The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Predicting Service Learning Utilization in Social Work: Results From a National Survey

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 8:00 AM
Executive Center 2B (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Courtney M. Cronley, PhD, MSSW, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Elissa Madden, PhD, LMSW, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Kathleen Murray Preble, MSSW, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Background: Service learning (SL) involves engaging students in course objectives through community service projects that promote reflection, critical thinking, and problem solving (Lemieux & Allen, 2007; Maccio, 2011). While SL may be a natural fit for social work curricula (Nadan & Scott, 2011), it remains underutilized and under-researched. Studies regarding the use of SL in social work have primarily relied on case study methodology, and thus findings cannot be generalized across content areas (e.g., research versus practice courses) or academic levels (i.e., graduate versus undergraduate). In the current study, we conducted a nationwide survey to identify predictors of SL utilization among social work instructors with the goal of gaining more extensive knowledge about personal and institutional corollaries of SL.

Methods: Upon receiving IRB approval, an anonymous, online survey was distributed electronically to CSWE accredited social work programs and through the Baccalaureate Program Directors listserv (N = 209). Survey respondents were predominantly female (76%) and Caucasian (78%); over half (61%) primarily taught undergraduates; 82% reported that their institutions awarded undergraduate and graduate degrees; and 37% reported that their institutions valued teaching more than research regarding tenure and promotion. SL use was based on self-report (18% rarely used, 22% occasionally, and 60% regularly/with every course). Six statements inquired about barriers and 10 about outcomes of SL (disagree, agree). The largest majority cited lack of faculty reward as a barrier (74%), while 90% reported that service learning improves students’ abilities to learn class content. After running bivariate tests, SL usewas regressed on institutional degrees awarded, teaching undergraduates, whether the institution values teaching more than research, perceived barriers, and beliefs about SL outcomes, controlling for gender and race, in an ordinal logistic model using generalized linear models in SPSS 19.

Results: The overall model was significant (x2 = 66.8, df = 21, p < 0.00). The following barriers significantly predicted lower odds of SL use: logistic feasibility, lack of preparation time, learning objectives incompatible with SL, institutional barriers, and total number of barriers reported. Respondents who agreed that SL helps students to learn class material had higher odds of SL use. No other variables were significant. 

Implications: Many perceptions of barriers significantly predicted SL use; however, lack of faculty reward, which the greatest majority of respondents perceived as a barrier, was not significant in the multivariate and bivariate analyses. Thus, this barrier seems to persist even when instructors use SL. Moreover, while SL users were more likely than non-users to report positive student outcomes on a variety of factors at the bivariate level, only one was significant in the multivariate model. This finding suggests that perceived barriers may be more influential on instructors’ decisions to use SL than positive perceptions of student outcomes. As such, overcoming perceptions of barriers may be an effective strategy for increasing SL use. In addition, we found no differences based on personal (e.g., gender) and institutional (e.g., public vs. private) demographics, suggesting that these factors exert minimal influence on SL use.