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Reading Between The Lines: Evaluating Self Assessments Of Skills Acquired During An International Service Learning Project

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Educating Graduates in Engineering for a Flat World

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Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1021.1 - 13.1021.12



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Paper Authors

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Mary McCormick Tufts University


Chris Swan Tufts University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Swan is an Associate Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Tufts University. He traveled with the student team during the assessment visit to Ecuador in 2006. His current interests are the reuse of recovered or recyclable materials and sustainable construction.

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Douglas Matson Tufts University

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Dr. Matson is an Associate Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Tufts University. He traveled with the student team during the assessment visit to Ecuador. His research interests are in manufacturing and materials science.

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

Reading Between the Lines: Verifying Students’ Self-Assessments of Skills Acquired During an International Service-Learning Project Abstract

Students and faculty nationwide are proclaiming the educational benefits associated with participation in international service-learning projects. According to recent studies, this form of experiential education allows students to develop leadership, communication, team-building, and critical thinking skills, while instilling a sense of civic responsibility. Involved faculty members declare service-learning to be a “valuable pedagogical tool”1 that is synergistic and complementary to abstract theories taught in the classroom. By engineering solutions to practical problems with real-world constraints, students construct the necessary scaffolding to achieve a deeper understanding of classroom concepts. While the academic advantages are recognizable and numerous, they do not comprise students’ motivation for being involved. The truly unique and engaging quality of a service-learning project is the potential for each eye-opening experience to engender personal growth within the student. The challenge herein lies in the validation of this transition.

This paper presents an evaluation of the educational benefits of service-learning projects by focusing on one case study. The most recent endeavor of the Tufts University Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Chapter involved a Green Building Initiative in Ecuador. During the summer of 2007, six students accompanied by a professor embarked on a month-long project in Hacienda Picalqui and El Cristal, Ecuador. During the project, students evaluated their own skill sets by filling out Pre-Travel, Post Travel, and Post-Post Travel surveys and reflected daily on events, health and progress. Comparisons of the Pre and Post-Travel surveys verify substantial advancement in leadership, teamwork, communication and problem solving skills; however, due to the debatable reliability of self-assessments, proving how and when transitions occur is imperative. The verification of students’ self-assessments is hidden within the text of their daily surveys and reflections. By mapping the events of the trip to the ups and downs of each person’s experience, skill development as well as personal growth can be verified.


Previous research and literature has indicated that service-learning as a pedagogy stands alone in the category of experiential education because it allows students to practice engineering design and apply technology while “addressing human and community needs” 2. Consequently, this symbiotic development engenders “broader appreciation of education and self” 3, 4. The hypothesis presented is that students who become engaged in service-learning projects enrich their education by enhancing their engineering skill sets; developing new problem-solving techniques; and strengthening leadership abilities as well as teamwork skills. This research further hypothesizes that service-learning participants experience personal growth over the course of the project; rather than looking for what a career in engineering can do for them, students glimpse their potential global and societal impact as engineers. By integrating the theories of cognitive psychologists, this paper aims to elucidate on why and how the students on the EWB Ecuador Project were able to learn and develop during the trip as a result of specific

McCormick, M., & Swan, C., & Matson, D. (2008, June), Reading Between The Lines: Evaluating Self Assessments Of Skills Acquired During An International Service Learning Project Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4104

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