Service Learning

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This paper is a summary and critical analysis of Edmund Tsang’s article the use assessment to enhance service-learning reflection course materials in engineering programs. Service-learning gets defined a form of experiential education in which students participate in activities that solve human, and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally formulated to enhance student learning and development. Two core concepts of service learning are reciprocity and reflection. In a service-learning design project, engineering students work together with team members with a different socio-economic background and minimal engineering and technology knowledge. The engineering students get required to communicate effectively with a diverse audience as well as experience the impact that engineering and technology have on the society.

Service-learning design project and the traditional design project have differences that range from sponsors to the mode of interaction to the analysis and synthesis. The sponsors for traditional design projects include industry, engineering organizations, and faculty, whereas service-learning design projects it includes community groups and K-12 schools. The interaction in a traditional design project is among engineers, engineering faculty, and students. The interaction in service-learning design project entails different people of diverse socio-economic background, including those with little understanding of engineering and technology. The analysis and synthesis of traditional design project mostly entail engineering topics and in service-learning design project entails engineering and non-engineering topics. Therefore, although traditional design project and service-learning design project are different, service-learning compliment traditional design projects in the training of engineering undergraduates concerning teamwork, design, and oral and written communication skills. Service-learning practitioners acknowledge that student learning and development occurs from experience and also the reflective component explicitly designed to foster learning and development. The focus of reflection in service-learning is to promote learning about the bigger social concerns behind the demands in which student service is responding.

There are many community-based design projects found in most engineering programs that mostly focus on engineering design, however, miss the reflection component, or it takes place by happenstance instead of deliberately structured. It is a result of the kind of training occurs in engineering and technology faculties and the absence of course materials for reflection in engineering and technology. It is, therefore, necessary to integrate course materials on the reflective component of service learning design project for community-based projects so as to engage the students to examine the societal aspects of engineering and technology. Tsang, E. used assessment as a lens focus on the learning outcomes to re-examine the reflection course assignments. The Reflection Rubric proposed by Barbara Olds is the tool employed to re-examine the reflection course materials in the research. The uses of the reflection rubric include assessing and documenting the phases of student development described by the King and Kitchener “Reflective Judgment (RJ) Model.” In this RJ model, stage 1 which is the lowest describes an uncritical thinker while the highest level that is stage 7 describes reflective judgment in person. The RJ model requires that the nature of the problems and assignments given to learners be ill-structured so that the learners experience development and growth. The Reflection Rubric evaluates four sets of critical thinking classified under Blosser Taxonomy. They are evaluative thinking, divergent thinking convergent thinking, and cognitive memory. All the four sets of critical thinking examine and document a student’s development and growth in three stages namely pre-reflective thinking, to quasi-reflective thinking and eventually reflective thinking. It is hence vital that the reflection assignments for service-learning design projects get created to enable learners to develop and grow the four sets of critical thinking.

Journal writing is a common type of assignment for the reflection component of service-learning. Reflection assignments in which the community partners that are k-12 schools, Habitat for Humanity, and grassroots environmental organizations get proposed since they are the most common service-learning projects in engineering and technology. Assessment gets conducted basing on the reflective rubric in which the reflective assignments get re-examined and revised. Various reflection assignments get proposed for the three community partners service-learning design projects that are k-12 schools, Habitat for Humanity and grassroots environmental organizations.

In assessing the student performance using the rubric, students appear to develop evaluative thinking skills when requested to compare and contrast, before and after completion of service-learning projects, their understanding of the community need and their impressions of community partners. The rubric can be used to assess and record the student’s development and growth through from the reflective/pre-evaluative thinking stage to the quasi-reflective/quasi-evaluative and eventually to the reflective/evaluative thinking stage. All the reflection assignments given to the students get re-examined.

Service-learning design projects compliment traditional engineering design projects in the training of more competent engineering undergraduates since in the 21st century, engineers require more than technical skills to handle the complex and emerging societal problems. The solutions to a significant number of the challenges facing engineers require extensive interaction and communication with various people of diverse social, cultural and economic backgrounds. Engineers must have a broad education to appreciate the impact of engineering and technology on service and global context. Reflection assignments in service-learning design project prepare engineering students to meets the various societal demands. Reflection assignments and the rubric get used to growing and assess student performance in understanding the impact of engineering and technology on society.

The paper is vital in solving most of the problems facing engineers and also in finding solutions to the contemporary societal needs. The topic of the paper is relevant concerning the various problems in the society. It is necessary that the persons graduating in various colleges and universities with engineering and technology related degrees acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to assist in making the world a better place. The researcher does great research in identifying the problem with the current system. The researcher finds out that the reflective component is lacking in most of the community-based design projects found in many engineering programs. This problem gets addressed through the use, of course, materials on the reflective component of the service-learning design project. The research also identifies and explains the reflection rubric used to examine the reflection course materials. This aspect eliminates the question of the effectiveness of the rubric in producing reliable results for the study. The researcher also identifies the specific qualities and skills that engineering students must learn and demonstrate before so as to be competent in handling societal problems. Communication, the ability to interact effectively with diverse people and also multi-disciplinary teams and also a broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in global and societal context are crucial for engineering professionals. However, the research has a shortcoming in that it does not indicate any other previous research undertaken relating to the topic and what other approaches may have got identified to address the problem.  In general, the study is relevant, well conducted and written in a proper way to reach the target audience.

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