Many kinesiology programs are implementing service learning pedagogy. While seemingly worthwhile, there is a lack of research examining whether those experiences are actually meaningful to the students who participate in them.
Purpose: The purpose of this study was to analyze the meaning of the service learning experience for kinesiology students.
Methods: A qualitative phenomenological theoretical framework was employed (Moustakas, 1994; Creswell, 2007). Fourteen students participated in one of two semester service learning projects offered through a midsized Midwestern university. One group (N = 8) conducted a motor skill program for eight and nine-year-old children in the Caribbean. The other group (N = 6) conducted a balance program at an urban older adult living community. A primary research question was whether participation in the projects changed the students' self-view in relation to the community where the project occurred. A secondary research question was whether the experience impacted their appreciation of their chosen field of study.
Analysis/Results:A phenomenological method of analysis was used to code interview transcripts and journals. Meaning units and themes were derived. Although the projects occurred within two distinct contexts, common themes were found. Students entered the projects with preexisting notions about the population they would work with (cultural and age stereotypes). Stereotypes were quickly dispelled and the students questioned their existing values (axiological shift). They translated their academic coursework to the experience (living classroom). There were obstacles in the field that the students felt they overcame because of their academic preparation (field challenges). The essence of the service learning experience involved a heightened sense of self and community, and a deeper appreciation for their chosen field (ontological change).
Conclusions: Incorporating service learning into kinesiology pedagogy can encourage a sense of cultural and social responsibility and build an appreciation for the field of kinesiology by helping students translate their academic experience to the real world.