A Naturalistic Inquiry of Service-Learning in New Zealand University Classrooms: Determining and Illuminating the Impact on Student Engagement
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The purpose of this study is to more clearly understand what student' experience while involved in service-learning courses. Moreover, I sought to identify the relationships among service-learning, the outcomes typically attributed to it, and student engagement according to Naturalistic Inquiry methodology (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) and quantitative data from the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (2009-2010) in two different upper-division courses at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand during the second semester of the 2009 academic year. One class approached service-learning in an addendum/add-on type of approach (Approach I service-learning), while the other course used a more fully-integrated approach (Approach II service-learning).
The theoretical framework offered by the philosophy of experiential education (Dewey) and the theories of experiential learning (Kolb), transformative learning (Mezirow), and student engagement (Kuh) combine to serve as the lens through which service-learning was initially viewed in this study. This framework provided the initial structure by which this study was facilitated and the relationship between service-learning and its typically attributed outcomes could be observed and better understood within a New Zealand tertiary environment.
The student experiences within Approach I and II service-learning served as sources for pursuing a greater level of sophistication and understanding of how these experiences influence the relationships of service-learning and ultimately how service-learning influences student engagement. Such an investigation is relevant to New Zealand tertiary teachers, researchers, and leaders, who are interested in creating conditions that engage students in learning while developing students personally and involving them within the local community. For transferability purposes, the goal of this study is to provide enough “thick description” (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 125) in the case of each approach to service-learning so that educators from New Zealand and the rest of the world can find meaning, value, and direction.
Quantitative findings from this study clearly demonstrated a statistically significant shift in student engagement benchmarks in both approaches to service-learning (3 of 6 AUSSE benchmarks in Approach I service-learning and 6 of 6 AUSSE benchmarks in Approach II service-learning). Qualitative data provided the means to suggest why these significant shifts occurred and illuminated the complexity of the student experience within service-learning environments. Qualitatively, both approaches to service-learning shifted the context of what it meant to be a student in a classroom. The following themes symbolize the different experiences and demonstrate ways teachers can best engage both eager and reluctant learners: different experiences-providing opportunities for growth; consistently being a part of something-internal/external to university; active-learning through experiencing and thinking for yourself; worthwhile, intrinsic-due to helping community organisations.
Considering the effects of service-learning on engagement have been relatively un-researched in New Zealand higher education and further inquiry into the pedagogical consequences has been warranted, the implications may provide insight into the development of service-learning in higher education for New Zealand, Australasia, and potentially, the world.