by Amanda Sturgill
Hi from Central America, where I am teaching a group of students from my university, who are learning here for 4 months. They take an intensive language course, then a mix of regular courses at a partner university and an Elon course from me, and many complete another applied learning experience such as internship or service-learning.
I’ve had an academic interest in these intersections for many years, and it has been interesting to see them in practice.
Generally, good service-learning practice involves a community focused approach, where you see the community partners as co-teachers for the students. Quality service-learning is keenly aware of the effects of integrating students in and on the service field, trying to maximize benefit for both the learner and the community. It is tricky, difficult work to navigate these boundaries, but, in my mind, ethically imperative that we as educators make every effort to do so. With my co-author, Elon’s Phillip Motley, we have made several forays into global service-learning with our graduate students and domestic service-learning with undergraduates (Motley & Sturgill, 2013; Sturgill & Motley, 2013; Sturgill, Motley & Saltz, 2013).
Generally, best practices include ensuring that service has genuine value (Applegate & Morreale, 2006), enables students to transfer the theoretical knowledge of the classroom to the practical (Hashemipour, 2006), and helps students adjust or broaden their world views (McEachron & Ghosh, 2011). International service-learning can be particularly meaningful for students, as the unfamiliar cultural context can force students to interrogate their own assumptions in ways that seem more urgent than those of service at home.
With respect to the potential deficits of service-learning, they can be magnified in an a new culture. The mixed motives for seeking service-learning, ranging from acquiring required credits and experiences for students to finding applied experiences in professional fields for faculty to getting free labor for some community partners can create a maladaptive experience in which the learner’s preconceived notions about those served are reinforced by the experience. Add in cross-cultural factors, which are present both at home and abroad, and the chance for destructive misunderstanding is magnified. This leads us to service-learning while studying away from campus.
One of the factors that has interested me the most is the lack of institutional involvement in what students are doing in these off-campus experiences. Careful, frequent and thoughtful reflection on the service experience can magnify the benefits and reduce the threats of global service-learning. Although this is widely known, a great deal of service-learning, even close to U.S. campuses, does not build reflection in the model. When you go further afield, frequently, institutions are relying on providers who use their in-country connections to broker the experiences for the students for everything from partner universities to excursions to host families to service-learning placements. Partners can have a greater understanding of the local culture, which can greatly assist reflection and ultimately learning. But what is the actual effect on learning?  I will be watching the experiences of my students in their service-learning abroad with great interest.

References and Further Reading

  • Applegate, J. & Morreale, S.  (2006). Preface. In Droge, D., & Murphy, B. O. (Eds.). (2006). Voices of strong democracy: Concepts and models for service-learning in communication studies. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
  • Hashemipour, P. (2006). Learning Language, Culture, and Community. In Droge, D., & Murphy, B. O. (Eds.). (2006). Voices of strong democracy: Concepts and models for service-learning in communication studies. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
  • McEachron, G. A., & Ghosh, G. (2011). Service-learning & civic engagement in india. Partnerships: a Journal of Service Learning and & Civic Engagement, 2(1), 1-16.
  • Motley, P. and Sturgill, A. (2013) Assessing the Merits of International Service-learning in Developing Professionalism in Mass Communication. Communication Teacher 1-18.
  • Sturgill, A., & Motley, P. (2014). Methods of reflection about service learning: Guided vs. free, dialogic vs. expressive and public vs. private. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: the ISSOTL Journal, 2(1), 81-93.
  • Sturgill, A. & Motley, P . (2013) Indirect vs. direct service-learning in communication: Implications for student learning and community benefit. Teaching Journalism and Mass Communication. Summer.

Amanda Sturgill (@DrSturg) is Associate Professor of Communications at Elon University.  She has professional experience in newspaper journalism and marketing communications, and her research focuses on the intersection of education and community-based work, the relationship of region and media, and on new technologies and the news. Amanda routinely teaches study abroad courses and has published on methods of reflection in service-learning abroad.

How to cite this post:

Sturgill, Amanda. 2016, June 14. Working at the intersection of Global Learning and Service-Learning. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from