Academic service learning pedagogy in social work : exploration of student and community lived experiences using an interdisciplinary course model of community-university engagement




Gerstenblatt, Paula

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Academic service learning has grown in popularity at colleges and universities as a way to address social issues using study, reciprocity, and reflection. While the merits of service learning are well documented, gaps in the literature indicate a need for further development of pedagogical models, qualitative research about students' lived experiences, and research focused on community partners. This dissertation presents an interdisciplinary model for implementing academic service learning in social work education, in-depth understandings of student experiences in a service learning course, and insight into the experiences and perceived benefits of community partners. The first article presents a 3-component service learning model that capitalizes on the structure of a university-community partnership, mobilizes interdisciplinary teams of students for community-identified projects, and integrates student, community and faculty reflection on complex social structures. Article 2 offers a phenomenological analysis of 17 blogs written by service learning students working in a rural town through their blogs. The findings of this study suggest that the reflexive aspect of blogging fits well with the service learning principle of reflection, and reveals the students' emotive experience over the course of the semester. Additionally, blogging demonstrates the attributes of service learning pedagogy to support the acquisition of knowledge and understanding of complex problems in a real life setting not attainable solely in a classroom setting or through traditional classroom tools, such as exams and papers. Article 3 consists of a phenomenological analysis of interviews with 9 community partners, a combination of agency employees and active citizens that worked with a network of service learning classes in a rural Southern town. The findings support the contribution of service learning to communities, the importance of investing in reciprocal relationships, and the value added of including community partners who are members of informal networks and civically active residents. The research presented in this dissertation informs the growing popularity of service learning in social work with findings that demonstrate a useful implementation model, highly meaningful transformative impact on students, the resilience of the community to challenges of hosting service learning, and the invaluable fostering of inspiration and hope in the community-university relationship.




LCSH Subject Headings