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Measuring The Impacts Of Project Based Service Learning

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Project-Based Service Learning

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.873.1 - 14.873.15



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Paper Authors

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Angela Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Kurt Paterson Michigan Technological University Orcid 16x16

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Chris Swan Tufts University Orcid 16x16

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



Project-based service learning (PBSL) has become an emergent opportunity for engineering education. In this paper both curricular and co-curricular/extracurricular community service activities related to engineering will be described. In this field there are a number of national programs, for example EPICS, Engineers Without Borders and Engineers for a Sustainable World, as well as university-specific opportunities. Student interest and involvement in these programs has been explosive. Yet, partly due to the grassroots development of many of these programs and to their rapid rise, there are scant findings on the impacts of these programs on engineering education. Preliminary findings suggest that students participating in PBSL early in college are retained in engineering at higher levels, women participate in voluntary PBSL opportunities at higher levels than their representation in engineering overall, PBSL fulfills a variety of ABET learning outcomes, and PBSL enhances student preparation to practice engineering design. The community impacts of these projects are outside the scope of this paper. However, the impacts of PBSL on community partners are of equal importance to the educational outcomes and should be evaluated.

This paper provides a broad review of existing PBSL programs, assessment methods used, and the impacts on students. A summit was held in early 2009 to summarize and leverage the collective expertise of the participants to identify desired outcome metrics, quality assessment methods, and key next steps needed in understanding the impacts of PBSL on engineering education. Those involved in PBSL seek guidance on how to better understand how these programs are affecting their students and institutions, and how to design the best experiences possible. The engineering professional community is interested in evidence indicating that graduates of these PBSL programs are achieving modern knowledge and skills. It may be that PBSL offers substantial promise for building the technological workforce needed by the nation.

Project-Based Service Learning

Project-based service learning is a form of active learning where students work on projects that benefit a real community or client while also providing a rich learning experience. Project-based learning (PBL) is learner focused.1 In contrast to traditional PBL where a project is developed by the instructor and the learning path is fairly predictable, PBSL adds the community as a full partner and the outcomes are less clear. William Oakes notes: “the facilitation of the [PBSL] experience is more dependent upon capitalizing on teachable moments and learning opportunities than with traditional PBL. The service-learning therefore requires a more flexible curricular scaffolding to support the appropriate learning and presents additional assessment challenges since there is more uncertainty.”2

A number of recent books discuss service learning in engineering and other settings.3, 4 For example, The Guide to Service-Learning Colleges and Universities5, includes profiles of SL activities at more than 150 institutions. The main target of the book appears to be perspective

Bielefeldt, A., & Paterson, K., & Swan, C. (2009, June), Measuring The Impacts Of Project Based Service Learning Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5642

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