Service Learning

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Edmund Tsang undertook research on use assessment to develop service-learning reflection course materials. Service-learning gets defined as the specific kind of experiential education in which community service offers the context for the learner to learn and develop. Engineering students in a service-learning design project work in groups with the members coming from varying socio-economic background and also with minimal or no engineering and technology knowledge. The student engineers get required to communicate effectively with the diverse audience in the group as well as encounter the positive impact of applying engineering and technology knowledge to develop solutions in the community. Service-learning design project and traditional design project have differences concerning their application in engineering. The interaction in traditional design project involves engineers, engineering faculty, and students; whereas in service-learning design project it also involves individuals from diverse socio-economic groups including those with limited understanding of engineering and technology. The analysis and synthesis in traditional design project mostly are about engineering topics, whereas in service-learning design project concerns both engineering and non-engineering topics. Therefore, service-learning design projects compliment traditional design projects in the training of engineering undergraduates concerning teamwork, engineering design as well as oral and written communication skills. According to service-learning proponents learning and development occurs due to experience as well as the reflective component explicitly designed to promote learning and development. The main aim of reflection in service-learning is enhancing learning about the greater social issues behind the needs in which student service is responding such as social, cultural, political and economic contexts of the issues getting addressed.

In most engineering programs there are various community-based design projects although their main emphasis is majorly in engineering design. The reflection component in these projects is absent or takes place by happenstance instead of getting deliberately structured. It is as a result of the type of training that takes place in engineering and technology faculty, and also the lack of course materials for reflection in engineering and technology. Therefore, for community-based design projects, it is necessary to use course materials on the reflective component of service-learning design project so as to involve the learners in examining the societal aspects of engineering and technology. There are three community partners of the service-learning design projects namely K-12 schools, Habitat for Humanity, or grassroots environmental organizations.

The tool used to re-examine the reflection course materials is the Reflection Rubric that got proposed by Barbara Olds. It was previously developed for three common types of the service learning design project. The reflection rubric can evaluate and document the phases of student development that got described in the Reflective Judgment (RJ) Model by King and Kitchener. Stage 1 that is the lowest stage in the RJ model describes an uncritical thinker whereas stage 7 the highest stage describes an individual with a reflective judgment. The Reflection Rubric used assesses four sets of critical thinking classified under Blosser Taxonomy as Divergent Thinking, Convergent thinking, evaluative thinking and cognitive memory. The four sets of critical thinking document student’s growth from pre-reflective thinking to quasi-reflective thinking and eventually to reflective thinking.  The reflection rubric in divergent thinking documents a student’s growth from being unable to make connections among relevant information to arranging available information into a framework for attaining objectives and eventually to organizing and prioritizing the available information suitable for the task of self-assessing achievements of goals. The growth stages for a student documented in evaluative thinking are from depending on authority or unexamined prior beliefs to assess the information presented to using information to support beliefs, then eventually to knowing how to address the self-identified limitations to accomplishing goals. In convergent thinking, the rubric records the student’s growth stages from when they cannot interpret information concerning how goals get attained, to analyzing information from multiple perspectives to establish how well the goals got accomplished, and eventually to analyzing the way to enhance goal achievements. In cognitive memory, the rubric records growth from relying on external validation to determine goal achievement, to the use of evaluated information to determine goal achievement and eventually to creating strategies for enhancing goal achievements.

The reflection assignments proposed involve K-12 schools, Habitat for Humanity and grassroots environmental organizations as the community partners since they are the most common service learning projects in engineering and technology. In assessing student performance using the rubric, it gets identified that students develop evaluative thinking skills when they get asked to make comparison before and after completion of the service-learning projects, their understanding of the community need and their impressions of community partners. In all the reflection assignments the reflection rubric documents the student development from the pre-reflective/pre-evaluative thinking stage to the quasi-reflective/quasi-evaluative thinking stage and finally to reflective/evaluative thinking stage.

Since engineers require vast technical skills to meet the problems of the 21st century, service-learning design projects get found to compliment traditional engineering design projects in the training of competent engineering undergraduate. The numerous societal challenges facing engineers can get solved through extensive interaction and communication with persons of diverse social, cultural and economic backgrounds. Engineers must acquire a wide education to acknowledge the impact of engineering and technology on societal and global context. The use of reflection assignments in a service-learning design project is crucial in preparing engineering students to meet the varying societal demands. The reflection materials also assist in exploring the professional and ethical responsibilities of an engineer through concentrating all efforts in undertaking the work of an engineer in a responsible manner in the workplace and also community service.

The research topic is relevant in the contemporary world since the integration of the understanding of engineering and technology is significant in solving numerous societal challenges. The content of the research ranging from the problem to the findings is adequate and well developed to ensure that the target audience finds its relevance and need in the society. Policy makers, especially in the engineering faculties, would find the research necessary and appropriate in their decision-making. The researcher adequately describes the gap that exists in today’s society. Service-learning is crucial in enhancing learning and development of engineering students. The researcher extensively makes a comparison between tradition design project and service-learning design project, in which they conclude that service-learning design projects compliment traditional design projects. The gap identified by the study gets covered through the use, of course, materials on the reflective component of service-learning design projects in which it involves students to assess the societal aspects of engineering and technology. The reflection rubric proposed by Barbara re-examines the reflection course materials. Adequate research and explanation get given concerning the reflection rubric thus show why it suits and fits to get employed in the research. The research content is also suitably arranged from the problem statement to the study conducted, then to the findings and analysis and eventually the conclusion of the study. It is very evident from the research that reflection assignments and the reflective rubric can be applied to enhance and assess student performance in understanding the impact of engineering and technology on society.

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