Perceptions of Individual Experiences in a Service Learning Course

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Virginia Tech

Service Learning is an instructional approach that has been gaining national attention in the past several years. The concept was supported by John Dewey as early as 1915 but not given serious attention by educational leaders until about 30 years ago. Currently, a growing number of schools across the country are incorporating community service activities into the curriculum. In this study, seven individuals who were enrolled in such a course while in high school were interviewed. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to describe the perceptions and experiences of these former high school students while enrolled in a service learning course coupled with the passage of time to reflect upon the experience. The major research questions were: 1. Does service learning foster in students the perception of a more empathetic nature in their understanding of the recipients of the service work? 2. Are the perceptions of the students as to their desire to perform volunteer work in the future affected by service learning experiences? 3. How do students perceive the usefulness of the service learning curriculum as to linking classroom work with the volunteer experience? Service learning was defined generally as a structured elective course that combines classroom instruction with volunteer service in the community. A qualitative design was chosen for the research as this method allowed for a more in depth description of the main focus of the study--the perceptions of these former students. The findings from this study support the inclusion of service learning courses in high schools; however, there was an overall consensus from the seven participants that work must be done by educators in order to provide more structured and viable curriculums for these courses. The participant responses were generally favorable regarding their actual volunteer experiences, supporting the assertion that volunteer work supported by a well designed service learning course increases a student's ability to feel empathy for others along with the desire to be a lifelong volunteer.

service learning, community service