The Development of an EService Learning Project: A Case Study
Concurrent Session 8
While service learning is growing exponentially on many college campuses around the country, eservice learning, continues to challenge many academics In this study, the author explores the steps involved in the development of a completely online eservice learning project, and presents feedback received from students regarding the project outcomes.
The Development of an EService Learning Project: A Case Study
Eservice learning (ESL) should include instruction and service online—whether in a hybrid or totally online format. Many instructors are curious about eservice learning, but hesitant to embark upon it until they can more fully grasp the logistics involved (Waldner, McGorry and Widener, 2012). In this study the author attempts to demonstrate the process involved in developing a completely online service learning experience and includes feedback from students which may provide future direction in developing or revising ESL experiences
Eservice learning (electronic service-learning) combines service-learning and on-line learning. Examples of an e-service learning class include an online grant-writing class drafting grants for a community partner, an in-class informational technology class building online communities for an autism group, an online education class across the country providing virtual mentoring to at-risk students in New Orleans, etc., and more. Traditional service-learning (a class where the instruction and service is conducted entirely on-site) has been extensively studied. E-service learning, as an emerging medium, is not as well-understood. Waldner et al (2012) identified four emerging types of e-service learning—the Extreme e-service Learning (XE-SL) and three distinct forms of hybrids, wherein instruction and/or service is partially online. Extreme e-Service Learning (XE-SL) describes a fully online class where 100% of the instruction and 100% of the service occur online. In this analysis, the author discusses an XE-SL class, or one that is completely online.
Pre-course production, course production and post-course production phases of the eservice learning experience are described in detail. Some of the phases include:
Explore project opportunities within the community and acquire project, Development of project for service learning/course objectives. Journals/Reflection development, Client and Project Orientation, “Water Cooler” Discussion Board, Mid-Semester Progress Report. Final Project Delivery to Client, Final Project Delivery to Client and Client Followup.
This study was conducted during one semester at a private university in the northeastern United States. There are approximately 2,500 traditional and continuing education students enrolled in both undergraduate and graduate programs at the university. Students are predominantly white (87%), with a 45% male and 55% female student population. Twenty-nine graduate students in two online marketing courses, each incorporating similar service learning initiatives, participated in the study. As this study is exploratory to provide direction for larger quantitative studies, the sample is small and analysis limited.
Two client organizations provided the service learning project platforms for each course. Students used the Blackboard course management system to facilitate email communication online discussions, email and two way audio-video chatware during the project experience to facilitate communication. It is important to note that students are not required to fulfill service learning requirements in the general graduate curriculum, however, these projects were required for the specific courses.
The instructor collected data from students at the end of the semester via a 20 question survey to determine skills acquired in the learning experience. Data was analyzed with SPSS. Students were also asked for candid open ended feedback in order to provide insight in to the learning experience.
Again, the sample is small, however, this exploratory case study is meant to provide some direction in how to develop a larger study focusing on the key components of a successful eservice learning (ESL) experience. Students rated the following items as least important in their service learning experience: understanding cultural and racial differences, developing a sense of community involvement and connecting theory with practice. Those items that students indicated were most important to their service experience are: leadership, workplace and communication skills, applying what they’ve learned to a real world situation, and skills in learning from the experience (please see Table 1 for percentages).
Some of the more frequently noted open ended student comments included: “The responsiveness of the client was critical to the success of this project.” Additionally, “the team functions on Blackboard were absolutely necessary to enable us to meet and share information online.” “Client availability (specifically on the weekends) was also important.” “I wish that the client had provided more detailed feedback at the end of the semester so that we knew whether or not the project results were useful.” Finally, a few students commented that they “liked having the opportunity to share general project questions and other issues on discussion boards”…often if one student found something challenging they found ways to resolve those challenges together or address it with the instructor.
Discussion and Future Research
As expected, these students seemed very focused on real world and workplace skills versus community involvement and civic and social skills. This is somewhat disappointing from a service learning perspective, but not completely unexpected, as the MBA is a practical and applied degree. All of the students participating were MBA students who had completed the foundational pre-requisite courses. These two courses were upper level marketing electives. The sample for this case study may impact the results and may not be similar to other higher education populations (undergraduate or continuing adult education). Future research should include eservice learning initiatives with a variety of populations.
Second, students highlighted some of the most important steps in the course development process: for example, establishing communication among course members and client. The project discussion boards were open for students to share thoughts and address concerns. Because all students had access to these boards, they were able to collaboratively address challenges and sometimes share ideas in order to be more productive. Future research should include multiple venues by which course discussion might be facilitated. Perhaps this would also include other models of eservice learning such as hybrid eservice learning (Waldner, McGorry and Widener, 2012).
Due to the fact that students were focused more on the practical and applied features of these projects, and not as much on the cultural awareness, service and civic roles, perhaps some of the pre-project or project process steps must be re-examined and realigned with additional service learning models. Additionally perhaps the pre-project process should include more education for the students relative to the concept of service learning, so that they are aware of the goal and objectives of not only the project, but of service learning for the institution and community. Future research should address how this might be accomplished with a variety of student populations.
Finally, ongoing dialogue must include faculty, students and client organizations as the goal of service learning is to develop ongoing long-term relationships that benefit students, the institution and the community partner and community at large. More comparisons in general between traditional and online service learning is necessary in order to refine these models to develop rigorous and meaningful course projects that contribute to student learning outcomes and provide an opportunity for students to be engaged and understand their roles in their communities.
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Students indicated on a scale of 1-7 the importance of each attribute in the learning experience
1= Not important at all 2=Unimportant 3 = Somewhat Unimportant 4=Neutral 5=Somewhat Important 6=Important 7=Extremely Important
ITEM Top Box Percentages
Important – Extremely Important
1. Personal growth 79%
2. Ability to work well with others 78
3. Leadership skills 82
4. Communication skills 82
5. Understanding cultural and racial differences 57
6. Social responsibility and citizenship skills 61
7. Community involvement 44
8. Applying knowledge to “real world” 82
9. Problem analysis and critical thinking 65
10. Social self-confidence 71
11. Conflict resolution 75
12. Ability to assume personal responsibility 75
13. Caring relationships 68
14. Be trusted by others 64
15. Empathy and sensitivity to plight of others 64
16. Workplace skills 85
17. Ability to make a difference in community 61
18. Skills in learning from experience 81
19. Organizational skills 75
20. Connecting theory with practice 55