Service Learning in Engineering

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This essay is a critical analysis and summary, and commentary on the article “use assessment to develop service-learning reflection course materials”. Service-learning refers to an experiential education style that the community service gives the context for learners to learn and develop. Engineering students work in conjunction with team members with a different socio-economic background and little or no understanding of engineering and technology. The engineering students get required to communicate effectively with a diverse audience as well as experience the positive impact of engineering and technology on the community. The main focus in most community-based design projects found in engineering programs is engineering design. The reflection component in these projects is usually absent or takes place by happenstance rather than deliberately structured. It gets attributed to the training of engineering and technology faculty, and of the lack of course materials for reflection in engineering and technology.

The research uses Reflection Rubric proposed by Barbara Olds to re-examine the reflection course materials developed previously for three common kinds of the service learning design project. The Reflection Rubric evaluates four sets of critical thinking skills grouped under Blosser Taxonomy as Evaluative Thinking, Convergent Thinking, Divergent Thinking and Cognitive Memory. The community partners of the service-learning design projects are Habitat for Humanity, K-12 schools or grassroots environmental organizations. Reflection assignments get proposed for these community partners since they are most common service-learning projects in engineering and technology. Different service-learning design projects get suggested for each community partner. Assessment gets used as a lens to focus on the learning outcomes. Reflection assignments that had previously got proposed get re-examined and revised. According to Tsang, the reflection assignments and also the reflective rubric can get employed to grow and evaluate student performance in understanding the impact of engineering and technology in the society.

In assessing student performance using the reflective rubric, learners develop evaluative thinking when asked to make comparisons, before and after completing the service-learning projects, their understanding of the community need and also their impressions of community partners.

Service-learning design projects compliment traditional engineering design projects in the training of complete engineering undergraduate graduates since engineers require more that technical skills to solve the problems affecting us in the 21st century.  The solutions to numerous societal challenges facing engineers require a vast interaction and communication with persons of diverse social, cultural and economic backgrounds. Engineers require a broad education to appreciate the impact of engineering and technology on societal and global context. The use of reflection assignments in service-learning design projects prepares engineering students to accomplish these challenges.

The research topic is relevant and crucial in solving numerous contemporary problems in the society. The development of engineering and technology in the recent past has met many societal needs as well as led to improved living standards. It is, therefore, necessary to equip engineering students with knowledge and skills necessary to assist in meeting the ever emerging demands of the community. Also, the method used in the research to re-examine reflection course materials that are the Reflection Rubric proposed by Barbara Olds is adequate since it can apply in assessing and documenting the stages of student development.  Various reflection assignments get proposed for the three community partners service-learning design projects, and then re-examined and revised to obtain the outcomes. The outcomes then get evaluated in which the conclusion get arrived. Therefore, the research by Tsang is competent in evaluating use assessment to develop service-learning reflection course materials.

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