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Service-learning. as a pedagogical approach for increasing social responsibility in students. has increasingly gained acceptance in higher education. With its emphasis on reflection and reciprocity. service-learning combines content-area learning with authentic community-based experiences in order to enhance understanding of the course content and to promote civic responsibility. Although several studies have investigated the effects of service-learning at the college level, few studies have specifically focused on the use of service-learning in special education.

The purpose of this study was to examine the service-learning component of an undergraduate human exceptionality course. One section of the course utilized an unlimited choice (UC) approach. in which participants were instructed to design and implement a service-learning project on their own. The second course section utilized a limited choice (LC) approach in which participants chose among three service options that had been prearranged by the instructors.

A comparative case study design was used in which multiple sources of data were analyzed in order to (a) develop an understanding of the service-learning experiences of participants engaged in the UC and LC projects, (b) identify similarities and/or differences in the service-learning experiences between sections, (c) identify differences in participants' perceptions of the benefits of the service-learning experience, and (d) determine if any pedagogical advantages or disadvantages resulted from the use of either approach in the domains of course content and citizenship, or in the affective, behavioral, and cognitive dimensions of learning.

The findings suggest that most participants in each section engaged in quality service-learning projects. The data also suggest that the service experience did contribute to their understanding of the course content and citizenship roles, and had some influence on the affective, behavioral, and cognitive dimensions of learning. Although similarities in experiences were identified, several differences were also identified between sections and within sections that may have affected participants' perceptions of the benefits of the experience. Overall, participants in the UC section perceived a greater benefit of the service experience than did participants from the LC section. Based on the findings of this study, recommendations for future practice were developed.


© John Clinton Mayhew, Jr. 2001

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