Affordances of international service-learning: Enhancing learning though authenticity and autonomy
Philip Motley, Assistant Professor, Elon University []
Amanda Sturgill, Associate Professor, Elon University []


Keywords: International service-learning, qualitative methods, student impacts

Track:International impact and development

Format: Research paper

Date & time: Friday 9:30-10:40

Location: Salon 10

Students in applied programs need to learn skills appropriate to professional practice. Project-based learning (PBL) is a pedagogy often employed in this type of program. Proponents of PBL contend that it helps to both model a professional environment while also teaching specific skills. However, typical models of PBL often fall short because the project environment can be overly artificial. PBL also often provides students with greater levels of autonomy than they experience with other pedagogies. Nonetheless, the level may not approach that which they experience professionall. We contend that when students learn in situations that provide higher levels of authenticity and greater degrees of autonomy, learning improves.

This paper presents the findings from a qualitative study comparing four international service-learning projects. Research questions include the impacts of the international component of the experience on students’ problem solving, procedural thinking and professional skill development. Students enrolled in a graduate level service-learning course worked directly with international organizations to address needs that were dictated by the client. The faculty for each section primarily acted as facilitators (as opposed to being directly instructive).

Data were analyzed using grounded theory techniques described by Strauss and Corbin (1990). We conclude that in international service-learning settings students confront uncertainties in the learning environment. Issues such as working for a real client, the newness of unique settings, language barriers, cross-cultural differences and collaborating with other students can result in feelings of stress and anxiety. Though these situations may lead to discomfort, the inherent uncertainties are critical components of the pedagogy as they provide a more holistic version of an authentic project scenario and require that students work more autonomously than they are normally accustomed to. We will offer observations on teaching in the international service-learning environment and suggest several directions for future research.

Hennessey, S. & Murphy, P. (1999). The Potential for Collaborative Problem Solving in Design and Technology. International Journal of Technology and Design Education. 9(1). 1-36.

Jones, K., Kamela, M. & Peeks, A. (2011). International service learning: ethics in cross-cultural partnerships. Partnerships: a Journal of Service Learning & Civic Engagement, 2(1). 1-21.

Lee, N. (2009). Project methods as the vehicle for learning in undergraduate design education: A typology. Design Studies, 30(5). 541-560.

Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures & Techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

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