Date of Award

2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Abstract

Experiential learning is a general term that includes service-learning courses and academic internships. Students involved in experiential learning leave the classroom to solidify their knowledge with real-world experience. Service-learning, i.e. community service integrated into academic coursework, has become an important part of many universities' curricula. Research indicates benefits to service-learning students in self-efficacy, civic responsibility, attitudes about diversity, and attitudes about school and learning. Less is known about another type of experiential learning, academic internships, in terms of these outcomes. Experts in the experiential learning field have commented on the need for better, more frequent evaluation of experiential learning programs. Evaluations need to focus on strong methodology, such as use of reliable and valid measures and pre-course evaluations. Further, more information is needed to understand the benefits of experiential learning programs overall, as much of the research in the field focuses either on service-learning or internships. In addition, more research is needed to distinguish the benefits of service-learning programs compared to academic internships, and courses that discuss the importance of service, but do not have an experiential component. Research indicates that certain recommended practices, such as student engagement and reflection, can contribute to stronger outcomes, but the methodology in previous studies limits confidence in findings.

The creation of a methodologically rigorous evaluation that could be used by several universities is crucial to the development of this field. This study proposes to create a general evaluation for experiential learning courses at two different universities, Loyola University Chicago in Illinois and Stanford University in California. After completion of this dissertation, a modified version this evaluation survey will be used by the 43 college campuses involved in Illinois Campus Compact, a coalition of colleges and universities committed to civic engagement in higher education. The current study will evaluate the impacts of differing aspects of courses (experiential learning, discussion about service, and a combination of both) on outcomes known to be affected by service-learning, namely self-efficacy, civic responsibility, attitudes about diversity, and attitudes about school and learning. Moreover, this dissertation will examine the influence of two recommended practices, reflection and engagement, on student outcomes.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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