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EFI-150951

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Education for Information 31 (2014/2015) 181–193
DOI 10.3233/EFI-150951
IOS Press
181
Implementation of service learning and civic
engagement for students of computer information
systems through a course project at the Hashemite
University
Ahmad Al-Khasawneha,∗ and Bashar K. Hammadb
a Computer
Information System Department, Hashemite University, Zarqa, Jordan
Engineering Department, Academic Quality Assurance Center, Hashemite University,
Zarqa, Jordan
b Mechatronics
Service learning methodologies provide students of information systems with the opportunity to create and implement systems in real-world, public service-oriented social contexts. This paper presents a
case study which involves integrating a service learning project into an undergraduate Computer Information Systems course entitled “Information Systems” for the first time at the Hashemite University in
Jordan. The project requires students to visit local non-profit and government agencies to learn about
and to provide needed information systems services and solutions that are closely related to the specific
course topics they have come across during their lectures. Students are required to brainstorm and suggest
innovative ideas and to provide the information systems services and solutions required based on tips and
hints provided by the instructor and specialized consultants in the field. In these activities, students actively evaluate and analyze the complex contributors associated with understanding problem domains, as
well as designing and implementing real-world solutions. A student’s achievement in this project is evaluated by their academic supervisor, their community partners, and the student’s own reflections on their
experience. This paper presents qualitative analysis of integrating service learning and civic engagement
in this course, and highlights benefits, challenges, and recommendations for future implementation.
Keywords: Information systems, education, service learning, project management skills, professional
skills, experiential learning
1. Introduction
Service learning as a new pedagogical technique has attracted special attention
recently. It is at a crossroads; it combines the experience of working with and serving the community, learning and understanding of courses, and acquiring valuable
experience related to a future career [18,25]. It allows students to apply knowledge
and skills learned in the classroom to real problems in the community. In turn, experience gained in the community enriches classroom learning. Students can also
gain career experience, and network with professionals in their fields of interest. In
∗ Corresponding author: Ahmad Al-Khasawneh, Computer Information System Department,
Hashemite University, P.O. Box: 150459, 13115 Zarqa, Jordan. E-mail: [email protected]
c 2014/2015 – IOS Press and the authors. All rights reserved
0167-8329/14/15/$35.00 182 A. Al-Khasawneh and B.K. Hammad / Implementation of service learning and civic engagement
this paper, we describe how community service learning has been implemented in
an Information Systems (IS) course required as part of a Bachelor of Computer Information Systems (CIS) degree. The Information Systems (IS) educators would, by
and large, agree that it is difficult to assess whether the students are able to proficiently utilize a concept that has been explained in abstract terms. Real world stories
are often utilized in IS courses to help the students connect conceptual models to
actual practice, and to develop a broader definition of IS that includes people and
business processes in addition to the technology. However, listening to stories is not
the same as actually being involved in IS activities [12,16]. By its very nature, IS is
differentiated from computer science by its application of the science toward organizational information management problems and people. IS service learning projects
range from introductory to advanced in nature, with examples such as: documenting office hardware, software, and peripherals; documenting IS staff activities, analyzing system requirements and user acceptance; designing logical and/or physical
solutions; training/surveying staff on new applications; and developing databases,
spreadsheets, active web pages or other information system solutions. These IS services can be provided to government agencies and non-profit organizations. Thus,
incorporating service learning into IS curricula offers students a full range of learning opportunities.
2. Literature review
Over two decades of research demonstrate that high quality service-learning can
enhance student learning [6,7]. With the continuous increase in the number of
students joining higher education institutions (HEIs) and the changing skills and
abilities demanded by the market, service learning is attracting considerable attention [24]. These factors push HEIs to consider service learning as a state-of-the-art
educational tool and to integrate it into their curricula in a variety of disciplines,
such as business and management, science and environment, information technology, and engineering [10,11,13,19,26]. Students participating in service learning
activities meet identified community needs and boost their sense of responsibility
towards their community [5,8]. Studies related to this discipline have shown that
service learning has a positive impact on students’ academic, personal, social, and
citizenship outcomes [4,14,18,20,22,25].
However, service learning is an unfamiliar teaching strategy at Jordanian universities because of the dominant concept of the “last-year training”, in which students
utilize everything they have acquired in practice without any reference to the needs of
the community [1,21,23]. Service learning helps to develop a person’s understanding
of their career choice and can help them to gain more knowledge about their field.
Service learning methodologies have been adopted and successfully implemented by
many faculty members across a wide range of professional disciplines and departments, such as engineering, environmental studies, and communication [27]. Many
A. Al-Khasawneh and B.K. Hammad / Implementation of service learning and civic engagement 183
institutions have developed guidelines for faculty members willing to incorporate effective service learning programs in their courses and curriculum, both specifically
and in general. In doing so, administrators and faculty members at the Hashemite
University (HU) realized that community service by students is one way to put
the University’s values into action. A Community Service Learning Center was established on campus to initiate, promote and coordinate service learning activities.
An Advisory Committee comprised of faculty, students, and community partners
built upon existing collaborative efforts to plan the integration of community service learning into academic study. The HU has been granted a fund from TEMPUS (the European Union’s program for supporting the modernization of higher
education in partner countries) to enhance learning outcomes by implementing service learning and civic engagement through curriculum. The project, called TAWASOL (which means “connection” in Arabic) aims to support the creation of effective
cross-curricula service learning and civic engagement in Jordan and Lebanon by
utilizing the expertise and resources of each of the European partner universities.
In addition to the case study described in this paper, the service learning concept
has been successfully implemented in Counseling [15] and Mechatronics Engineering courses [9]. In [15], 60 senior students enrolled in a Counseling course entitled
“Counseling Children and Adolescents” the main objective of which is to understand
children and adolescents from a developmental, sociological, and psychological perspective, with special emphasis on counseling strategies and therapeutic techniques
suitable for these life stages. In this course, the students are required to participate
in a play therapy and guidance service learning project. Whereas in [9], 23 students
registered in an undergraduate Mechatronics Engineering course entitled “Building
Automation”. This required them to participate in a project in which students are
required to visit hospitals to learn about a variety of building systems that they have
come across during their course lectures. Once they have grasped the operating principles of the building systems available in hospitals, students are required to brainstorm and suggest innovative ideas for reducing energy consumption based on tips
and hints provided by the instructor and specialized consultants in the field of energy.
It is worth mentioning that these experiments at HU [9,15], share two major aspects.
The first is that due to the regulations implemented at HU, the service learning concept is integrated into the course curriculum by implementing a course project. However, when the culture of service learning becomes better known, other mechanisms
may be introduced. The second aspect emphasizes the necessity of having a trade-off
between the large amount of time needed to manage these service learning activities
and the responsibilities of faculty members and university towards the community.
This work provides a qualitative analysis of implementing service learning and
civic engagement in an IS course at HU as a requirement for the TAWASOL project.
Specifically, this study explores students’ perceptions about the service experience in
relation to their sense of connection to their group and university, their responsibility
towards their community, and their personal and professional growth.
184 A. Al-Khasawneh and B.K. Hammad / Implementation of service learning and civic engagement
3. Methodology
Integrating service learning into IS courses has proved to be an effective method
to improve the IS learning experience, accurately assess the knowledge, skills, and
abilities learned during the course, develop strong and effective values of project
management, teamwork, leadership, and civic participation, and help to develop the
role of the university in the community. The project described in this paper illustrates
a new, holistic instrument. Three instruments were utilized to collect data about the
service learning project, including the following.
1) A five-part questionnaire filled out by students before the start of the project,
containing:
– General information about the student, such as age, gender, family income
– A 50-word paragraph about the student’s views on volunteering and community service
– An 18-item subscale to assess the student’s perceptions of the service experience and the effect of the service experience in developing their sense of
connection to group members and to their university
– A 17-item subscale to assess the student’s perception of their social responsibility
– A 19-item subscale to assess the student’s sense of professional development.
These questionnaires use a 5 Likert scale (with 5 indicating strongly agree, 1
indicating strongly disagree, and 3 being neutral). Questionnaires were developed based on the review of measures in service learning studies [3,17]. The
questionnaire items were presented to three experts in the field of education for
validity checking and to classify them into the above three subscales.
2) Report. Each group submitted a report at the end of the project about:
– The problems faced before and during the project (detailed description)
– A technical description of new things students had learned.
3) Reflections on the service experience.
All students were required to reflect individually upon the service experience at the
end of the service period. Reflections involved answering questions about how the
students had digested their textbook concepts, their classroom learning, ethics, and
career goals, as well as about some issues of the organizational and societal roles
of IS professionals. These reflections of individual and group on the learning process, tasks, people, environment, the final IS solution, and the take-away knowledge,
skills, and abilities is yet another dimension differentiating service learning projects
from most conventional IS course projects.
Reflection within service learning is important because it allows students to perceive the link between their individual acts of service in the community, their view of
the world, and their university study [1,18,21]. This is necessary for students, as they
learn to derive personal knowledge and strategies that will influence future practices.
A. Al-Khasawneh and B.K. Hammad / Implementation of service learning and civic engagement 185
4. Case description
4.1. Participants
Over 25 faculty persons campus-wide have integrated service learning into approximately 50 courses. Approximately 35 such courses are offered each semester.
Student/faculty teams facilitate these service learning experiences for over 800 students each year. For this IS course, the participants were 35 senior IS students (13
female and 22 male) aged 21–23 years.
4.2. Service learning model
Service learning was integrated into this course based on Jeffrey Howard’s model,
which indicates that community service experiences must be relevant to the academic
course of study and emphasizes the integration of both experiential and academic
learning [11].
4.3. Course activities
The course was delivered using the following methods.
4.3.1. Regular lectures by the course instructor
The instructor explained the following topics:
–
–
–
–
–
–
–
–
–
–
–
IS: A Framework for Success
How Businesses Use Information Systems
Computer Hardware and Software
Database Design and Management
Internet, Intranets and Extranets
Electronic Commerce
Web-programming and Client/Server Computing
IS for Managerial Decision Making
System Analysis and Design: Methodologies and Tools
Computer Security
Managing Knowledge, Change and IS Personnel
The course was divided into many modules, each of approximately three weeks
duration. Each module focused on a particular theme and information literacy skill
set. The specific IS knowledge measures used to grade a service learning project
depended on the specific course. A database module would involve a database project
and assess on database knowledge. A web-programming module would involve, for
example, the development of an active web page, which is what would be tested
for web programming knowledge. Systems analysis and design modules required a
systems life cycle type of project, etc.
186 A. Al-Khasawneh and B.K. Hammad / Implementation of service learning and civic engagement
4.3.2. Lectures by invited consultants
The instructor invited three consultants to provide tips and hints based on their
hands-on experience, and to direct students towards the common practices in the market. The consultants were volunteers who had agreed to help students in the project
to reduce the gap between academia and community, and facilitate the involvement
of students in local markets, in addition to fulfilling their sense of responsibility towards our community. The three consultants gave lectures on:
– The database project and assessing on database knowledge
– The development of an active web page
– The future of e-business in Jordan.
4.3.3. Service learning project
In addition to the standard course requirements, students participated in a project
in conjunction with the Community Service Learning Center. The community service learning component of the course involved at least ten hours, outside class time,
working with high school students, local government agencies, and organizations.
This service learning and civic engagement project required students to visit local
non-profit and government agencies to learn about a variety of database projects
and assess on database knowledge and the development of an active web page, also
the design course sometimes required a systems life cycle type of project, such as
they would have come across during the lectures of the course. The preparation and
implementation for service learning was accomplished in the following phases. Initial contact with high school students, local government agencies and organizations
(clients); then, connecting clients with the IS Students; lastly, working the service
learning experience. After grasping the principles of these systems, students were
required to brainstorm and suggest innovative ideas for building ideal information
systems into these organizations and local government agencies. In the final stage of
the project, students were supposed to meet decision makers in these organizations,
discuss their suggestions, and raise their awareness, discussing and reflecting on the
service learning experience for that semester.
4.3.4. Course outcomes
The learning outcomes framework for this IS undergraduate course covers all levels in cognitive domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy which include a supporting software
application. After completing this course the students had to demonstrate the knowledge and ability to:
–
–
–
–
–
Define the concepts and definition of IS
Differentiate between several types of IS
Identify the threats to information security
Show how to protect information resources
Web-program and understand the difference between database and data warehouse
A. Al-Khasawneh and B.K. Hammad / Implementation of service learning and civic engagement 187
– Differentiate between a transaction processing system and a functional area information system
– Maintain and protect IS
– Analyze any environment to determine their tables to construct database
– Differentiate between database and data warehouse
– Identify the IS that supports the organization
– Demonstrate IS, management, and decision-making skills
– Plan, acquire, and maintain an IS.
4.3.5. Course objectives
The objectives of the course are to:
– Provide students with a basic concepts of IS and the benefits of these systems
in modern society
– Differentiate between data, information, and knowledge
– Understand systems definition, systems requirements, and the information
needed by a decision maker
– Understand the several requirements and operations needed by the analyst to
analyze, design, and implement the systems in what is called a system development life cycle (SDLC)
– Identify several methods to enhance and develop information systems and to
manage the information system resources
– Understand several ethical issues related to information systems
– Test system quality and understand how to enhance it.
In addition to the above, the following outcomes covering the affective and psychomotor domains of Bloom’s Taxonomy were supposed to have been achieved by
the completion the project:
1) Improve students’ communication skills with different types of co-workers
(managers, staff, technicians, and administrative staff)
2) Value the importance of providing service to the community
3) Train students for real life situations.
4.3.6. Assessment
Mid-term and final examinations (according to the regulations of the Hashemite
University) were used to assess the performance of students throughout this course,
however, the service learning project was supposed to be assessed from the following
perspectives.
– Learning: Students should consider the different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy
mentioned in the course outcomes while working on their project. They were
made aware of this taxonomy during a 30 minute discussion which formed part
of the first lecture.
188 A. Al-Khasawneh and B.K. Hammad / Implementation of service learning and civic engagement
– Service: Service from different point of views; academic supervisor, IS consultants, community partners, and students reflection on the experience. This is
done through a final presentation and open discussion with the instructor and
other students in the class.
The above assessment tools (mid-term and final exams, services learning project,
presentation of the project, and open discussion after student presentations) are carefully designed to determine whether students have gained the expected experience,
as regards the outcomes of this course, covering all cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains of Bloom’s Taxonomy. An outcome may be assessed directly or
indirectly in the mid-term exam, the final test, and/or during the open discussion
following a student’s presentation. Differentiation between database and data warehouse, for example, was assessed directly in the exams, whereas improving the student’s communication skills with different types of co-workers was evaluated indirectly based on a student’s performance during their presentation and their response
to questions during open discussion.
5. Findings
This work adopts a qualitative study with an interpretive approach [2], where researchers try to understand a phenomenon by means of accessing meanings raised
by the contributors and their individual experience; students and community partners
in this case. Responses to questionnaire, presentations, and open discussion are the
main sources of data. This questionnaire was tested twice in similar environments
at the Hashemite University [9,15]. Open questions (Writing a 50-word paragraph
about the student’s perspective towards volunteering and community service) and
closed questions (54 items) were designed to extract participants’ experience of service learning, as compared to traditional teaching methods. Presentations and open
discussions were conducted with students to evaluate the gains of this new learning
process, as well as identifying the challenges encountered within the current experiment and deciding how they might be tackled in future experiments.
After carefully inspecting the collected data (questionnaires, presentations, and
open discussions) using the instruments described in the Methodology section, the
authors divided the findings under two major themes; the obstacles faced and benefits
gained from the experience of integrating a service learning project into an IS course.
These obstacles and benefits are derived directly from students’ responses (through
explicit items in the questionnaire) and indirectly (through students’ reflections on
the experiment). They can be summarized as follows.
5.1. Obstacles
1) The main problem encountered by all students in this class was that the community in Jordan is not familiar with the idea of “service learning”. Our community is familiar with “Last-year training”, which forms part of the curriculum
A. Al-Khasawneh and B.K. Hammad / Implementation of service learning and civic engagement 189
for all Information Technology Departments. Therefore, students were relatively irritated when trying to explain the idea of providing service while learning.
2) The ability of students to provide fruitful recommendations was undermined
by local government and organizational personnel, despite the students being
equipped with the most up-to-date tips and ideas in the field of IS.
3) Some of the clients felt that new technology may cause the layoff of many
workers, resulting in resistance to implementing it.
5.1.1. Benefits
Service learning benefits were substantial in both scope and significance to each
of the stakeholders. The students were provided with a deeper, more complete and
integrated learning of IS concepts and processes. They have utilized professional IS
consultant skills, and have developed a new network of community mentors. They
leave the course armed with real-world evidence of the work they are capable of
performing, with a new sense of commitment to their career, their role in society,
and their integrity. Many students have been hired by their non-profit partners or
by organizations represented on the board of directors, and many have continued to
do voluntary work after the course was finished. The non-profit agencies are able
to deliver their services more efficiently, leaving more of their resources available
to be spent on items directly related to their missions. The service learning projects
document and support collaboration between the university and the community, complement outreach and public relations goals, and have helped to uncover new areas
of research, potential joint grant opportunities, and access to educational case data.
Faculty members have often been energized by the vitality of the course activities,
the related instructional creativity, and rewarded for their service learning outreach,
research and service activities and contributions.
In addition to the obstacles and benefits discussed above, we observed the following issues during this experiment.
– The students’ recommendations were not taken seriously by the government
agencies and organizations. The perception that the students were not able to
serve at this stage of their study was predominant.
– An important learning objective for IS students is to learn how to interact and
communicate with clients in a real-world setting. Many of the students commented in their reflection papers on the difficulties, surprises, and ultimate gratification of working with high school and local government agencies (clients)
from many social/economic situations, often different to their own.
– Each group had a person in charge of organizing the group work. One student
who was doing so indicated that this helped him to discover his leadership skills.
Based on the thematic data analysis approach we adopted in the work, similar
to [2], we managed to identify and report themes within the data collated. This analytical approach describes data in rich detail and interprets different aspects of this
research work to help researchers find the repeated patterns.
190 A. Al-Khasawneh and B.K. Hammad / Implementation of service learning and civic engagement
6. Discussion
Service learning can be a powerful technique to enhance student learning while
serving the community. In recent years, service learning methodologies have been incorporated into Database Systems, Systems Development, IS, and eBusiness courses.
IS students work with local non-profit organizations to produce tangible, professional
systems that serve real community or organizational needs. Too often, research in this
area depends on either qualitative or quantitative methods of analysis, however, the
case in this study is discussed from a qualitative point of view, for a better understanding of this experience, before conducting quantitative investigation.
Although the concept of service learning was introduced to the HU several years
ago, many faculty members are reluctant to integrate this concept into their courses
for the following reasons.
– Time limitations: Course content is driven by skill acquisition, which is timeintensive; service learning projects would require the displacement of academic
components.
– Faculty workload: Managing service learning projects is time-consuming and
would add to the already heavy teaching, service, and research load of the faculty.
– Project-Title Choice: Finding suitable service learning experiences for students
would be difficult, and managing the relationship with the community partner
could be contentious.
– Number of Students: The number of students in Jordan (and especially at the
public universities; HU is a public university) is increasing rapidly due to natural growth and the political situation in the region.
– Lack of Training: Although many faculty members are high-profile researchers,
they may not have properly developed teaching skills. Moreover, as a new pedagogic methodology, the culture of service learning is not widespread among
faculty members.
One or more of the above reasons would make the transformation of a traditionally pedagogical classroom into a service learning oriented classroom demanding, as
expected in other studies [11].
In this experiment, we emphasize that the concept of service learning has been
implemented using Howard’s model [11], where the service learning project is added
to the course syllabus as a critical leaning complement to the academic objective of
the course, i.e., the project is not a parallel activity. However, due to the grading
system at the HU, the service learning project can amount to approximately one
quarter of the total grade of the course. The authors and students involved in this
experiment undoubtedly felt that the norms and relations in the teaching-learning
processes were changed due to the application of this new pedagogy.
A. Al-Khasawneh and B.K. Hammad / Implementation of service learning and civic engagement 191
7. Conclusions and implications
This experiment will help to foster a better understanding of the concept of service learning in Jordan. It was integrated into the undergraduate course “Information
Systems”. This integration gave students a sense of connection between classroom
learning and the needs of their community. Several methods of collecting data were
employed; questionnaires, reports, and the students’ reflections on their experience.
Qualitative analysis of the collected data indicated that service learning reinforces
the links between theory and practice. Students applied project management techniques throughout the process. Application solutions typically ended up as database,
menu-management system driven, easy-to-learn, easy-to-use, and intuitive.
Not only has service learning addressed community concerns regarding the ethical
and professional conduct of IS graduates, it has facilitated the application and greater
understanding of IS skills. However, the authors recognize the voluntary aspect of
any service learning program for IS professionals is difficult to implement due to
students’ employment commitments and faculty workload issues. While recognizing
operational constraints, the greater good generated by community service prompts us
to recommend the broader integration of service learning into the IS curriculum. It
must be mentioned that integrating service learning into courses involves several
trade-offs for the instructor and the university. Establishment of the service learning
parts of the course were time-consuming. Moreover, instructors needed to prepare
works papers and permissions in plenty of time in order to avoid problems caused by
bureaucracy.
The degree of benefits/outcomes may vary based on several factors, including the
discipline, student class level, student motivation, and more. The importance of these
variables warrants further study. Future studies should include a comparison of disciplines as well as student class level. Traditional undergraduate students may very
well differ from non-traditional online undergraduates or adults in continuing education in their approach and experience.
However, in order to achieve a more successful experiment in integrating service
learning into curricula, the authors suggest that faculty members should consider the
following issues.
– Senior IS Courses: Service learning projects provide students with an opportunity to apply complex problem solving to real-world problems, and higher level
courses in managerial IS would be ideally suited for the integrative application
of IS principles.
– Industry Support: Faculty could engage associations in the service learning process by the soliciting of community projects and educating of community members about the role of ethical training. Faculty could also liaise with major IS
firms to encourage the articulation by employers of the need for ethical and professional behavior as evidenced by service learning commitments at academic
institutions.
192 A. Al-Khasawneh and B.K. Hammad / Implementation of service learning and civic engagement
Finally, according to the authors, all the above issues should be elucidated to all
faculty members in particular, and stakeholders in the Higher Education process in
general, through workshops and leaflets, with a change in universities regulations
including incentives of all kinds.
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