Service Beyond the Methods: Integrating Service-learning into Psychology Research Methods
Jessica A. Stansbury, Margaret M. Behlen and Paul J. Pistell
Towson University

Author Note

We would like to thank Dr. Scot McNary and Dr. Geoffrey Munro for their valued

feedback and support through this service-learning project and for their helpful comments on

previous versions of this article.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jessica A. Stansbury,

Department of Psychology, Towson University, 8000 York Road, Towson, MD 21252.


Service­learning can be used as an effective course development tool because it focuses 

on real­world relevance by creating personal interest in course material. Integrating service­

learning curriculum into a standard psychology research methods course, the current study 

investigated the impact of an applied learning experience to undergraduate psychology students 

compared to a traditionally structured course. Contrary to past research involving the 

implementation of service­learning, students enrolled in the service­learning course reported 

lower attitudes towards the topic of research methods than students enrolled in the traditional 

course. Despite these unexpected results, students’ levels of intrinsic motivation were 

significantly higher for the service­learning course than the traditional course for overall 

enjoyment. In addition, students anecdotally reported positive experiences with the service­

learning integration with reflections revealing a deep connection formed with the service 

experience. The challenges of service­learning are discussed.  

Service Beyond the Methods: Integrating Service-learning into Psychology Research Methods

Research methods in psychology is one of the most important, yet one of the most feared

courses in a psychology curriculum. It teaches scientific inquiry, methodological concepts,

critical thinking skills, and empirical writing skills (Brewer et al., 1993) although students

seldom appreciate its career relevance (Johanson & Fried, 2002; Sizemore & Lewandowski,

2009). The course usually engenders high levels of anxiety (Bos & Schneider, 2009;

Papanastasiou & Zembylas, 2008), yet awareness of these obstacles can aide in the development

of more engaging student-centered learning environments that foster collaboration and peer

support (Saville, Zinn, Lawrence, Barron, & Andre, 2008). Service-learning is one technique that

emphasizes student-centered learning and has been incorporated into the course development of

subjects such as research methods and other quantitative content areas (e.g., Chapdelaine &

Chapman, 1999; DePrince, Priebe, & Newton, 2011; Saville, Zinn, & Elliott, 2005).

The National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 and The National Service-

Learning Clearinghouse (2005) defines service-learning as a process of teaching and learning

that integrates meaningful interaction between students and their communities. Additionally,

service-learning is an organized experience that enhances the teaching of civic responsibility.

Research scholars have defined service-learning as the inclusion of reflections (Cashel,

Goodman, & Swanson, 2003), learning through active participation, extensions beyond the

classroom, and integrations of academic content into a student’s experience (Cashel et al., 2003;

Kiser, 2007). These characteristics make service-learning distinct from volunteerism, which

involves no intentional connection of experience to knowledge and skills, and community

service, which focuses on service to the community but does not involve a connection to learning

in an academic setting. Though both volunteerism and community service can lead to meaningful

personal experiences, the goal of service-learning is to relate academic course content,

knowledge, and skills towards solving problems within the community (Jacoby, 1996; Conway,

Amel, & Gerwien, 2009; Eyler, Giles, Stenson, & Gray, 2001; Jacoby, 1996; Keyton, 2001).

Service-learning has been used in research methods for a variety of disciplines including

social work (Shannon, Kim, & Robinson, 2012), criminal justice (Hirschinger-Blank, Simons,

Finley, Clearly, & Theorig (2013), human services (Fair, 2007), sociology (Potter, Caffrey, &

Plante, 2003), communications (Keyton, 2001), and psychology (Chapdelaine & Chapman,

1999). The technique is effective because it focuses on real-world relevance, students’

engagement, and creating personal interest in the course material. It has been used in college

courses over the years to increase civic engagement, social responsibility, as well as racial and

cultural understandings among undergraduates (Battistoni, 2001; Bringle & Duffy, 1998;

Conway et al., 2009; Jacoby, 1996). Conway et al. (2009) conducted a meta-analysis of the

benefits of service-learning on academic, personal, social, and citizenship outcomes. Their

results suggested that service-learning produces positive changes in academic outcomes and

beliefs, knowledge, and attitudes towards the community. However, when it comes to actual

implementation of service-learning into courses, there is a shortage of research and limited

understanding of the impact it has on students’ perceived intrinsic motivation and attitudes

towards the course content.

Service-learning Integration among Disciplines

A majority of service-learning integration and community-based research is found in

human services and social work, criminal justice, sociology, and communications. These

disciplines focus on working within the community after college graduation (e.g., social workers,

juvenile services, law enforcement, journalists), thus, service-learning integration allows for

these students to gain field experience, enhance their personal interests, and provides benefits to

the community partners (Fair, 2007; McClam et al., 2008).

Keyton (2001) conducted several case studies with undergraduate communication major

students participating in community-based research with three external organizations with the

primary goal of increasing student’s research skills. Students worked in research teams with the

external agency over the course of one semester to develop, conduct, and present their findings.

The study revealed that students’ research skills exceeded their initial expectations and students

found greater utility in research methods. Additionally, Keyton (2001) suggested that redirecting

students’ preconceived fears and anxieties into completing a real world project would keep

students engaged in research methods.

Potter et al. (2013) created a community based research component within a sociology

research methods course to engage students with the course content. Students worked with an

organization to develop strategies that increased services to faculty and campus communities.

Students completed a research project that assessed faculty’s awareness of the program and

worked with the external organization throughout the project. Course evaluations revealed that

students developed strong relationships with the faculty and peers in the course; however,

students occasionally felt overwhelmed with the coursework at an undergraduate level course.

Overall, they reported learning more about research methods, real world applicability, and the

organization (i.e., sexual assault prevention) (Potter et al., 2013).

Service-Learning in Psychology

In Conway et al’s (2009) meta-analysis of service-learning, 23% of studies combined

were from psychology or related disciplines. Undergraduate students often believe psychology is

a field of therapists and clinicians who help those struggling with mental health disorders; rarely

do students picture psychology as a science grounded in research (Dunn et al., 2010). In order to

expose students to the importance of research, research methods is a core course requirement for

undergraduate psychology majors and minors. There are many instructional techniques to teach

research including the use of fake data sets, hands on demonstrations, simulated studies (Saville

et al., 2008), and the integration of community based research projects (Chapdelaine &

Chapman, 1999; DePrince et al., 2011).

Chapdelaine and Chapman (1999) co-designed and instructed a research methods course

integrating a community based research project with the local police department. The goal of the

project was to help the police department develop community education and training practices

for a local domestic violence program. Prior to the start of the semester, the instructors and

teaching assistant established the research project and survey measures with the agency. During

the semester, students critiqued the survey, collected data via telephone surveys, and were

required to write an independent empirical report with student generated hypotheses. Students

presented the survey results and summary of findings to the police department at the end of the

semester. Course evaluations and other graded assignments (e.g., final projects) suggested this

experience increased critical thinking, enhanced understanding of research methodology, and

increased their scientific writing skills (Chapdelaine & Chapman, 1999).

Motivation and Social Learning within Service-Learning

An important goal of every educator is to motivate students to learn. However, the

struggle often is finding the secret recipe to motivate students to want to learn. Ryan and Deci

(2000) define motivation as the act of being moved to do something, extrinsically and

intrinsically. Extrinsic motivation is doing something because one is propelled by an external

force. For example, students’ complete assignments and participate in class because their grade is

dependent upon those actions. Intrinsic motivation is doing something because one is propelled

by an internal force. For example, students read a book on social learning because they find it

personally interesting and enjoyable. In traditional classrooms, information transmission and

teacher focused approaches to instruction require the students to assume responsibility for

prescribed instruction, which can hinder any intrinsic motivation the student may feel regarding

the subject matter (Deci, 1971; Ryan & Deci, 2000). When students’ attitudes towards research

methods courses are already low, one can argue that their levels of intrinsic motivation towards

the course material may also be low.

To increase students’ engagement and motivation for the course material, there are many

learning theories (e.g., behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, sociocultural) grounded in

psychology and learning principles that can provide foundational support for various

instructional methods. Recently, scholars have focused on the social aspects of learning, arguing

that traditional schools do not reflect the skills and knowledge students learn outside of a

classroom. This suggests that context is important to the learning interaction between an

individual and their environment (Barab & Duffy, 2012; Dunlap, 1997; Hung & Tan, 2004;

Jarvela, 1996; Lave & Wegner, 1991; Yilmaz, 2011). Learning becomes situated within

experiences, becoming more than just a cognitive process but rather an emotional and social

process (Barab & Duffy, 2012). Resnick (1987) described differences between school learning

(e.g., individual context, emphasizes mental thinking and manipulation of symbols) and ‘real

world’ learning (e.g., collaborative learning, contextualized reasoning) when designing effective

learning environments. Taken together, these authors suggest incorporating collaborative and

social learning interactions may enhance the ‘real world’ learning applicability of a classroom

environment, thus providing students with a deeper understanding of the course material.

Reciprocal Teaching Strategies and Service-Learning

Service-learning can be merged with ‘real world’ learning through teaching strategies that

include reciprocal teaching techniques such as peer-to-peer mentoring, social and collaborative

learning, and an enhanced learner-teacher relationship (Barab & Duffy, 2012; Palincsar &

Brown, 1984; Rosenshine & Meister, 1994; Tilley & Callison, 2007). Ruben (1999) described

limitations with the traditional learning environment paradigm to include classrooms that are

often predictable, boring, static, and of little capacity to influence affective and behavioral

domains. Possessing similar characteristics of social learning theory (e.g., collaboration,

modeling), reciprocal teaching is one instructional approach that may lead to increase

engagement and motivation among learners.

One key ingredient in reciprocal teaching is providing a conversational dialogue between

learners (Brown & Palinscar, 1989; Dunlap, 1997; Palinscar & Brown, 1984); therefore, by

providing a social, collaborative atmosphere among learners invites this conversational tone of

teaching between peers (e.g., college and high school students). Through incorporating Barab

and Duffy’s (2012) design elements of effective learning environments, reciprocal teaching in

combination with service-learning supports the learner by presenting a challenge and giving

ownership over course work (e.g., teaching and creating lesson plans), creating social interaction,

and providing a real world context to conduct mini research projects. Reciprocal teaching

instruction can also include illustrative examples of course material and feedback to help create

mental models of learning and understanding (Dunlap, 1997; Yilmaz, 2011).

Lastly, reciprocal-teaching models provide students with the opportunity for reflection

(Barab & Duffy, 2012; Brown & Palinscar, 1989; Dunlap, 1997; Rosenshine & Meister, 1994).

Giving students the opportunity to reflect on their learning process and receive feedback from the

instructor can help analyze and refine their learning experience. Reflection can be implemented

as a group process, by making cognitions visible and as an individual process, which may help

students reflect more deeply (Dunlap, 1997; Jarvela, 1996; Yilmaz, 2011). Additionally, students

can reflect on the learning experience as teachers to their peers with questions such as, “What

does it feel like to clarify concepts to others?” and, “Do you believe your teaching generated

more learning questions regarding the topic?”

Community Based Research as a Service-Learning Component

Community based research is a form of service learning that works with a community

agency, with a predefined need or problem that can be evaluated or researched to help the

agency, while providing a learning experience via research for students (Shannon et al. 2012;

Strand, 2000). There are specific characteristics that accompany this pedagogical approach that

are distinct from service learning to include a research oriented approach to learning that

addresses some need of the community partner (e.g., program evaluation), the research is

developed between the faculty and community agency prior to student involvement, the focus is

on social action or change within the community (e.g., domestic violence awareness) rather than

increased knowledge gain of specific content, and the final project is usually shared with the

community agency rather than the classroom.

Most research courses, regardless of discipline, tend to integrate community based

research as their service learning component within courses, due to the research component

aligning well with teaching research content (Chapdelaine & Chapman, 1999; Fair, 2007;

Keyton, 2001). Yet, it can be challenging to choose a service-learning project that benefits both

the community partner and the student participants. Challenges in integrating service learning

into higher education courses include the increase workload to students (Potter et al., 2013), the

increased workload to faculty and very time consuming process that begins long in advance of

the course (Fair, 2007; Keyton, 2001; Shannon et al., 2012), and the challenge in aligning course

learning objectives and assignments to meet the requirements of service learning in addition to

the requirements of the course (Hirschinger-Blank et al., 2013; McClam et al., 2008).

The Present Study

This study designed and implemented a service-learning component in a psychology

research methods course and investigated the impact on student’s attitudes towards course

content and intrinsic motivation in comparison to a traditional research methods course with a

lab component. In order to accomplish both learning goals and objectives, the overall design of

the service-learning experience included undergraduate students enrolled in a psychology

research methods course teaching high school students enrolled in an AP psychology course the

importance of research (i.e., research chapter) over the course of two weeks (i.e., four classes).

The service-learning technique consisted of reciprocal teaching between students in the

undergraduate course teaching one another the best way to teach and deliver course content to

the high school students. In addition, the undergraduates teaching high school students was also

another example of reciprocal teaching.

Due to the community school’s focus on technology integration, a video-gaming research

paradigm was used to engage and enhance student’s learning (Author & Author, 2013) teaching

students about correlational research, data collection, data analysis, and data interpretation. It

was predicted that students enrolled in the service-learning research methods course would have

more positive attitude change regarding the course content compared to students enrolled in a

traditional research methods course. Additionally, students in the experimental research methods

course condition would give feedback on the increased applicability of course material on the

real world compared to the control group. We also hypothesized that students enrolled in the

experimental group would show higher levels of intrinsic motivation towards course activities

compared to the control group.



Students were upper-level juniors and seniors in a medium-size university enrolled in two

different psychology research methods course required for completion of a psychology major or

minor. The total number of undergraduate students enrolled in both the control and experimental

conditions was 35, with a majority of students being female. However, due to student

withdrawals, the final sample was comprised of 34 students in the experimental service-learning

research methods course (n = 18) and the traditional research methods course (n=17). However,

due to attendance rates sample size varies on the attitude and motivation measures.

Community Partner. For the present study, the community school (CS) chosen was a

public, college preparatory school for at-risk students that focused on technology integration. CS

structured the classes within a semester time frame to mimic college curriculum and offered a

psychology course as an elective. CS provided a similar timeframe and taught a lower level

psychology course that would allow undergraduate students to teach research methods. In

addition, CS had a service-learning coordinator available to help coordinate with administrative


Once the community partnership was established, learning objectives of the course

needed to align with service-learning objectives to create a meaningful learning experience.

Along with the standard curriculum of a research methods course (e.g., demonstrating mastery of

basic research methods topics), additional learning goals included the following: students

teaching and modeling course concepts to high school students, students being instructional

supports to one another (i.e., reciprocal teaching), students designing as well as implementing a

group research project. Service-learning goals included working with at-risk students, individual

mentoring with the students, and giving back to the community.


The Experimental Condition. This condition consisted of 18 students enrolled in a

psychology research methods class that implemented the addition of service-learning into the

course material. The following three sections will address how the course structure was

developed, the students’ participation as teachers in the course material, and the students’

participation as researchers. In conclusion, the control condition will be mentioned to compare

how it was similar and contrast how it was different from the experimental condition.

Course Development. The traditional research methods course was redesigned to

accommodate the service-learning component prior to the beginning of the course. The course

met once a week for one hour and fifty minute lab, broken into four modules, over the course of

one fall semester (15 weeks). The first two modules focused on learning basic research topics

(e.g., ethics, measurement, validity, sampling), as well as service-learning and civic engagement

definitions, importance, and reflections. The online portion of the course was designed to outline

course content from the textbook, provide discussion board activities, and instruct the group

research projects on how to use correlational and experimental design. The third module

included three weeks interacting with CS and the fourth week included debriefing experiences as

well as working on their research studies. The final module consisted of learning factorial and

quasi-experimental designs, observational studies, and generalizations and external validity. In

order to make the course and transportation to CS more manageable, students were randomly

assigned into two teams of nine for the semester. Students named their teams to increase

ownership and personal investment (e.g., Team Alpha, Team Beta).

Students as Teachers. To prepare the research methods students (hereafter, RM) to teach,

it was essential to frontload the course with basic knowledge and hands on activities designed for

RM students to start interacting with each other. Reciprocal teaching began with the instructor

modeling and explaining the groundwork and teaching a lesson plan (e.g., psychology as a

science) in collaboration with a teaching assistant. Students collaborated in teams to design

simple lesson plans and activities that taught specific content to the class, with instructional

support as needed. Implementing Palinscar and Brown (1984) conditions of reciprocal teaching,

students designed and taught lesson plans which allowed them to teach comprehension and

learning strategies of the course material which provided a friendly, non-threatening atmosphere

by teaching via dialogue. The instructor guided the students in creating lesson plans, which

included the students creating their own learning activities for the class. As a result, students

become teachers and more importantly, experts, in their content area. Following the two weeks

spent in the classroom teaching students, the third week consisted of the college students hosting

a panel on questions regarding college life and experiences as well as a visit to the University for

the high school students to participate in a variety of upper level psychology courses (e.g.,

abnormal, industrial organizational).

Within each team, students were asked to teach in pairs; this increased instructional

support and alleviated additional fears of teaching. Each team was assigned a week and specific

content to cover. For example, team Alpha was responsible for leading the high school students

through designing and conducting a correlational study using Author and Author’s (2013) video

game based paradigm, which included creating hypotheses, data collection, and analysis. Team

Beta was responsible for teaching the basics of research design including the meaning of

variables, operational definitions, and differences between correlation and experimental designs.

Students prepared for teaching by have a practice run-through during lab time where both groups

would assume the role of teacher and of student as the other group practiced their lesson plan.

Through this process RM students learned and interacted with the course content in depth, which

provided ownership and autonomy of their learning.

Students as Researchers. Each team of students had to develop one research question

that related to service-learning and the at-risk students, create a brief survey, collect data, analyze

and interpret results, and write an empirical report. For example, the research questions

investigated during this course were “If video game use increased intrinsic motivation of high

school students in the classroom” and “If at-risk students’ interaction with college students

changed their perceptions of college”. Using a pre-posttest design, each team created five survey

questions (e.g., 10 total) to assess their research question using a 7-point Likert scale, distributing

the surveys on the first and last days with the CS students. Students were required to run

reliability analysis on the survey items, discuss construct validity of the measure, and run a

paired sample t-tests on the data, resulting in a full empirical report. Analysis was conducted as a

class as a teaching opportunity to discuss the limitations and challenges of conducting a study

with actual participants and a small sample size (n =11).

The Control Condition. Overall, both conditions aimed to standardize the teaching of

the course material. Faculty members with over eight years of teaching experience taught both

conditions (experimental and control) and the content covered by both instructors was the same,

with the removal of the service-learning in the control condition. The traditional course included

the same amount of instructional time and lab time (i.e., 1 hour 50 minutes); however, the lab

component included standard lab activities to demonstrate research methods content. The lab

activities included mini research projects of collecting data, analyzing and interpreting results, to

learn various research designs. Both courses included the students designing and conducting one

major research project, and writing an empirical research report.

Dependent Measures. All students were assessed on pre and post attitudes of research

methods. Students’ intrinsic motivation were assessed at posttest only. Lastly, students’ final

grades in the courses were used as a measurement of learning outcomes.

Attitudes towards Research Methods. To assess students’ overall perceived attitudes

towards research methods, feelings about research methods, real world applicability, and

perceived ability in understanding course content, a pretest/posttest design was administered on

the first and last day of both the service-learning course (experimental group) and the traditional

course (control group). This was measured using Sizemore and Lewandowski’s (2009) research

and statistics attitude survey. The survey assessed students’ perceived feelings about research and

statistics, perceived utility of research and statistics, and perceived ability of research and

statistics for both the experimental and the control group using a 7-pt. Likert scale with endpoints

1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree. In order to focus on the course, we modified the

survey to focus on research methods content only, which consisted of 15 questions ( = .72) and

three subscales. Perceived feelings of the course assessed students’ overall attitudes towards the

topic of research methods. Perceived utility of the course assessed students’ perceptions of the

real-world applicability of the course content. Perceived ability of the course assessed students’

perceptions of self-efficacy in understanding the course content. Example statements included

the following for each subsection: Perceived feelings: “I would like to spend less time in school

studying research”, perceived utility: “You can get along perfectly well in everyday life without

research”, and perceived ability: “I am good at writing papers dealing with research.”

Intrinsic Motivation. The Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI; Deci, Eghrari, Patrick &

Leone, 1994) assessed intrinsic motivation in relation to an activity/task. For the experimental

group, the activity was defined as the service-learning experience. For the control group, the

activity was defined as traditional lab activities within the course. The IMI consists of three

subscales. The interest/enjoyment subscale is considered the only scale on the inventory that

directly measures intrinsic motivation such as, “I enjoyed doing this activity very much” and “I

would describe this activity as very interesting”. This subscale consisted of seven statements,

with questions three and four reverse coded such that higher scores would reflect higher levels of

enjoyment (IMI; Deci et al., 1994). The other two subscales included the value/usefulness and

the perceived choice subscale. The value/usefulness subscale assessed if students believed the

service-learning was a useful supplement to their course material such as, “I believe this activity

could be of some value to me”. This consisted of seven statements. The perceived choice

subscale was used to assess how much free choice students felt they had with the activity with

questions such as, “I believe I had some choice about doing this activity”. This consisted of

seven statements, with questions two, three, four, five, and seven reverse coded such that higher

scores would reflect higher levels of perceived choice. These questions from the above three

subscales were highly correlated ( = .86) thus combined into an intrinsic motivation index for

an overall intrinsic motivation analysis.


The implementation of service-learning into a psychology research methods course was

assessed in a variety of ways to include learning outcomes of the research methods content,

student’s attitude changes throughout the experience and intrinsic motivation. As an additional

measure to make sure sample size did not influence statistical results, bootstrap analyses were

performed on all mean comparisons and resulted in identical test results.

Students’ Research Attitude Outcomes

A 2 (Condition: experimental group vs. control group) x 2 (Time elapsed: pre-test to post-

test) mixed ANOVA was computed on the indices of perceived attitudes, perceived ability,

perceived utility from pretest to posttest on the experimental (service-learning course) and

control (traditional course).

Students’ Perceived Research Attitudes. Overall perceived attitudes towards research

methods revealed a significant interaction in a mixed-subjects design, F(1, 29) = 6.31, p < .05, η

= .18. Mean scores differed for each condition based on time by condition interaction, with the

experimental group having significantly lower mean scores (p < .05) from pre-test (M = 3.06, SD

= .16) to post-test (M = 2.71, SD = .16) than the control group pre-test (M = 2.74, SD = .13) to

post-test (M = 2.83, SD = .15). Figure 1 shows the interaction effect for time by trial for both

conditions, with the experimental condition starting at higher mean scores, but decreasing in

attitude satisfaction throughout the course. There were no significant main effects of condition

and time.

Students’ Perceived Feelings. The perceived feeling index revealed no significant

interactions or main effects. Students’ feelings did not change throughout the course.

Students’ Perceived Utility. The perceived utility index showed a similar effect of

significance for time by condition in a mixed-subjects design, F(1, 29) = 1.33, p < .05, η = .04.

The experimental mean scores decreased from pretest (M = 2.40, SD = .65) to post-test (M =

2.11, SD = .83) while the control mean scores increased from pre-test (M = 2.11, SD = .34) to

post-test (M = 2.20, SD = .53). Figure 2 shows the interaction effect for time by trial for both

conditions, with the experimental condition having an attitude decrease over time and the control

condition having an attitude increase over time. There were no significant main effects of

condition or time.

Students’ Perceived Ability. The perceived ability index was significant for time in a

within-subjects design, F(1, 29) = 4.09, p < .01, η = .12. The class perceived ability decreased

from pretest (M = 3.01, SD = .51) to posttest (M = 2.87, SD = .56). There were no significant

interactions or main effect of condition.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation was measured only at posttest for both the experimental and control

group. This was done to assess how the two groups differed on their perceived levels of intrinsic

motivation after completing the research methods course. An independent samples t-test

indicated individuals in the experimental group had higher post-test mean scores (M = 4.51, SD =

.07) on overall intrinsic motivation than the control group (M = 3.82, SD = .29), t(28) = -2.77, p

= .01. The interest/enjoyment index was significant for between-subjects analysis with, F(1, 29)

= 17.03, p < .01, η = .37. This suggests students in the service-learning research methods course

reported higher levels of interest/enjoyment towards the course structure compared to a

traditional research methods course. The indices of value/usefulness (p = .42) and perceived

choice (p = .17) were not significant by condition.

Student Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes were assessed at the end of the semester using the cumulative

percentage for each student, combining this score into a total percentage for both the

experimental and control conditions. An independent samples t-test indicated that individuals in

the experimental course had higher mean scores for grade percentage (M = 89.28, SD = 4.14)

than the control group (M = 80.00, SD = 7.12), t(33) = -4.76, p = .01.


The current study addressed how service-learning can be integrated into a psychology

research methods course as well as the impact it has on student’s overall attitudes towards

research methods content, intrinsic motivation, and learning outcomes. With evidence for

service-learning providing enhanced ‘real world’ applicability and an emphasis on student

collaboration (Saville et al., 2008), it would seem beneficial to integrate this technique into

psychology courses. Yet, this study suggests that service-learning does not positively change

students’ perceptions regarding perceived utility and ability of research methods content. Overall

research methods attitudes and perceived utility of students in the service-learning course were

surprisingly lower than what was originally predicted. The goal was for students to gain a more

meaningful connection of psychology and be able to apply research to the ‘real world’. Yet,

assessment of students’ attitude changes towards research methods content and their ability to

connect the course material to the real world appeared to fall short of this goal. This is similar to

Sizemore and Lewandowski’s (2009) results that found a significant decrease in students’

perceived utility in research methods courses and that these perceptions were independent of

knowledge outcomes.

However, despite lower overall attitudes towards research methods content, students in

the service-learning course showed higher levels of intrinsic motivation than the traditional

course, supporting the prediction that service-learning may foster a personal interest in course

content. Higher levels of intrinsic motivation towards the service-learning suggests that having

this component can make students feel more motivated to learn the information and actively

participate. Previous explanations of the decrease in perceived utility include a decrease in

students’ interest of research and the possibility of unrealistic self-assessments of students

(Manning, Zachar, Ray, & LoBello, 2006; Sizemore & Lewandowski’s, 2009). Yet, this research

suggests student’s intrinsic motivation (e.g., interest) is significantly higher than the traditional

course, and the perceived utility remains low. Thus, one could speculate that students are

becoming more realistic about the real world application of research, which could explain the

presence of interest/enjoyment, yet lower perceived utility. It is also plausible that despite the

high ecological validity this study provides, students who participated in the service-learning

course may have selected or remained enrolled in this course because they felt intrinsically

motivated to do so, thus seeking enjoyment and self-satisfaction in serving others.

Though the significant difference found in learning outcomes between conditions should

be interpreted with caution, these results support previous research that with the use of reciprocal

teaching (Barab & Duffy, 2012; Palincsar & Brown, 1984; Rosenshine & Meister, 1994; Tilley &

Callison, 2007), students can integrate information and more deeply process it compared to

traditional teaching methods. Reciprocal teaching models that follow cognitive apprenticeship

principles requires students to have the opportunity for reflection (Barab & Duffy, 2012; Brown

& Palinscar, 1989; Dunlap, 1997; Rosenshine & Meister, 1994). Giving students the opportunity

to reflect on their learning process and receive feedback from the instructor (i.e., expert) can help

in analyzing and refining their learning experience. Reciprocal teaching includes switching roles

from student to teacher, thus providing a mentorship role for the learning process. Teaching

within the context of having choices and options available for students can enhance personal

ownership and feelings of autonomy (Black & Deci, 2000). As a result, this can lead to better

learning outcomes of the course material (Deci et al., 1999). Research has supported that

autonomy focused learning outcomes have led to better comprehension of the course material

and stronger student engagement in the learning process (Grolnick & Ryan, 1987).

Service-Learning Challenges

To understand what may have led to more negative attitudes and lower perceived utility

ratings in students enrolled in the service-learning course, anecdotal evidence (e.g., students’

reflections) helped to provide insight into how a connection was formed between the

undergraduate students and the CS students. Perhaps the added investment students placed in the

social interaction with their peer mentees created an interaction that overpowered the main goal

of integrating research methods as learning tool. The students at CS were at-risk and the RM

students self-reported feeling strongly about their mentorship role and their connection with the

CS students after only five visits. Though this is anecdotal evidence, it is plausible that having a

powerful mentorship role does bring a positive experience for the service aspect of service-

learning, yet if the mentoring relationship overshadows the learning component of the course,

students may lose their ability to focus and relate back to learning objectives of the course. To

support this assumption, limited research assessing professional mentorship relationships with

high-risk youth show similar overpowering effects.

In Lakind, Eddy, and Zell (2014) assessment of professional mentorship relationships

with youth, mentors reported their role with specifically high-risk youth to be highly challenging.

Contrary to the exceeding challenges, mentors reported having greater levels of self-efficacy,

similar to the students in this study reporting higher levels of intrinsic motivation. Mentors were

defined as ‘professionals’ by receiving a paid compensation of a full-time job commitment with

the additional training and support from an outside organization. Due to perhaps the added

challenge of interacting with high-risk youth, it is important to consider the context of the

community partner when designing a service-learning course as to select a partnership that is not

only mutually beneficial, but also a partnership that will not interfere with the course learning


It is also possible that the short-term nature of the service-learning experience was not

sought as a worthy enough investment for the CS, thus leading to the challenge of fulfilling both

groups of students’ learning objectives. Tryon, Stoecker, Martin, Seblonka, Hilgendorf, and

Nellis (2008) addressed the challenges faced by short-term learning outcomes in regards to

service-learning and the community partner relationship. They mention that one of the biggest

challenges for an organization can be the staffing and training, which was specifically relevant to

this project lacking a permanent teacher for the high school class. Yet, they mention that having

implemented service-learning with a specific project, such as the research assignment employed

in this study, can facilitate a positive short-term learning experience.

Overall, the students anecdotally reported that the lack of school organization took away

from their overall experience, but surprisingly reported that they would do it again because they

felt that the CS students appreciated their presence; thus a deeper connection was established

despite these challenges. This deeper connection may be due to the students’ higher levels of

reported intrinsic motivation towards the course. Having this added mentorship connection

would give students a sense of personal ownership and satisfaction in completing community

service beyond a course sanctioned requirement.


This study specifically assessed whether the integration of a service learning component

into a psychology research methods course impacted students’ attitudes towards research

methods content, motivation, and learning outcomes. This research suggests that there are some

challenges that need to be considered in choosing a community partner in order to design a

service-learning experience that does not over shadow the learning objectives of the course.

More importantly, this research has high ecological validity, which allows us to begin to see the

impact of these instructional methods in the classroom. This is vital for understanding the

advantages and disadvantages of this instructional approach; however, it only begins to touch the

surface. This research suggest that service-learning does not have to be a lengthy process; rather

a well-developed service-learning course can create a meaningful learning experience with only

three weeks of student-to-student interaction.

Although there will continue to be challenges when integrating service-learning into

higher education courses (e.g., cost, time, workload), the end results suggest a rewarding

experience for both the students and the faculty. The biggest challenge may not be the cost and

time investment necessary to create an engaging course, but rather creating lifelong learners who

learn beyond the content of research methods and want to give back to others after the course has

ended. Future research should begin to explore the students perceptions and actual improvement

of skills related to this type of learning experience (e.g., autonomy, competence, relatedness), as

these are key components to intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). As this research reveals,

student in the service-learning condition reported higher levels of intrinsic motivation towards

the service-learning activities compared to the traditional course lab activities. As educators, it is

important to ask ourselves what we want the students to take away from any course we teach. Is

it to learn content they may disregard upon the end of the semester, or is it to create a learning

environment that can help enhance intrinsic motivation and a love of learning?


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Figure 1. Students’ overall attitudes towards research methods course from pre-test to post-test
significant by condition revealing a significant interaction, F(1) = 6.31, p < .01, η = .18.

Figure 2. Students’ perceptions of perceived utility towards research methods course from pre-
test to post-test significant by condition revealing a significant interaction, F (1) = 1.33, p < .05,
η = .04.