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Connect With Theory

Service-Learning enhances the learning of course theory when students deliberately (and frequently) connect their SL experience to specific course theories.

Ways to connect service to theory

Faculty can make connections through…

  • Lecture examples (refer often to SL experiences, sites, issues, populations, etc.)
  • Class discussion (ask students to relate this week’s course concepts to their service experience) See example questions at Reflection
  • Analysis papers (often with peer reviewing). See examples at Assignments
  • Journals or scientific logs (See that link for multiple formats)
  • Final presentations (see examples at Assignments) and posters (see SL Exhibition for templates)

Examples of Theory Connection Questions

Example 1  KOLB  Cycle  
Kolb, D. A. 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

In a class or online discussion, an instructor asks students a series of questions incorporating their concrete experience, reflective observations, and abstract conceptualizations (this is based on the Kolb (1984) learning cycle). Step 3 ties it back to course theory.

Step 1. Concrete Experience Questions
Describe specific behaviors and interactions which occurred or facts related to a particular situation.

Step 2. Reflective Observation Questions
Personally reflect on and interpret the events, offer your insights to others’ perspectives, and explain how this event may have affected individuals in your service setting and why.

Step 3. Abstract Conceptualization Questions
Relate events observed and experienced with theories and concepts studied in class.  What theories in the reading and material presented in class help you to explain and understand the situation itself, and/or the dynamics you saw and experienced? Where might your assumptions have been challenged? Given the situation as you understand it, do you have any critiques of the applied theories or conceptual models?

Step 4. Active Experimentation Questions
How does this learning relate to other situations you might encounter in the future? How can you test your new assumptions about yourself, others or the organization? This learning might apply to what kinds of situations in the future? Next time, what would you try in a similar situation?

* Adapted from: Pat Arnold, Human and Organizational Development Program, Vanderbilt University

Example 2

The Instructor develops analysis questions using these steps:

1. Define or describe [theory name]
2. Does your service experience align with or contradict this theory?
3. How might you this learning impact you in future situations?

Example 3

(from a political science course*)

“Theorist” James Q. Wilson argues that the type of politics that define a public agency’s policymaking structure is defined along a cost-benefit dichotomy (as listed in Table 6.2, page 143 of the Birkland text). Using Wilson’s scheme, describe the type of politics being played out in your Service-Learning agency (interest group politics, entrepreneurial politics, clientele politics, or majoritarian politics). Explain how you know this is so. If you suddenly became the dictator of your agency, what would you do to lessen the costs and increase the benefits of your particular clientele?”

*Excerpted from: Dr. Les Alm’s POLS 320 AMERICAN POLICY PROCESS Service-Learning Reflection Questions