Investigation of International Service Learning in Engineering Education

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Virginia Tech


International service learning (ISL) has been integrated into engineering education and has become increasingly more popular in co-curricular experiences. While prior research investigates each of these avenues of ISL, we have not investigated how these experiences compare to one another in terms of student learning outcomes or understood these experiences from a national perspective. The purpose of this thesis is to address these gaps in existing literature and to provide a comprehensive, holistic perspective of ISL experiences ability to impact student learning on a national scale. To better understand student learning outcomes in engineering ethics, agency and identity and draw comparisons in student career choices, several survey instruments were used within a nationally-representative survey distributed to engineering seniors (n=1911) at four-year universities within the United States. Descriptive statistics were used to categorize he responses by type of ISL experience: capstone, work, or co-curricular. The survey instruments were used to measure the individual learning outcomes: engineering ethics contained 5 items, engineering identity contained 14 items, and engineering agency contained 12 original items. Each survey instrument was validated using an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) to determine the relevant factor groups for each construct. An ANOVA test or Kruskal Wallis, the non-parametric equivalent test, was used for each dataset depending on normal distribution of the data. Responses in engineering ethics showed a significantly higher score in students’ ethics understanding with ISL capstone (p< 0.001) and work experience (p<0.0001) and a medium effect size for both (Cohen’s d=0.3). Responses in engineering agency scores showed a significant difference with ISL capstone (p<0.05) and co-curricular experience (p<0.05) with a medium effect size (Cohen’s d=0.3). Additionally, responses to predicted career choice post-graduation showed a lower percentage of students anticipating leaving engineering from the 9% population rate to 6% for those with ISL capstone experience and 5% for those with ISL co-curricular experience. These results give reason to consider more frequent incorporation of ISL projects into engineering courses such as senior capstone design.



international service learning, engineering education, national sample, quantitative