For Good Or For Ill? Community Impact in Global Service-Learning

While there is a growing body of research relating to community outcomes of global service-learning projects, one of the challenges the field faces is becoming increasingly specific and nuanced about both understanding and – to the extent possible – working to manage community impact ethically. The following list of possible positive and negative outcomes of GSL programs was generated at the 2012 Conference of the International Association of Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement. Please feel free to add additional positive and negative community effects in the comments section, as all of this will continue to feed into our collective conversations about how to ensure high-quality, responsible global service-learning practice.  

POSSIBLE COMMUNITY OUTCOMES (spectrum from positive- unintended – negative)

Positive, Including Unintended:

  • Community receives income from tourism
  • Contribution to and clarification of democracy analysis
  • Sense of agency and efficacy
  • Capacity to achieve community goals is increased through students’ contributed skills or labor or finances
  • Sustainable programming developed
  • Bring capacities of individuals and community groups to identify and articulate goals
  • Catalyze building relationships and practices of collective action
  • Increased academic achievement
  • Creation of new local/regional networks
  • Increased communication through multiple layers of community
  • Connecting the community to valuable relations and resources that exist outside the community
  • Initiate funding for program
  • Learn about social system and knowledge concerning protection from tsunami disaster
  • Community learns about the “other” too
  • Construction of new housing
  • Immediate impact of filling a need related to food, shelter, etc
  • Interest for Japanese culture
  • Improved program
  • Creating advocates and lies or this (their) community
  • Awareness raised of particular human rights issue
  • Incorporate grassroots activism around a particular community issue
  • Funding
  • Access to new resources
  • Presence of foreigners bring local/regional/national attention to community’s needs
  • Student volunteers to help provide childcare while parents attend workshops
  • Community has a more positive and receptive attitude toward students, faculty, institutions after GSL experience than before
  • Medical students who participate in free clinics for SL learn to really listen to patients who don’t have health insurance or are underserved and have a better understanding of the social determinants and social context of health care. They have a better sense of their role in providing care for underserved populations and a responsibility for the larger community
  • Refugee families make American friends
  • Economic impact on partnering community
  • Validation of connection between home and diasporic community
  • Positive perception of student group
  • A Burmese women’s weaving cooperative is initiated
  • Creation of a new role- local instructor/ mediator
  • Affirming to value of people in the community and the assets they possess for change
  • Community shares knowledge and experiences or perspectives; sees no immediate positive impact but trusts that short experience transformational learning for later positive outcomes
  • New programs
  • Exposure to US college students
  • Some community need is met in full or part by GSL experience, at least while it was happening (but no one returns consistently)
  • Publicity
  • Organizational change
  • Creation of a charity paradigm
  • Community change
  • Social media
  • Community will identify or evaluate/ generalize certain characteristics/ traits of college students (i.e. level of preparedness, professionalism, attitudes, etc.)
  • Community members wish to leave/ migrate to the US


  • Burn out/ distrust of Americans
  • Consume scarce resources of time and professional energy to take care of students for little benefit
  • Reinforcing stereotypes in host community
  • Dependency (do we have a responsibility to do this every year until the problem goes away?)
  • Community feels alienated or disenfranchised by their GSL experience with students and/or faculty
  • Negative perception of student group
  • Jealousy of resources brought to some community members and not others
  • Reinforcing privilege and power inequities
  • Disappointment due to promises not followed through
  • Exposed to unattainable wealth (i.e. digital cameras, ipods, etc.)
  • Refugee families are turned out to interact with Americans due to a disappointing experience
  • Resource depletion of partnering community
  • Desire to persuade participants toward one perspective or another
  • Community is interviewed about needs and program is unable to met them or uses interviews for study, not action (community as lab)
  • Involvement in money economic system
  • Student for whom SL was first experience leaving the US had negative experience in outlying provinces was too overwhelming and very uncomfortable
  • Drain on resource/ time
  • Reinforced stereotypes of US / “privileged”
  • Activation of tensions/ disagreements in the community
  • Reinforcing the power structure in the community by validating and providing resources skills and legitimacy to local elites- often English speaking, educated at expense of marginalized
  • Only a few community members (privileged members) have access to GSL activities
  • No significant impact on community (i.e. students leave feeling great, life goes on)
  • Damage relationships between local organizations and communities
  • Break up marriages in communities
Posted in Community Effects, Evaluation, Global Service-Learning, International Service-Learning, Service-Learning, Smart Philanthropy | Leave a comment

Can critical global engagement be to colonialism in international development what service-learning is to charity in community development? Thoughts from IARSLCE 2012

By Nadia De Leon

What does quality engagement across cultural differences, locally and abroad, look like for faculty and students in American universities? After participating in many inspiring discussions at this year’s IARSCLE, two words I have often utilized before in other educational contexts stand out to me as answers to the question of quality: responsible and responsive. It seems we are doing a much better job at ensuring our students learn from the experience, than at creating positive change in the communities we work with. The terms colleagues shared as having heard from disgruntled community partners when describing SL faculty went from self-centered to student-obsessed. Someone else shared the words of a community partner who once asked, “wouldn’t it be great if Mexican students could also go to the U.S. and help you solve your problems!”… a reminder, about hell and good intentions.

Critically reflective practitioners and scholars have long questioned our exercising the privilege of visiting other countries in search of learning opportunities for our students. They have also questioned the arrogance that makes us all think a group of students (with limited knowledge of a particular communities’ history, context, or challenges) can actually make a difference. Participants at the dinner to discuss Global Service-Learning hosted by Maryland Campus Compact spoke from experience when they engaged in that questioning of assumptions. It was inspiring to hear such self-problematization. It gave me courage and comfort to be surrounded by other nonconformist professionals devising better alternatives.

Developments in the field of service-learning and community engagement problematized, and continue to challenge, traditional forms of service based on charity as non-efficient (if not harmful) and unbalanced (if not disempowering). Service-learning approaches have also offered reciprocity, capacity building, and true partnerships (in which communities self-determine and evaluate needs and solutions), as ways to improve the effectiveness of community development, and counterbalance unequal relations of power and privilege. How well does the same approach fare when applied to international/intercultural work? What else is important?

Unfortunately, those with the opportunity to dedicate time to aid in solving the problems of minority and marginalized individuals and regions, often come from the same groups (nations, social class, race) that created and sustained the circumstances that sprung such problems to start with. Whether international/intercultural community work is just another form of colonialism (or assimilation!) is an important question to ask ourselves. Fostering awareness of the wider context of which we are a part of is also critical. Being born into, coming from, and exercising the privileges of whatever groups we happen to belong to comes with unshedable roles and identities that will inevitably tint how others perceive us, how effective we can be, and how solutions that address root issues must be built. Reflection on this awareness must inform our praxis.

In my notes from the meeting, three interrelated lines of ethical and practical suggestions to problematize colonialism in international/intercultural development emerged.

  • Relationships: We must invest in and strive for long-term partnerships. We must build organizational and personal relationships grounded on what I like to call deep reciprocity – that is, not just being of benefit to each other, but learning from one another. Such relationships are based on solidarity among equals and are conducted in ways that uphold dignity for all involved.
  • Context: Participants must take the time to learn about the global, economic, cultural, social, historical, and political context in which they are themselves entangled (by virtue of their own positionality and heritage, that of their partners, and that of the issues being addressed).
  • Community: Community partners’ voices must be sought and amplified. The positive impact on the community must be maximized, and never be relegated to a secondary role following student learning. The knowledge and expertise of the community members and partners must be valued and appreciated as indispensable. We must seek to be able to remunerate partners for their shared wisdom and incurred expenses of time and effort.

More concrete suggestions as to how to help each other achieve such standards were also offered. They were largely focused on ways of sharing, collaborating, and publishing about best practices and emerging practices, as well as theorizing on principles and approaches. This Building a Better World Forum for Global Service-Learning is an already existing platform that can help us move forward with many of those steps. I am glad to join in the conversation!


Nadia De Leon, Community Engagement Coordinator at the ALIVE Center for Community Partnerships at Western Kentucky University and doctoral student in educational leadership, and was honored to receive a 2010 WKU International Reach Award and a 2011 Women of Achievement Award in the arts category. She directs multicultural programs at her institution and in her community, and teaches a variety of diversity related undergraduate courses. She is also a 2012-2013 PAGE fellow for Imagining America.

Posted in Community Effects, Development, Global Service-Learning, International Service-Learning | Leave a comment

Conferences Past, Community-Building Forward: Critical, Concerned, Applied, and Open

October is an exciting month for the Building a Better World Forum, as we are building on insights and relationships from the 2012 International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement (IARSLCE) and Intercultural Horizons conferences. Additionally, we are pleased to welcome Annie Wendel, a Providence College Senior (Public Service), as Social Media Manager. Annie, who recently returned from a semester in South Africa followed by an immersion experience in the Solomon Islands, is deeply concerned with this work and is looking forward to helping facilitate our conversations.

The recent surge of conference-going forced us to more systematically structure some of our thinking and consider how we will all continue discussion in the months to come.Two related PowerPoint presentations are available here: Several BBW Forum contributors presented one of the pre-conferences at IARSLCE, Research Driving Better Design, Practice, Evaluation, and Assessment in Global and Immersive Service-Learning, while the Forum co-founders presented some of the components in their forthcoming book at Intercultural Horizons.

Through these conference conversations, other contributors have come forward, including Imagining America Fellow and Western Kentucky University Community Engagement Coordinator Nadia DeLeon, who is contributing a post on colonialism, charity, and development that we will run on Wednesday. We are also looking forward to compiling some of the conversations developed at these conferences to facilitate movement toward global service-learning standards of best practice. That process will begin later this month, when we’ll also feature some of the incredible programs we’ve learned about through these conversations. In the meantime, please send any guest blog ideas or topic requests to buildingbetterworld(at)gmail(dot)com, or simply comment below.

Posted in Global Service-Learning, International Service-Learning, Research | Leave a comment

Are International Service-Learning Projects Sustainable? Where is the focus on the community?

By Nora Reynolds

I come to this work as a practitioner- as a founding member and vice president of an international non-profit organization (

In 2002, as a 21 year old recent college graduate, I traveled to rural Nicaragua with a group of ten friends and ended up starting an organization that has now raised over $400,000, built 13 community water systems, and employs two full time staff members as well as several contractors in Nicaragua.

I come to this work both as a vice president of this non-profit and as a former university administrator who helps to facilitate international service-learning experiences for university engineering students.

Through this partnership, over 150 engineering faculty members and students have traveled to rural Nicaragua to work on various types of engineering projects (water supply system design, microhydro electrification, telehealth, and household filtration). 

I come to this work, now, as a doctoral student (and aspiring researcher) who when faced with that daunting question of a dissertation topic finally settled on the topic that “really keeps me up at night”.

After working in this rural municipality of Nicaragua for the past ten years, have we “helped”? What are the outcomes of all of this work? Are the projects sustainable? What does the “community” think about the projects and the partnership with the university? How much do we even focus on these questions in our collective work? What is the community’s perspective of the projects and partnership?

Why these questions matter: Is it win-win?

Service-learning (SL) and international service-learning (ISL) are increasing in institutions of higher education (Butin, 2006; Campus Compact 2011). ISL, especially with engineering, often engages students in development interventions (Crabtree, 2008)- such as building a water system. International development work, which boasts its own complicated and problematic history, documents numerous failed and unsustainable projects. It is easy to find communities littered with broken water systems that have small trees growing out of broken pipes. Pipes burst, which happens all the time, but maintenance work was never part of the project plan. [Check out this TED talk by the former president of Engineers Without Borders-Canada about embracing and learning from failure in international development projects].

The participation, contributions, and ownership of the community in which service takes place in development projects is crucial since “the failure of many community development programmes can be traced back to neglecting the use of local skills, experience, and expertise of the local communities” (Ansari, Phillips, & Zwi, 2002, p. 156). [See blog post I wrote for Water for Waslala with several examples of failed projects resulting from a lack of communication with the community].

Understanding the tormented history of development projects around the globe and understanding that ISL engages students in development interventions, it is critically important to explore the impact of ISL projects not only on student learning which has received ample attention, but also on the communities to which good is “being done”. Others have noted the degree to which the service part of service-learning has received short shrift; Butin (2006) argues that “for all human, fiscal, and institutional resources devoted to SL across higher education, there are, in fact, very minimal on-the-ground changes in the academy, in local communities, and in society more generally” (p. 491).

What do we “know”?

Over the past two decades, the research on SL has grown substantially. There is now extensive literature that documents positive student outcomes related to participation in SL & ISL (Plater, 2011; Celio, Durlak, & Dymnicki, 2011; Camacho, 2004; Hartman, 2008; Kiely, 2004). Despite mounting evidence of student outcomes from participation in SL and ISL experiences, service-learning research focused on the community remains sparse (Cruz & Giles, 2000; Crabtree, 2008).

The limited SL research that does focus on the community explores topics such as:

  • The community’s views of the students or the university (Vernon & Ward, 1999; Miron & Moley, 2006; d’Arlach, Sanchez, & Feuer, 2009).
  • Community organization motivations for involvement in SL (Basinger & Bartholomew, Bell & Carlson, 2009; Worrall, 2007; Sandy & Holland, 2006)
  • Satisfaction with student volunteers, the project or the partnership (Basinger & Bartholomew, 2006; Ferrari & Worrall, 2000; Gray, Ondaajte, Fricker, & Geschwind, 2000; Edwards, Mooney, & Heald, 2001; Schmidt & Robby, 2002; Miron & Moley, 2006; Irie, Daniel, Cheplick, & Phillips, 2010).
  • Positive outcomes from the community organization’s perspective (Schmidt & Robby, 2002; Edwards, Mooney, & Heald, 2001; Blouin & Perry, 2009; Vernon & Ward, 1999; Irie, Daniel, Cheplick, & Phillips, 2010)
  • Challenges and costs for the community organization (Blouin & Perry, 2009; Vernon & Ward, 1999; Stoecker & Tyron, 2009; Irie, Daniel, Cheplick, & Phillips, 2010)

Although the research is making progress in understanding the perspective of the community on SL, nearly all of the studies focus on domestic SL and most incorporate only the perspective of the community organization or partner and omit the voices and perspectives of the community members (see d’Arlach, Sanchez, & Feuer, 2009 for exception). Research focused on the impact on communities should include the wide range of perspectives that compose the community- participants, organization leaders, residents, and others (Cuban & Anderson, 2007). Particularly with ISL that engages engineering students, topics related to the community’s perspective connect to the sustainability of projects that are implemented through the ISL partnership.

Bringing the community to the center of the conversation: Let’s hear many voices

The gap in the existing literature described above points to the need for work that incorporates many voices from the community (in addition to the representative of the community organization) in international SL partnerships. For my dissertation I am embarking on an exploratory study that focuses on the community perspective in the engineering ISL partnership that I have worked with for the past ten years.

Hesitant at first about my existing role in partnership and relationships with both university and community partners, I concluded that my involvement over the past ten years allows me to adopt a participatory orientation where my colleagues of many years are now my research collaborators. During the formulation of my research proposal, continued communication with university faculty/ administrators and non-profit leaders in Nicaragua has continued to shape and re-shape the research questions, research plan, and goals and objectives of this project. Additionally, my ten years working in this partnership and this region of Nicaragua (along with the language skills and trust developed along the way) will serve as a foundation to include the voices not just of community organization leaders, but also village leaders and residents.

We (my research collaborators in the university and the community) hope that this study can inform ways to improve the planning, design, and implementation of the projects and this partnership.  We also hope that it serves to bring attention to the importance of the community perspective in the planning of ISL partnerships more generally and serves as an example of how to use a participatory orientation to explore these research topics. Long-term, we hope to use this exploratory study to inform the development of surveys and measurement tools for future studies related to ISL project and partnership planning and implementation.


Nora Pillard Reynolds is the Vice President of Water for Waslala and a PhD Candidate in Urban Education at Temple University. She is currently working on her dissertation entitled “Is International Service-Learning Win-Win?: A Case Study of an Engineering Service-Learning Partnership.”


Ansari, W., Phillips, C.J., & Zwi, A.B. (2002). Narrowing the gap between academic professional wisdom and community lay knowledge: perceptions from partnerships. Public Health, 116, 151-159.

Basinger, N. & Bartholomew, K. (2006). Service-learning in nonprofit organizations: Motivations, expectations, and outcomes. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Spring, pp. 15-26.

Bell, S., & Carlson, R. (2009). Motivations of community organizations for service learning. In R. Stoecker & E. Tryon (Eds.), The Unheard Voices: Community Organizations and Service Learning (pp.19-37). Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Blouin, D.D., & Perry, E.M. (2009). Whom does service learning really serve? Community-based organizations’ perspectives on service learning. Teaching Sociology, 37, 120-135.

Butin, D. (2006). The limits of service-learning in higher education. The Review of Higher Education, 29(4), 473-498.

Camacho, M. (2004). Power and privilege: Community service learning in Tijuana. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Summer, pp. 31-42.

Campus Compact (2011). Deepening the roots of civic engagement. 2011 Annual Membership Survey. Available at:

Celio, C.I., Durlak, J., & Dymnicki, A. (2011). A Meta-analysis of the imapct of service-learning on students. Journal of Experiential Education, 34(2), 164-181.

Crabtree, R. (2008). Theoretical foundations for international service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning Fall, pp. 18-36.

Cruz, N. & Giles, D. (2000). Where’s the community in service-learning research? Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Fall, pp. 28-34.

Cuban, S. & Anderson, J. (2007. Where’s the justice in service-learning? Institutionalizing service-learning from a social justice perspective at a Jesuit university. Equity & Excellence in Education, 40, pp. 144-155.

d’Arlach, L., Sanchez, B., & Feuer, R. (Fall 2009). Voices from the community: A case for reciprocity in service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, pp. 5-16.

Edwards, B., Mooney, L., & Heald, C. (2001). Who is being served? The impact of student volunteering on local community organizations. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 30, pp. 444- 461.

Ferrari, J. & Worrall, L. (2000). Assessments by community agencies: How “the other side” sees service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Fall, pp. 35-40.

Gray, M., Ondaatje, E., Fricker, R., & Geschwind, S. (2000). Assessing service-learning: Results for a survey of Learn and Serve America, Higher Education. Change, 32(2), 30-39.

Hartman, E. (2008). Educating for global citizenship through service-learning: A theoretical account and curricular evaluation. Dissertation.

Irie, E., Daniel, C., Cheplick, T., & Phillips, A. (2010). The worth of what they do: The impact of short-term immersive Jewish service-learning on host communities. A report for Repair the World by BTW Consulting.

Kiely, R. (2004). A chameleon with a complex: Searching for transformation in international service-learning. Michigan Journal for Community Service Learning, Spring, pp. 5-20.

Miron, D. & Moley, B. (2006). Community agency voice and benefit in service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Spring, pp. 27-37.

Plater, W. (2011). The Context for International Service Learning. In Bringle, R. Hatcher, J., Jones, S., Eds. (2011). International Service Learning: Conceptual Frameworks and Research (IUPUI Series on Service Learning Research), Stylus Publishing: Sterling, VA.

Sandy, M. & Holland, B. (2006). Different worlds and common ground: Community partner perspectives on campus-community partnerships. Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning, Fall, pp. 30-43.

Schmidt, A. & Robby, M. (2002). What’s the value of service-learning to the community? Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Fall, pp. 27-33.

Stoecker, R. & Tryon, E. (2009). The Unheard Voices: Community Organizations and Service Learning, Temple University Press: Philadelphia.

Vernon, A. & Ward, K. (1999). Campus and community partnerships: Assessing impacts and strengthening connections. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 6, pp. 30-37.

Worrall, L., (2007). Asking the community: A case study of community partner perspectives. Michigan Journal for Community Service Learning, Fall, pp. 5-17.

Posted in Community Effects, Development, Evaluation, Global Service-Learning, International Service-Learning, Reflections from the Field, Research | Leave a comment

Educating for Global Citizenship: What do we know? What can we show? Where are we going?

By Eric Hartman

A student entered my office and shared that she broke down in tears at the shopping mall. The tears flowed because she connected with children in Bolivia, she briefly made a difference in their lives, and every day since she returned home she wanted to do something to continue to make a difference. But she had no idea where to start. In the language of the service-learning community, she felt profound values and commitment shifts but she lacked the knowledge, skills, and efficacy to make a global difference. I wondered if it was possible to make that difference – and I wondered what precisely universities intended when they claimed to “create global citizens” and “educate for global citizenship.” Thus my dissertation focused on:

    • What is global citizenship?
    • How might we educate for it?
    • How might we know whether we are succeeding?

I came at this work with a service-learning background, and I was working at the time at the nexus of a nonprofit-university partnership that encouraged global service-learning. The focus therefore became education for global citizenship through global service-learning. I proceeded in several stages, though they were often simultaneous:

  1. I adapted domestic civic engagement measures (Myers-Lipton, 1998) to the global context and employed a pre- / post- on global service-learning students to see whether they were increasing in global civic engagement, efficacy, and awareness in a manner that paralleled domestic students’ experiences. They were not.
  2. I dove into the theoretical articulations of global citizenship to better understand that literature (Appiah, 2006; Carter, 2001; Delanty, 2000; Dower and Williams, 2002; Falk, 2000; Heater, 2002; Held, 2002; Nussbaum, 1996, 1997; Singer 2002).
  3. I conducted interviews with people who identify as global citizens to develop an en vivo sense of how global citizens define themselves.
  4. I researched global civil society in theory and practice, better understanding the role it must play in any conception of agency that transcends the bordered state (Keane, 2003; Cohen and Arato, 2004; Falk, 2002).
  5. Drawing on the reflective practice suggested in the service-learning literature (Eyler and Giles, 1999), and working collaboratively with several colleagues (now co-authors), we developed a six-credit short-term immersion course model that integrates 3 credits of conventional academic study with 3 additional credits of systematic, deliberate, reflective learning about community-driven service, intercultural understanding, and global citizenship.
  6. We trained faculty members at a partner institution on integrating that pedagogy and course model. The faculty members led summer courses to the same destinations as had been the case in #1 above.
  7. I again examined pre- and post- civic engagement scores. This time students showed statistically significant positive movement on self-reported global civic efficacy and awareness.

The scales to which they responded:

The Global Awareness and Efficacy Scale, which had a Cronbach Alpha of .83 (indicating the prompts measure similar things; statistically speaking, the prompts ‘hang together’ well), consisted of the following items, while possible responses included strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, or strongly disagree:

  • I identify with being part of a global community.
  • I understand how actions in my local community may affect others around the world.
  • I am aware of actions I can take to improve the global community.
  • I feel I have the ability to make a difference in the global community.
  • I will try to find a way to make a positive difference in the community.

The Global Civic Engagement Scale, which had a Cronbach Alpha of .81, consisted of the following items after the prompt: “How often do you/ How often do you plan to,” with possible responses including never, not very often, sometimes, very often, and always.

  • Write or email newspapers or organizations to voice your views on an issue.
  • Stay updated on international news.
  • Vote.
  • Learn as much as possible about candidates or ballot questions before voting.
  • Discuss international issues with family members or friends.

A colleague recently asked me why this was never published. That is an excellent question. I did submit it once and received a suggestion to revise. (The dissertation is available in full online). And then, as I directed a growing nonprofit organization that was training faculty on this pedagogy and engaging in community-driven development around the world, I forgot all about it. I’ve written other, highly related pieces since then, which I’m going to share a bit about below. Now that I’m a full-time faculty member, I’m also going to resubmit this year. In any case, highly related piece #1 is a chapter recently co-authored with Richard Kiely. It moves further to integrate critical perspectives and student voice in a conception of global engagement. First we review the literature to demonstrate:

(1) citizenship theorizing in service-learning is premised on state-centric assumptions; (2) global citizenship conceptualizations advanced to date have been nonexistent or insufficient; (3) global service-learning must acknowledge its position in the frequently negative history of international development; (4) there is a deliberate effort within service-learning to move toward critical service-learning; (5) juxtaposing service-learning and neoliberalism calls attention to the question of ethical global engagement in the context of decreasing state and increasing market power; and (6) service-learning is at its core continuously reflective, questioning, and therefore antifoundational (Butin, 2007; Hartman, 2008; Kiely & Hartman, 2007). Additionally, several compelling critiques of programmatically and methodologically weak versions of international service-learning have emerged from students (Zemach-Bersin, 2008), faculty (Madsen-Camacho, 2004), and development workers-turned bloggers (Holligurl, 2008), explicitly targeting imbalances of power and privilege in global service-learning programming.

We then, “point explicitly to a weakness attributable to the global service-learning field (and much of the academy) as a whole: conceptualizations have been foisted down from above, rather than developed through grounded theory, ethnography, and practice (Crabtree, 2008; Hartman, 2008; Kiely, 2010; Plater et al, 2009). As a matter of theory and practice, community service-learning, community-university engagement, and popular educational models explicitly value knowledge developed through interaction and dialogue.”

We therefore,

“draw on data from three distinct sources (Kiely & Hartman, 2004; 2007, Hartman, 2008). We have one set of semi-structured, ongoing, qualitative interviews conducted with a set of students who self-initiated a service-learning partnership between a Tanzanian community and a large Research 1 University in the American South. Second, we have a set of semi-structured interviews conducted with a group of students representing a large Research 1 University in the Northeast following their participation in a global service-learning course in Bolivia. Finally, we draw on a multi-methods study of global service-learning programming with more than 160 students in diverse courses at diverse locations (Kiely & Hartman, 2004; 2007).”

Our efforts lead to an articulation of critical global engagement:

Critical global engagement takes as a contingent yet firmly held truth that all humans are equally deserving of common dignity. Critical global engagement recognizes the vast diversity of truth systems that exist in the world, and the possibility – indeed the certainty – that we will continue to more deeply understand and revise our sense of what it means to be fully human. Critical globally-engaged pioneers (we borrow this terminology from Richard Falk (2000), who recognizes global citizens as being on a journey to an as-yet-unimagined tomorrow) understand the arrogance involved in ‘global thinking’ (Esteva & Prakash, 1997) and therefore approach knowledge and action with deep humility. As pioneers committed to the notion of equal human dignity, however, they will move to action in ways consistent with affirmative postmodernists (Yappa, 1996), who recognize possibility for just action in specific situations and commitments.

The entirety of the chapter, quoted at length above, will be available in: Hartman, E. and Kiely, R. (2013). Interrogating Global Citizenship. In M. Johnson and P. M. Green (Eds.), Crossing boundaries: Tension and transformation in international service-learning. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing.

The book project, nearing completion, will integrate the insights mentioned here as well as Richard’s considerable work with adult learning theory, intercultural learning, and our collective work with our colleagues Jessica Friedrichs and Christopher Boettcher on reflective practice, integrating learning outcomes, community-driven service and development, and – in a phrase – critically reflective global service-learning practice.


Eric Hartman is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Global Studies at Providence College. He is  the editor of this site and lead author for Building a Better World: The Pedagogy and Practice of Global Service-Learning. He has taught service-learning courses or led co-curricular programs in Bolivia, Ghana, Jamaica, The Navajo Nation, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Peru, and Tanzania. He is currently focusing on community partnerships in Providence, RI.    


Appiah, K. A. (2006). The Case for Contamination. The New York Times Magazine. 1 Jan. p.30.

Butin, D. (2007). Justice learning: Service-learning as justice oriented education. Equity and Excellence in Education, 40, 1 – 7.

Carter, A. (2001). The Politcal Theory of Global Citizenship. New York: Routledge.

Crabtree, R. (2008). Theoretical foundations for international service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service, 15(1), 18-36.

Donnelly, J. (2003). Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. United States of America: Cornell University Press.

Dower, N. and Williams, J. eds. (2002). Global Citizenship: A Critical Introduction 1st edition by Dower, Nigel published by Routledge Paperback. New York: Routledge.

Escobar, A. (1994). Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Esteva, G. and Prakash, M.S. (1996). From Global Thinking to Local Thinking. In Rahnema, M. and Bawtree, V. eds. The Post-Development Reader. New York: Zed Books, 1997.

Eyler, J., and D.E. Giles, Jr. (1999). Where’s the Learning in Service-Learning? San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

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