Case Study A | Service Learning | Psychology & Cognitive Science

Running head: CASE STUDY A


Case Study A Sally Blechschmidt Loyola University Chicago

CASE STUDY A Service-learning is a form of experiential learning which focuses equally on both service and learning (Eyler & Giles, 1999). In order to more deeply understand this concept, this case study provides an opportunity for two discussions: (1) to analyze the service-learning of a joint project between Minnesota State University Mankato (MSU) and South Central College (SCC) and (2) to develop a service-learning course. Through analysis and construction, this paper will explore the ingredients of service-learning. Service-Learning as a Combined Effort Faculty and students from MSU and SCC had the opportunity to promote economic growth and development by identifying and accentuating positive aspects of five respective


communities (Cherrington, 2011). Other than the initial occasion, Cherrington (2011) wrote that communities approached the partnership of MSU and SCC to assist in rebuilding or revitalizing the image of their small town. The MSU students, grounded in an urban studies program, focused on branding, marketing, writing, media relations, and information technology. The SCC students, who studied graphic design, managed the logistics of making the marketing products through design, publishing, printing, and cost accounting (Cherrington, 2011). Eyler and Giles (1999) referred to Lauren Resnick (1987) when describing that applied learning is “more cooperative or communal than individualistic, involves using tools rather than pure thought, is accomplished by addressing genuine problems in complex settings rather than problems in isolation, and involves specific contextualized rather than abstract or generalized knowledge” (p. 9). Within these service-learning programs, students worked with classmates, community members, professionals, and students from the other university to ensure they were conveying a consistent message. They applied theories and skills gained from their coursework in real world situations. Additionally, students had multiple opportunities to partake in

CASE STUDY A challenging, applicable, and meaningful work to influence community development (Eyler & Giles, 1999). Cherrington (2011) reported that these projects promoted “authentic learning situations in communities that required strong problem solving, communication, teamwork and critical thinking” (p. 9). Consequently, in addition to gaining content knowledge, students may have developed personally, cognitively, and interpersonally (Eyler & Giles, 1999). Through the integration of coursework, applicable situations, interactions with diverse


others, and potential development, students may have a better understanding of their content area and may be more likely to apply this learning in future situations. Similar to Eyler and Giles (1999), quality service-learning projects promote better understanding and application. However, without more information about the specific aspects of Cherrington’s (2011) servicelearning programs, one cannot identify whether her program is of high quality. One aspect lacking in Cherrington’s (2011) description of the service-learning programs was how students made meaning of the experience. She reported that studios bridge the gap between in class work and the community, but she failed to mention whether any reflection occurred in the studios. She also reported that students completed a summative PowerPoint presentation to detail the process of participating in the experience, but she gave very little detail of the students’ reported outcomes. Additionally, as mentioned above, she suggested that students developed personally, cognitively, and interpersonally, but she omitted how she came to the conclusion. Furthermore, Cherrington (2011) discussed her course expectation and feedback/evaluation surveys which were completed by the students. Yet, these surveys were for the “author’s research” (p. 8), rather than a tool for reflection. The surveys also focused more closely on what students would receive, instead of what they would develop. Consequently, had

CASE STUDY A any on-going or summative reflection occurred? Other than experience, what did the students gain? Were there actual significant gains in student development? Jacoby and her associates (1996) wrote “service-learning is based on the pedagogical principle that learning and development do not necessarily occur as a result of the experience itself but as a result of a reflective component explicitly designed to foster learning and development” (p. 6). If students did not partake in reflection, can this course be considered


service-learning? Reflection should be intentional and guided (Eyler & Giles, 1999; Brownell & Swaner, 2010); and, in order to squeeze out the benefits of service-learning, students need “experience, knowledge, and reflection” (Eyler & Giles, 1999, p. 105). In comparison, community involvement – another ingredient necessary for servicelearning – was more thoroughly addressed in Cherrington’s (2011) article. Each small town was in need of assistance of renewing themselves and sought help from their local college and university. As a result, students worked closely with community members to build an image which reflected the overall message of the town. In order to gather information, students conducted field interviews and fully researched the physical aspects, the web presence, the geographical location, the economics, and the population of the community. Through obtaining their data, students found the community voice (Eyler & Giles, 1999). This interaction between students and the community reflects the concept of reciprocity, which supports the notion that the community and student can both teach and learn from each other (Jacoby, 1996). Eyler and Giles (1999) wrote “the emphasis in service-learning on applying knowledge to community problems and the reciprocal application of community experience to the development of knowledge meets many of the concerns about the lack of connectedness in higher education” (p. 13). Within these programs, the communities bought



outstanding work for a fraction of the cost, while students obtained knowledge directly related to their field of study. Additionally, students could revitalize a city, and the city could assist in promoting student development. Not only did the students earn college credit, but the community praised and recognized the students for their efforts. Furthermore, students may live in these communities; and, if their community development efforts improved their own communities, they may have more job opportunities because of the service-learning programs. The collaboration between MSU and SCC likely led to more student understanding and application of content knowledge and better outcomes in the small towns. Although the programs lacked a reflective component, they worked closely with the community and attempted to fulfill reciprocity. However, because the programs lacked regular reflection, these programs may not classify as service-learning. Service-Learning in a Children’s Inpatient Psychiatric Unit As states cut their budgets for social services, agencies and hospitals have fewer resources for clients in greatest need. Many mental health workers exhibit signs of burnout, which further hinders their ability to meet and exceed their job requirements. Ultimately, this broken system negatively influences recovery and sustained change for the client and his/her family. As a result, the local children’s inpatient psychiatric unit director asked this author for assistance in addressing these concerns. In order to meet the needs of this struggling sector of social services, the author developed a service-learning course. The course is interdisciplinary between the psychology and sociology departments. Students interested in children’s mental health would benefit from this service-learning program. Specifically students who intend to study counseling psychology, school psychology, social work, pre-med, or psychiatric nursing are likely to be the best fit for

CASE STUDY A this program; but, any student hoping to gain a better understanding of children’s mental health can participate. The course requires a prerequisite of introductory psychology and sociology courses. When psychiatric inpatient units discharge children and adolescents, there is concern for


readmission if staff members have not established a continuity of care for the client, developed a coping plan with the client and family addressing the client’s triggers, and ensured a medication follow-up appointment two weeks upon discharge. Staff members must complete a significant amount of work in a short amount of time to decrease the risk of readmission. Consequently, students can assist the staff in a multitude of ways to meet these goals. First, students can make calls to local agencies to identify potential counseling and psychiatry appointments. The case management calls can be time-consuming, and a staff member could spend a majority of his/her day making calls to local agencies. These calls, then, take time away from working directly with the client or family to address therapeutic needs. Another task which can contribute to efficiency on the unit is monitoring the clients. Most psychiatric units have 10-20 children admitted at a time, and staff members must ensure that a client does not attempt to harm himself or others while on the unit. Although not difficult, this assistance is incredibly necessary for clients’ well-being and the liability of the hospital. Finally, students can interact with clients by playing a game or working with them on a puzzle. Many clients are guarded and feel uncomfortable disclosing information to doctors, nurses, and social workers. However, simple interactions when playing a game can provide a wealth of information regarding a client’s triggers or coping skills. Then, students can relay this information to the staff.



Although not glamorous work, students intending to work in the area of children’s mental health must develop these skills. Students will provide a critical service to the unit, but they will also learn significantly more about children requiring stability. Furthermore, not only will staff teach the students about this topic, but students will also learn from the children. Students will spend eight hours a week for 15 weeks providing service on the unit. Although students will self-select shifts which match their schedule for 14 weeks, the first week will require training at the hospital and on campus. The training on the unit will include an ethics seminar, a review of children services reporting requirements, a background check, and an introduction to hospital policies. The in-class training will involve role-playing and a presentation by two previous students about how to model one’s behavior on the unit. These trainings will also include time to discuss and finalize one’s learning goals with the hospital and with the faculty member. In order to ensure clear communication, the faculty member will be present on the day of the hospital training. Once students fulfill training requirements, they may begin their service on the unit. After the training sessions in the first week of the course, the class will meet every other week. On the weeks in which the class meets, the class will read about and discuss one of the following six topics: DSM-IV, socio-economic theory, psychotropic medications, family theory, attachment theory, and the Department of Children and Family Services. Students will be broken into groups and prepare a presentation for one of these topics. On the weeks in which the class does not meet, students will complete a written reflection. Students will respond to questions submitted by other students during the first week of class which the faculty member identified as best suited for the course. The presentations and submission of questions will allow students to become more actively engaged in the course.

CASE STUDY A Additionally, the course will include a mid-semester and final evaluation. Students will complete a longer written reflection, and they will receive feedback from the hospital staff regarding their participation and fulfillment of the learning outcomes. The mid-semester paper will focus on difficulties and realizations up to that point in the semester. Some questions may include: What surprised them? What did not? Why? How did this differ from their


expectations? What are the potential reasons for this other perspective? The final paper will look more closely on how this experience influenced their career outlook. Were students’ careers emboldened by helping on the unit? Did students find a passion for children’s mental health? Did students realize that they enjoyed the field of mental health, but they would rather work with a different population? Or, did students change their career paths? Students must support their responses with reflection, critical thought, and examples of why their career goals did or did not change. Comprehensively, this program meets each of Howard’s (1993) principles. First, students will gain academically if they can connect what they are observing on the unit to the discussions, presentations, and written reflections in class (Principle 1). Students may need time to feel comfortable on the unit, and their initial service may not convey the extent of what they are learning. Additionally, merely engaging in service does not equate into learning the underlying contributors of why a child is on the unit. The coursework must be completed in tandem with the service (Principle 2). However, in order to engage in learning, students, faculty, and staff must have identified clear learning objectives. The training at the outset should allow ample opportunity to explore and identify one’s learning objectives (Principle 3). The training will also prepare students to be

CASE STUDY A on the unit and how to interact with staff members and clients (Principle 6). Without such training, the students will likely evoke less confidence when engaging in the experience.


Once all parties define the learning objectives and complete the training, students become more actively involved in the learning process. Their opportunity to write reflection questions and present on one of the topics makes them co-facilitators in the classroom (Principle 8). Students will recognize how they can engage as co-teachers and co-learners, and hopefully this course will encourage on-going active participation from these students in the future (Principle 10). Through discussions, reflections, and facilitations, students will also realize the extent to which they learned from the children and the unit (Principle 7). The author will lose some control and authority in the classroom, but these acts of uncertainty coincide with the nature of working in the field of mental health (Principle 9). Furthermore, the use of multiple learning strategies (e.g., discussions, written reflections, presentations, papers, etc.) will highlight various ways of learning and will likely promote student development (Principle 5). As Jacoby (1996) discussed, students may develop psychosocially, cognitively, or in their social identity from service-learning programs. Finally, the author selected this placement because there is a clear need which students can address directly. The hospital sought help, and this opportunity provides students with direct, hands-on experience with mental health issues (Principle 4). This course highlights reciprocity as both the student and the hospital are providing something invaluable to each other (Jacoby, 1996). The hospital gains needed assistance, and the students obtain insight into the field of mental health. Overall, this service-learning course addresses “knowledge acquisition, integration, construction, and application; cognitive complexity; intrapersonal development; interpersonal competence; humanitarianism and civic engagement; and practical competence”

CASE STUDY A (Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education [CAS], 2005, p. 3). If the author, the students, and the hospital maintain these principles and standards, this servicelearning course will truly be an experiential learning and high-impact experience. Conclusion Service-learning is an intentional, collaborative, and reflective process which can result in positive college outcomes for students who participate (Brownell & Swaner, 2010). If the


MSU and SCC students engaged in significant reflection, they likely benefitted from the program in more ways than pure academics. Additionally, students in the created service-learning course will develop significantly if they fully participate. Certainly, service-learning provides a method to engage students academically, developmentally, and civically within their local community.

CASE STUDY A References Brownell, J.E. & Swaner, L.E. (2010). Five high-impact practices: Research on learning outcomes, completion and quality. Association of American Colleges and Universities.


Cherrington, J. (2011). Urban studies, students, and communities: An ideal partnership – a case study of urban studies service-learning. Partnerships: A Journal of Service Learning and Civic Engagement, 2(2), 1-12. Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS). (2005). Service-learning programs: CAS standards and guidelines. Retrieved from Eyler, J. & Giles, Jr., D.E. (1999). Where’s the learning in service-learning? San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Howard, J. (1993). Community service learning in the curriculum. In J. Howard (Ed.), Praxis I: A faculty casebook on community service learning (pp. 3-12). Ann Arbor, MI: OCSL Press. Jacoby, B. & Associates. (1996). Service-learning in higher education: Concepts and practices. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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