Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

An examination of the efficacy of service learning in higher education to promote or hinder individual transformative learning at a Jesuit university
by Greene, Robert William, Ph.D., Capella University, 2013, 205; 3601065
Abstract (Summary)

Service learning scholars have debated over the use of a traditional vs. critical service learning approach for the past fifteen years based on their reliance on one theoretical framework, Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning theory. Most recently, scholars (Billig & Waterman, 2008; Ziegert & McGoldrick) suggested that service learning was at a “methodological crossroads” in need of a theory that addresses the socially constructed nature of comprehension and “meaning making” to understand the role of reflection with service learning processes (p. viii). Mezirow’s (1978, 1990, 1991, 1998, 2000, 2009, 2012) transformational learning theory provides that alternative.

This study utilized Mezirow’s transformational learning theory in a domestic study of service learning participation in higher education at a mid-western Jesuit university. Undergraduates and alumni that participated in service learning were recruited. Seven undergraduates participated in a focus group with six asked to participate in follow-up unstructured in-depth interviews. Additionally, five alumni were initially interviewed; only three participated in the follow-up in-depth interviews. Using grounded theory, four themes emerged—ownership, discomfort, privilege, and barriers that were crucial in changing the respondent’s personal, perspective transformation. Each distinct theme contained degrees of intersection with the other three themes.

The first emergent theme, privilege, characterized as economic and racial privilege was identified by respondent’s “recognition’ of that privilege. Both alumni and undergraduates dealt with the disorienting dilemma (Mezirow, 1978, 1990, 1991, 1998, 2000, 2009, 2012) or triggering event (Dunlap, Scoggin, Green, & Davi, 2007, p. 19) presented by their privilege status in their placements. The cognitive disequilibrium forced the respondents to assimilate or accommodate new information into their cognitive structures, facilitating personal transformation. The second emergent theme, discomfort analogous to Mezirow’s (1978,1990, 2009, 2012) disorienting dilemma displayed itself in varying degrees of intensity and duration (Kiely, 2005) requiring a subjective reframing in the process of transformation. (Mezirow & Associates, 2000, p. 22-23). The third emergent theme, ownership dealt with the students’ roles within their placements, a sense of ownership appeared to mitigate feelings of privilege, discomfort, and the barriers within their service-learning placement. Finally, the last emergent theme, barriers or border crossing (Jones, Robbins, & LePeau, 2011) is fundamental theoretically to service learning including a multitude of types of borders that must be crossed that are physical, social, and psychological (p. 28) indicating that the process of transformation entails the intersection of cognitive, affective, and contextual (Pasquariello, 2009, p. iv) experiences needed for a critical self-reflection of their assumptions, the basis for transformational learning.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bassett, Carolyn
Commitee: Coles, Roberta, Hughes, Gail
School: Capella University
Department: School of Education
School Location: United States -- Minnesota
Source: DAI-A 75/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Instructional Design, Higher education
Keywords: Higher education, Jesuit education, Service learning, Transformational learning
Publication Number: 3601065
ISBN: 978-1-303-51587-3
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