What is the role of service learning in developing global collaborator skills?

Service Learning

Figure 1. (Image of people working together, n.d.)

Service-learning is an approach to teaching that connects students to their communities (Fitzgerald, 1997) with the purpose of making a positive contribution. Vanderbilt University defines service learning as “a form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves” (Wolpert-Gawron, 2016). Elmhurst University speaks about service learning as a bridge between learning theories in the classroom and applying theoretical knowledge in real-life situations while fulfilling and meeting needs in the community (“What is service learning?,” 2019). The iterative processes of action and reflection make service learning a worthwhile endeavor.

Service learning began as an opportunity for young people who feel a sense of civic duty and responsibility to give back to their community (Fitzgerald, 1997). It has become more common in the last few decades, and is a pedagogical approach that is increasingly used with college students (Adarlo, 2020). Higher education uses service learning to promote civic duty and engagement (Harkins, D. A., Grenier, L. I., Irizarry, C., Robinson, E., Ray, S. & Shea, L., 2020). “Service projects have evolved to act as a bridge between curriculum and active, genuine community participation by utilizing dynamic teaching and learning methodology” (Fitzgerald, 1997).

Service learning projects require many hours of careful planning and preparation to achieve successful outcomes. Trecker (1960), as cited in Fitzgerald (1997), describes worthwhile community projects using the following criteria: 1. They meet a real need in the community; 2. They do not duplicate what someone else has done or is doing; 3. They demonstrate optimal use of resources in both time and money; 4. They show dignity and respect for those in the receiving end; and 5. They reflect the interests of the students doing the service learning. 

Service Learning from Pacific Discovery

Service learning can take many forms, shapes and sizes. Service learning projects can range from huge undertakings, such as cleaning up a local river or park, organizing a fundraising event to help the public library, or running an after-school club, to smaller-scale events, such as visiting a senior center, creating a website for the city, or holding a garage sale to benefit the food bank. Whatever it is, service learning brings about many positive outcomes, both for students as well as the community that they serve. 

What makes service learning a powerful experience for students?  Service learning benefits students by allowing for growth in their social and academic potential, and it enhances cognitive development (Harkins, D. A., Grenier, L. I., Irizarry, C., Robinson, E., Ray, S. & Shea, L., 2020).  When service is placed at the core of a learning experience, students are compelled to think outside of themselves and situate the learning based on what their community needs. One of the critical aspects of service learning is the element of reflection, not just at the conclusion of the project, but is embedded throughout the service learning experience. Students take time to learn about the community they live in and reflect on how they can make it better. They integrate their knowledge about their community into what they are learning in the classroom, and the intersection of these thought processes and conversations brings about ideas for service learning projects that are both relevant and purposeful to their unique situations. At the conclusion of the project, participants, once again, reflect on the overall outcome of the project, documenting their learning, including how their understandings have grown and perspectives have shifted.

Family Energy Day

An example of such undertaking is a service learning project called Family Energy Day in a rural community in northern New England in the United States (Lee & Williams, 2020). This is a collaborative project between 41 pre-service elementary teachers (PSETs) and 65 fourth graders. The PSETs conducted this project as part of a science education course they took at the nearby university. The focus of this project was on energy sustainability education, an area of study that is of great significance to the community. Both sets of participants reported positive outcomes as a result of this collaboration. The pre-service elementary teachers described gains in science knowledge and increased awareness of their own energy saving practices, among others. The elementary students also learned so much about energy-saving habits that they need to adopt in order to contribute to sustainable practices. 

Reciprocal Service Learning

Reciprocal Service Learning (RSL) offers a different approach to the traditional service learning model. The use of this particular approach aims to move away from perceived inequalities and prejudicial dispositions that are unintended outcomes of the traditional service learning model. Authors Collopy, Tjaden-Glass and McIntosh (2020) conducted a study with two distinct groups of college students: the first group is made up of native English speakers, and the second group consists of international English language learners. To begin the RSL experience, the authors gathered both groups of students and set some common goals. “Developing intercultural competence was a common goal for both groups that required intergroup contact and cooperation” (p. 7). This directly supports ISTE Student Standard 1.7.c: Students contribute constructively to project teams, assuming various roles and responsibilities to work effectively toward a common goal (ISTE Standards, n.d.).

The authors underscored the importance of equal status and interdependence among the participants (Collopy, Tjaden-Glass and McIntosh, 2020). Instead of framing their experiences using a deficit perspective (“I will help because they need my help”), students were asked to consider interdependence and mutual benefit from working together. Essentially, each group is both a giver and a receiver. Over the course of the study, the authors noticed significant growth among the participants in the development of respect and openness towards other cultural groups. “The RSL experience provided opportunities for them to reexamine their biases, deficit-orientation, and privileged perspective” (p. 30). In addition, the international group of students also gained confidence in relating to peers from other cultures. The reciprocal relationship between the two groups of participants allowed for a bi-directional sharing of knowledge and experiences and the recognition that each group has something to offer. Both groups assume the role and responsibility of servers, as well as those being served – a great model for service learning.

Benefits of Service Learning

According to Elmhurst University in Illinois (Service Learning, n.d.), here are some benefits from participating in service learning projects:

  • Participants examine their personal capacity and desire to serve others
  • Participants reflect upon their relationship to the communities in which they engage
  • Participants demonstrate an awareness of and respect for cultural difference
  • Practice behaviors necessary for responsible citizenship

Global Collaboration

ISTE Student Standard 7: Global Collaborator says, “Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally” (ISTE Standards: Students, n.d.) If students are already doing service learning as part of their classroom and school work, global collaboration is a natural extension of this concept. In service learning projects, we ask students to take action and do something that enriches their communities. As global collaborators, we are asking students to build on this idea of community work, and expand it so that they are able to team up with others across cities, across countries and all over the world.  

Why is global collaboration important?  The reality of our world today is that students and adults alike live, learn and work in a highly globalized society. There is considerable increase in access to technological tools in communication. Where it used to be challenging and almost impossible to connect with those that are outside of one’s immediate surroundings and locations, the current digital technologies have opened the doors wide open to enable students to share common goals, work together to solve problems and collaborate with students from different backgrounds and perspectives and live across the globe. Students can make a difference, not only in their own communities but also in a global and more encompassing way. 

Global collaboration promotes 21st century skills, which are essential for students to thrive in this fast-paced, digital learning environment. Goldberg and Effinger (2021) state that global collaboration can help students teach content, as well as enhance collaboration, communication, digital citizenship and research and information literacy. 

Here are some examples of global collaboration projects:

  • Collins (2019) on Edweek.org reported that elementary students from Middleborough, Massachusetts, USA participated in a live Safari trip in South Africa. Students and teachers connected live with expert Safari guides, and students had the opportunity to ask questions about wild animals and get answers in real time.
  • Middle school teacher Ace Schwarz from Williamsport, Maryland  connected 7th grade science students with a marine conservationist, Nick Spalt serving in the Philippines through Peace Corp Global Connections. The 7th graders from Maryland worked with Nick’s students about biomes. The students in the US learned some things about the Filipino culture, such as the food and music, while learning about plants and biomes (National Geographic Education Blog, n. d.).

How to get started with global collaboration projects:

ISTE (ISTE Blog, 2019) lists some simple steps to get started on a global collaboration project:

  1. Find your passion and purpose.

Start with something that you are already passionate about, and that can fit naturally into your day.

  1. Pick a focus.

If this is your first time, start with something small so the process does not get overwhelming.

  1. Check in with students.

Are your students ready to collaborate with someone that they will not know ahead of time? Make sure they are ready and are prepared to collaborate.

  1. You have to believe.

Be confident that you can do it! If you are convinced of this, then others will join you.

  1. Find some collaborators.  

Check resources, websites and different social media platforms to find someone to collaborate with.

  1. Dream a little. 

Be prepared to work out the details with your collaborators.  Remember that every collaborative project means that participants have a say in how the project goes.

  1. Let go.

Watch your project take off! Don’t be afraid when it takes a different turn than what you had anticipated.

References

[Image of people working together]. (n.d.) Elmhurst University. https://www.elmhurst.edu/blog/what-is-service-learning/

Adarlo, G. M. (2020). Service-learning as global citizenship education: Acting locally on global challenges and concerns. IAFOR Journal of Education: Undergraduate Education, 8(3), 1-17.

Collins, C. (2019, January 29). “Learning cross orders: Collaborative global projects.” https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-learning-across-borders-collaborative-global-projects/2019/01

Collopy, R. M. B., Tjaden-Glass, S. & McIntosh, N. A. (2020). Attending to conditions that facilitate intercultural competence: A reciprocal service learning approach. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 26(1), 1-19. https://doi.org/10.3998/mjcsloa.3239521.0026.102

Fitzgerald, B. (1997). Service learning in elementary schools: What? Why? How? Educational Resources Information Center, 1-19. 

Goldberg, R. & Effinger, J. (2021, July/August). It’s a small world after all: Using STEM to connect elementary students locally and globally. NSTA Science and Children, 58(6) https://www.nsta.org/science-and-children/science-and-children-julyaugust-2021-0/its-small-world-after-all

Harkins, D. A., Grenier, L. I., Irizarry, C., Robinson, E., Ray, S. & Shea, L. (2020). Building relationships for critical service learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 26(2), 21-38.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards: Students (n.d.). https://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards-for-students

Lee, C. K. & Williams, P. H. (2020). Engaging elementary students in energy sustainability: A service-learning project by preservice elementary teachers. Journal of Service-Learning in Higher Education, 10, 1-17. 

Pacific Discovery. (2017, September 13). Service learning [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ekuml4fp38

[Image of people working together]. (n.d.) Elmhurst University. https://www.elmhurst.edu/blog/what-is-service-learning/

Adarlo, G. M. (2020). Service-learning as global citizenship education: Acting locally on global challenges and concerns. IAFOR Journal of Education: Undergraduate Education, 8(3), 1-17.

Collins, C. (2019, January 29). “Learning cross orders: Collaborative global projects.” https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-learning-across-borders-collaborative-global-projects/2019/01

Collopy, R. M. B., Tjaden-Glass, S. & McIntosh, N. A. (2020). Attending to conditions that facilitate intercultural competence: A reciprocal service learning approach. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 26(1), 1-19. https://doi.org/10.3998/mjcsloa.3239521.0026.102

Fitzgerald, B. (1997). Service learning in elementary schools: What? Why? How? Educational Resources Information Center, 1-19. 

Goldberg, R. & Effinger, J. (2021, July/August). It’s a small world after all: Using STEM to connect elementary students locally and globally. NSTA Science and Children, 58(6) https://www.nsta.org/science-and-children/science-and-children-julyaugust-2021-0/its-small-world-after-all

Harkins, D. A., Grenier, L. I., Irizarry, C., Robinson, E., Ray, S. & Shea, L. (2020). Building relationships for critical service learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 26(2), 21-38.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards: Students (n.d.). https://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards-for-students

Lee, C. K. & Williams, P. H. (2020). Engaging elementary students in energy sustainability: A service-learning project by preservice elementary teachers. Journal of Service-Learning in Higher Education, 10, 1-17. 

Pacific Discovery. (2017, September 13). Service learning [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ekuml4fp38

Service Learning. (n. d.) 
https://www.elmhurst.edu/academics/undergraduate/service-learning/

Wolpert-Gawron, H. (2016, November 7). “What the heck is service learning?” https://www.edutopia.org/blog/what-heck-service-learning-heather-wolpert-gawron

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. I love this post Chelly. I went to a small Catholic high school and graduated in the late 90s. 100 service hours were required for graduation – it was just like taking another class. What I loved about this was we were able to choose our service projects, which made them so much more meaningful, and it’s actually how I discovered I wanted to be a teacher. I worked with a first grader and helped her learn to read. The power of doing service for others is incredibly tangible and I think with the way things are going in our world right now, we need to help our young people see beyond themselves and see the impact they have on society at large. Thank you for such a thoughtful post.

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