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Maximizing Benefits Of Service Learning In Engineering

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Special Session: Impacts of Service in Engineering

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.858.1 - 15.858.20



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Paper Authors

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Linda Barrington University of Massachusetts, Lowell

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John Duffy University of Massachusetts Lowell

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Maximizing Benefits of Service-Learning in Engineering   Abstract

Are engineering educators maximizing the benefits of service-learning to students, community, faculty, and institutions? Are we collectively converging on desired goals of service-learning as a pedagogy/philosophy that take full advantage of the benefits elucidated by research?

A commonly utilized definition of service-learning is “a credit-bearing, educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility." (Bringle & Hatcher, 1995). Many past studies (e.g. Eyler and Giles, 1999) have shown service- learning to result in positive outcomes in cognitive and affective measures for students as well as benefits to the community, faculty, and institution.

Different embodiments of service-learning have developed in engineering in recent years. Direct placements in the community are utilized in the first year programs, such as at Cornell and Virginia Tech, for example. More often indirect community interfacing (similar to a consultant- client relationship model) is used. Some programs seem to be focused mainly on student skill development, such as teamwork and communication (e.g., IPRO at IIT). EPICS, which incorporates multidisciplinary elective courses that can be taken over seven semesters, emphasizes design and professional skills. Other models, such as SLICE, focus more on subject matter comprehension in existing core courses. Organizations, such as Engineers Without Borders, focus on service with no formal link to credit-bearing educational experience (and thus are not considered service-learning). A faculty member interested in incorporating service- learning into a course or degree program may focus on one approach and may miss the richness and full potential of service-learning, as seen in recent literature. Benefits for the students include increased subject matter comprehension, higher GPA, retention, critical thinking skills, tolerance for diversity, writing skills, and citizenship. Communities benefit by the services and problem-solving provided by the students.

In conclusion, engineering educators can maximize the rich benefits of service-learning for the common good by revisiting the literature on service-learning in higher education and systematically laying out the advantages and structuring the service-learning projects appropriately within their unique academic programs.

1. Introduction

Service-learning is gaining ground as an educational method in engineering. However, engineering educators are relative newcomers to the service-learning field. As late adopters, it is important to recognize that the field of service-learning in education has had a research life of its own for years, and has a whole body of knowledge as a discrete discipline.

The motivation for this work is to begin with a review of literature for service-learning as an educational method prior to its wider adoption by the engineering education community. As we

Barrington, L., & Duffy, J. (2010, June), Maximizing Benefits Of Service Learning In Engineering Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16910

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