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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

OLC Innovate 2016 - Innovations in Blended and Online Learning
April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

The Impact of Service Learning on the Online Student: Evidence of Increased Engagement and Student Learning Outcomes

Maria Hopkins (University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA)
Session Information
October 14, 2015 - 1:45pm
Learning Effectiveness
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Discovery Session
Atlantic Hall
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Discovery Session 1

Examines the impact of service-learning on online students' grades, engagement, and satisfaction. Guidelines to conduct service learning in online courses are also discussed.

Extended Abstract

While the expansion of online education and initiatives to promote undergraduate civic engagement have been contemporaneous, only recently have the two converged. Service learning or e-service, for example, is viewed as an emergent pedagogy. Many of the benefits of service-learning address concerns inherent to online education, and implementing a service-learning component into an online course can be very effective (Bennett & Green, 2001).

Online technology increases access to experiential learning opportunities for a geographically-dispersed and diverse range of students and community partners, which, in turn, fosters longer-term community connections for students. The online environment is conducive to increased dialogue, individual and collaborative reflection and in-depth consideration of the relationship between experiences and academic course work. Online courses also can promote information literacy development and advocacy involvement. At the same time, the execution of service learning in online courses entails unique structural, operational and logistical challenges with geographically diverse placements. Online students are more likely to hold full-time jobs, which also can make placement and participation in experiential learning projects more difficult.

The primary purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of a service-learning experience on the engagement, attitudes, grades, and satisfaction of the online students involved in the experience. The current study compared two versions of an online course in Psychology. One version of the online course required a service-learning component, which provided students opportunities to engage in meaningful service activities for at least 15 hours during the semester. Participants described their experiences through weekly Blog reflections and discussions. The other online version did not require service learning. Comparisons of the courses included student ratings of instructor and course quality, assessment of course interaction, and learning outcomes such as understanding and appreciation of diversity, and grades.

Findings suggest that participation in the service-learning program strengthened student's satisfaction of the course, contributed to their understanding and appreciation of diversity, and enhanced students' civic engagement in activities outside of the course requirement. In addition, students who were enrolled in the course with the service learning component demonstrated significantly higher overall grades and higher satisfaction of the course compare to student who were enrolled in an equivalent course without the service-learning component. Findings suggest service-learning can be a valuable pedagogy to infuse into online courses. The paper also discusses practical guidelines to conduct service-learning in an online course.