Service-learning is able to connect this impulse to the well-being of the campus. One study found that students involved in service activities outside of the classroom view the goals and values of their institution more favorably (McNamara & Cover, 1999). Development of institutional service activities provides quality educational experiences for students and offers many benefits to the college (Gray, 2000).
Self-actualization was a critical component of the service-learning project to be described in this article. Maslow (1968) described self-actualization as someone’s need to do what she/he was born to do. A survey conducted by Eyler and Giles revealed that “38 percent felt that knowing themselves better was among the most important of their outcomes; 78 percent placed this as either very or most important” (Ibid.). When keeping refection journals, students have the opportunity to think, talk, and write about the service experience. The balance of reflection and action allows students to be constantly aware of the impact of their work. The study conducted by Eyler and Giles also stated, “Students recognize the value of service-learning in their own personal understanding” (Ibid).
Once again, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides a framework for understanding the issues related to personal development in service-learning programs. For instance service-learning programs provide students assistance with their interpersonal development. According to Eyler and Giles, “The students in our survey agreed with this assessment; 40 percent reported that learning to ‘work with others’ was among the most important things they learned from service-learning, and 81 percent indicated that it was most or very important” (Ibid.).
While self-actualization is a key service-learning outcomes for students, it is not always clear that service-learning is able to bridge the generations. Millennials represent the largest generation in history, and at times they seem to be distant from other generations before them. They love to use technology. This presents a valuable resource in education. Students who can learn and adapt to new technology in a matter of days should be tapped as a resource to help faculty who struggle with the use of new technology. A major problem in higher education is bridging the gap between faculty members and students. How can we find a way for these two diverse generations to uncover common ground? This study helped faculty members add skills in understanding practical technology applications that allowed them to explore new avenues for communicating content to the millennial generation.
The research reported below grew out of the following three questions:
- Can students and faculty develop a mentor / coaching relationship that will be a positive learning environment?
- Will the generational differences between the faculty and students facilitate or impede learning during the service learning study?
- Is a role reversal between faculty and students a viable method of helping students develop a sense of self-efficacy?
The study used a longitudinal survey design conducted during the spring 2009 semester. The study was conducted in three major sections, gathering both qualitative and quantitative data, with a small cohort group consisting of students and faculty members at a community college in the Dallas Metroplex. Students from a technology program in the final term of their studies, with strong technical and computer skills, were chosen to participate in the study. Faculty members were invited to participate in this program with the understanding that one of the outcomes was the potential of adding new technologies to their curricula. Faculty participants for this service-learning project were carefully selected according to their field, discipline, and age. The faculty represented the following disciplines: Automotive technology, Telecommunications, Photography, and Sociology. Initial individual interviews were held with the prospective faculty members and students interested in the service-learning project. Both were provided with the course description and learning outcomes of the project prior to commencing the project. During the second week of the semester, the participants were required to attend an orientation meeting where students and faculty members were matched together. The information gathered in the initial interviews was used to match the participants according to student abilities and faculty member needs.
The researchers crafted a tool used by each participant to evaluate their own learning styles and determine whether those styles changed throughout the service-learning project. This survey also examined the experiences of the students and faculty and was instrumental in assessing their motivational, social, and emotional needs in an educational environment.
The results of the survey of the faculty self-assessment did not show dramatic change in learning style. A possible explanation is that most faculty members in this study were over the age of 50, which might explain why older generations’ are in a sense “set” in their ways of learning behavior.
In contrast the data on self-assessment for the students showed significant changes in learning styles. Significant growth was indicated for the following questions:
- I am aware of my own strengths and potential areas of growth.
- I assess my strengths and weaknesses and try to improve myself.
- I practice principles of self-accountability.
- I am patient when working with the problems of others.
The next section of results included the collection of student and faculty reflective journals. Reflective journals were used to gather qualitative data to illustrate the participants’ experience during the project from beginning to end in their own words. The majority of the students found the project to be fun and exciting. One student wrote, “I have always enjoyed participating in learning and this project gave me hands on experience teaching others.”
Another student stated that working with a faculty member helped her understand the technology better. “I remember one of my instructors telling me, �if you want to truly learn something teach it.’ I have learned more about new technology such as, video editing, creating multi-media PDF documents and uploading videos to YouTube. I had a really fun time working with my faculty member during this semester. He was very eager to learn more about video editing.”
Many of the students reflected on their own learning styles and behaviors toward people from different generations. Two of the students had journal entries that described empathy toward the faculty members they were teaching. One student noted that “this project has given me a new respect for teachers. It is surprising the amount of patience you need when teaching someone that is not familiar with all the new technology that is out there. Our generation takes for granted all the cool applications and access to instant information that is out there.” The student’s experience reinforces what Eyler and Giles (1999) wrote concerning the need to give students the ability to be constantly aware of the impact of their work.
The reflective journals also provided insight from a student perspective about the project. When analyzing the faculty journals, several commented on how comfortable the students were in using technology. One faculty member wrote that “the student I worked with had no fear about researching ways to adapt my curriculum into a new format to use in distance learning. If you would have asked me a year ago if I would have had my own YouTube website, I would have said, not in a million years. My digital imaging student made learning the new technology a lot more easy for me. It is amazing how in tune this new generation is with technology, and how fast they can figure out a solution using the web.”
Several of the faculty found working with the younger millennial generation painless. Both the faculty and students respected the learning styles of each other. One faculty member commented on the two students that helped him develop video taped lectures on digital camera usage. “My students were very patient with my lack of knowledge with video technology. They took their time showing basic editing software for video and helped me set up a YouTube website for my digital camera classes.”
Taking into account Maslow’s (1968) hierarchy of needs related to esteem, an exit interview was given to the students who participated in the program. The results of the exit interview showed that these students were able to achieve the educational objectives listed on the initial service-learning contract signed at the beginning of the semester. The data also provided evidence that these students were challenged and were able to meet and exceed the needs of the partnership with their assigned faculty member. The results also revealed that the work done by the students during the service-learning program made them feel they contributed not only to the project but also to the college.
Conclusions & Recommendations
This research project demonstrated there was a benefit to service-learning on multiple levels in education. This service-learning project first brought together students and teachers from different generations. The hope was to not only educate students but also to find an efficient way to teach older faculty members new technology to improve their curriculum for future distant learning classes and also to provide resource materials for any students at the college. So far three of the faculty members have created their own YouTube websites. One of the faculty members has been able to put the very first automotive class online at the college. The students have benefited by enhancing their portfolios to include experience in training technology education.
Today’s millennial generation has many characteristics that make it an excellent option as a source for training opportunities’ for today’s faculty. The students who participated in this service-learning program demonstrated that they enjoyed this learning experience. These students also showed that they are not afraid to research new information and had a genuine desire to teach older faculty about new technology. This study reinforced what James Kielsmeier (2003) wrote, “service-learning has a positive impact on academic achievement, teacher satisfaction, school climate, school engagement, and community’s view of youth as resources.”
This study provided new insights into the field of generational studies in education. All generations have a unique and independent way of learning. Teaming the students up with older faculty members provided insight into how generations spanning several decades tend to interact. This study also demonstrated that students and faculty members are capable of relating to one another in a one-on-one teaching environment. This role reversal might challenge how education systems view the traditional roles of teachers and students and hopefully help each of these generations gain an appreciation of the others learning style.
This study demonstrated that service-learning programs can be extremely effective when learners are engaged in direct experience and focused reflection leading to increase knowledge, skill development and clarified values. Educators should consider including a service-learning program into their curricula to break down the walls of the traditional classroom and give students the opportunity to learn by teaching teachers.
Abram Maslows’ hierarchy of needs should be considered in relation to service-learning projects, i.e.; self-actualization, esteem and belongingness. The example provided in this study where the participants were given the chance to self-reflect on their own learning style, build their self esteem, earn the respect of their faculty, have a sense of belongingness and the knowledge that they helped contribute to the success of the college should be replicated at other community colleges.
Due to the small size of the group and the limited time available for conducting this study, further research is recommended. The study was not able to generate as much data as hoped for regarding generational studies. Further studies should also consider creating a diverse group of students and faculty members from different areas of the college. A potential for bias may exist in the results due to choosing only students in a computer related program. In future studies, a larger sample group of more diverse student population is recommended.
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About the Authors:
Richard “Rick” Lumadue PhD – Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Texas A&M University – Commerce. Rick is a consulting editor for the Community College Journal of Research and Practice and is a member of the editorial board of the journal of Christian Higher Education. Rick has cross-cultural experience having lived overseas for six years in a remote tribal village in the eastern highlands province of Papua New Guinea. His work comprised of anthropolical and linguistic study of the Kafe people. He developed an orthography of the Kafe language and designed a literacy program that was used to teach the Kafe to read and write their language. Phone: 903-886-5125; Email: Rick_Lumadue@tamu-commerce.edu
David Danforth joined DCCCD as a faculty member in 2001, having taught previously at Collin County Community College. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and telecommunications from Eastern New Mexico University and an associate degree in visual communications from Brookhaven College. He worked as a photojournalist for five years in New Mexico and for four years in Dallas, and has also worked for the PBS affiliate in New Mexico, KENW. He owns and operates 4TH Communications Co., offering freelance design, photography and consulting work.