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In recent years, the role of higher education in promoting volunteerism and social responsibility through service learning has become an issue that may radically impact both faculty and student development programs on American college campuses. Despite the significant amount of data regarding the impact of student participation in service learning on students' attitudes toward volunteerism and social responsibility, there is still a tremendous gap in our understanding of how such participation impacts subsequent student perceptions of personal self-efficacy. The purpose of this qualitative case study is to further articulate and clarify the relationship between student involvement in service learning courses and student perceptions of self-efficacy and personal obligation with regard to community and public service.

What evolved in this study is a report of findings based on shared, intersubjective interpretations of the data. Interview transcripts, field notes from participant observation, student journals, and documents collected in conjunction with the various service projects form the entire data base for the study. Borrowed from the Appalachian tradition, a quilting metaphor was used for data analysis, with loose blocks of colored paper representing the individual categories of data, and the variety of patterns in a quilt representing the constant comparison of those blocks of data. Themes were identified based on their contextual significance and relevance for understanding the context of service learning and how such activities might challenge students' understanding of self-efficacy in relation to community.

This study identified and interpreted three themes that may contribute to an understanding of this relationship between participation in service learning and enhanced perceptions of self-efficacy and empowerment in community. Analysis of the data yielded the following common themes: perception of benefit to communities through service learning, perception of identity clarification with community, and a connection between academic theory and experiential practice. Service learning's visionary paradigm of educators as both nurturing caregivers and disseminators of knowledge represents our concern for holistic perceptions of self-efficacy, or the understanding of the self as inter-related and connected to one's community, and having the power to make a difference in that community.


Copyright 2003 Monalisa McCuny Mullins

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