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Evaluating the Impacts of Community Service on Student Learning Outcomes

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Perspectives and Evaluation of Engineering Design Education

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Jennifer Lyn Benning Virginia Tech

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Dr. Jennifer Benning is an Instructor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. She was formerly an Associate Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, where she was also the creator and Program Coordinator of a Sustainable Engineering Minor Degree Program. She also co-developed and lead the EPICS program there. Her main research expertise is in contaminant transport, with foci on transport processes in the subsurface and indoor environments. She also conducts research in service learning and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education.

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William C. Oakes Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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William (Bill) Oakes is the Director of the EPICS Program, a 150th Anniversary Professor and one of the founding faculty members of the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He has held courtesy appointments in Mechanical, Environmental and Ecological Engineering as well as Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education. He is a registered professional engineer and on the NSPE board for Professional Engineers in Higher Education. He has been active in ASEE serving in the FPD, CIP and ERM. He is the past chair of the IN/IL section. He is a fellow of the Teaching Academy and listed in the Book of Great Teachers at Purdue University. He was the first engineering faculty member to receive the national Campus Compact Thomas Ehrlich Faculty Award for Service-Learning. He was a co-recipient of the National Academy of Engineering’s Bernard Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education and the recipient of the National Society of Professional Engineers’ Educational Excellence Award and the ASEE Chester Carlson Award. He is a fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education and the National Society of Professional Engineers.

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Service learning is an innovative approach to education that is being increasingly adopted by many engineering programs. Yet while service learning itself is becoming more prevalent, the body of research behind service learning is lacking in some areas. Previous research has identified a wide range of positive outcomes that have been attributed to service learning including increased social responsibility, teamwork skills, communication skills, critical thinking skills, understanding of societal context, and many more. However, this research is composed primarily of self-reported evaluation studies of specific programs and anecdotal descriptions which limit the ability to make generalizations about service learning impacts. While these methods have provided valuable information, there is a need for quantitative research that defines the relationship between service learning experiences and student outcomes. Previous research has identified the need for standardized instruments to accomplish this. Furthermore, multi-institutional research has been recognized as a valuable way to investigate and make generalizations about the impact of service learning on students.

The Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program is a service learning program that integrates engineering design with the needs of the local community through a multi-disciplinary, vertically-integrated curricular structure. The studies presented in this report include assessment of the EPICS programs at two universities. The assessments evaluate 1) the type of student (including gender, ethnicity, thinking typology) attracted to and retained by service learning as determined by a demographic survey and the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument, 2) the impacts on critical thinking skills as measured by the Critical Thinking Assessment Test as measured by the Critical Thinking Assessment Test (CAT); and 3) the impacts on intercultural competence as measured by the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). To examine the impact, the results of students who are enrolled in the EPICS courses were compared to matched samples of students in other courses to determine whether the results can be attributed to service learning. The intent of this paper is to describe the process by which the student outcomes were evaluated, present results, and to discuss how this knowledge can be used in both the improvement of existing programs and development of new service-learning programs.

The results of the study indicate that while, statistically, students' IDI scores showed no increase from first year to final year in an engineering program, when engaged in the EPICS service learning program, students' IDI scores increased (at an alpha of 0.05) with participation in service learning. Further, while students' CAT scores were statistically higher (alpha 0.05) as freshman than as seniors, their critical thinking skills, as measured by CAT, were statistically higher as exiting seniors after participation in EPICS. Overall, these indicators of student learning outcomes indicate a high potential for improvement with participation in service learning, as opposed to without.

Benning, J. L., & Oakes, W. C. (2020, June), Evaluating the Impacts of Community Service on Student Learning Outcomes Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34600

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