Evaluating the cognitive process of students participating in a service-learning experience while enrolled in a collegiate social problems class



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Texas A&M University


This study evaluated the cognitive process of students participating in a 20-hour service-learning experience while enrolled in a collegiate Social Problems course. This study examined student attitudes about social problems and their ability to affect change and examined relationships between demographic variables, student attitudes, and their stages of cognitive process. The population was all students who were enrolled in a Social Problems course during the Fall 2005 semester. Of the 77 students enrolled in the course, 48 completed both the pre-test and post-test questionnaire and 64 completed the service-learning journals and papers. The researcher used a mixed method research design. The quantitative study used a pre-test and post-test questionnaire to evaluate changes in attitude towards service learning. The qualitative study evaluated journal entries and papers using the Constant Comparative Method of Qualitative Analysis to assess stages of cognitive development. The major findings of the study were: 1) Students progressed through six stages of cognitive development - Shock, Guilt, Normalization, Cultural Sensitivity, Engagement, and Empowerment, however no student experienced all stages; 2) Three new stages were discovered - Guilt, Cultural Sensitivity, and Empowerment; 3) All students who had not volunteered before experienced Shock; 4) Shock occurred for some students who had previously volunteered; 5) Students experiencing Guilt were primarily White and from families with parental incomes greater than $75,000 a year; 7) A majority of students experienced Empowerment; 8) Most students volunteering more than 10 hours a month experienced Empowerment; 9) All People of Color experienced Empowerment; 10) Results from pre-test and post-test questionnaires did not indicate a significant change in attitudes towards service-learning as a result of participating in the service-learning experience. Educators should: 1) Be prepared to assist students as they experience multiple stages of the cognitive process during their service-learning experiences; 2) Give instruction in reflective journaling, provide students with guided journal questions, and monitor stages of the cognitive process; 3) Incorporate service-learning into curriculum to enhance cognitive learning and empower students; 4) Replicate with a more diverse population and larger sample size.