Service learning from the perspective of faculty in higher education: A qualitative study

Date of Completion

January 2008


Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Higher




Service learning is a method of instruction that combines community service with academic course objectives. Although this method is student structured, there is little research on faculty motivation and the impact of service learning on faculty. The purpose of this qualitative study, informed by phenomenology, was to explore the perspectives of faculty in higher education that use service learning in the courses they teach. The guiding research question for this study was, "How does faculty perceive the meaning and use of service learning?" As a result, data were gathered from faculty at a public university. The study participants were four full-time faculty members, two women and two men, at a mid-sized, doctoral granting, public university with a relatively large undergraduate population located in the American southeast. Participants were purposely selected based on the criterion that they were faculty from different disciplines who had incorporated service learning into at least one of their courses. ^ Data were collected via two interviews with each participant, follow-up telephone calls, observations, and a review of documents provided by the participants. The researcher addressed the issue of credibility by using triangulation of data sources, member checks, and peer reviews; whereas, the analysis was grounded on the words of the participants. The researcher also addressed the issue of external validity by employing thick description and transcribed the interview data, coded the transcripts into categories and into three major themes. Moreover, the data analysis revealed that service learning was a powerful pedagogy impacting faculty and students. The three themes emerged from the data are: Service Learning Opens Minds and Hearts; Service Learning as a Vehicle of Change; and Service Learning Interrelates with Faculty Worldview. ^ Participants regarded service learning, in conjunction with reflection, as a powerful catalyst for an expansion of: disciplinary knowledge, epistemological development, student self-discovery, and civic engagement. A new model for reflection, with compassion as an essential element, was also developed. Moreover, there was an evolution in how faculty and the participants expressed a continuum from academic learning to the development of the whole person and a model was developed to reflect this continuum. Faculty worldview and their disciplinary lens, rather than a single theoretical orientation, determined how faculty implemented service learning. ^