A new study authored by Bryant Management professor Eileen Kwesiga, Ph.D., and two outside researchers found that compassion, ethical leadership, and support from supervisors can facilitate positive service-learning education outcomes for students. Published in The International Journal of Management Education, their work seeks to improve the service-learning teaching experience so educators can develop globally minded, compassionate leaders who are able to navigate challenges in a constantly changing environment.
Kwesiga says her surroundings often influence her research. When she came to Bryant 17 years ago, she started teaching “Management Principles and Practice,” which is traditionally a theoretical class based on what it means to be a manager.
“At Bryant, this course was different; it had this component called service learning,” says Kwesiga, who was unfamiliar with the term at the time.
She quickly learned that SLE places the student at the center of learning with hands-on opportunities.
“Essentially, you are curating external experiences to help the student understand the concept you’re teaching in the classroom while providing a civic duty to the community,” Kwesiga says.
SLE is a popular form of learning in colleges and universities and has a long history in the United States and internationally. The model can motivate students toward volunteerism, help develop increased awareness and involvement in their local and global communities, and enhance their moral values and integrity, according to the study; it also sensitizes students to local or global issues they may not be aware of. From engaging in SLE, students’ takeaways have the ability to transfer to the work world by improving organizational effectiveness while also encouraging compassion for others in work environments.
But, to get these positive results, the model needs to be developed correctly.
“The professor is orchestrating a threefold dance that is very complicated in order to meet and balance the different interests of students, external partners, and team leaders,” Kwesiga says. “The model has to be well designed because, otherwise, it will fail on so many points.”
In the published study, American and German students who participated in SLE programming completed an online questionnaire that measured practical skills, citizenship, interpersonal skills, and personal responsibility.
Findings suggest that when compassion, ethical leadership, and perceived support were introduced into a student learning environment, students’ evaluations showed they met the model’s intended outcomes for a positive experience. Additionally, they found that students’ learning experiences were enhanced when they perceived the community was valuing, appreciating, and benefiting from their help.
By studying SLE evaluations from German and American students, researchers gained insight on how SLE varies across countries after observing differences in compassion, ethical leadership, and supervisory support. Students in German institutions tended to rate the service-learning benefits significantly lower than their counterparts but rated higher in compassion as opposed to American students. With service learning being deeply rooted in Western values, researchers suggest that the SLE model might unfold differently in other cultures.
Kwesiga says further research could include continued testing on how to improve SLE and increase engagement with external partners to ensure the design is a win-win for them. Lastly, scholars could conduct studies where students who took service-learning courses are monitored to see if compassion, ethical leadership, and support from supervisors affected their retention of service-learning benefits.