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Although values and attitudes are more easily shaped at an earlier age, service learning at the university level provides the opportunity to reinforce community service values and associate them as part of an overall quality approach to life. At this level individuals are making decisions about the directions their lives will take, and are likely to incorporate a service orientation as part of their life’s work if taught to do so through service learning opportunities and by the example of their mentors (Wilson, 1997).
Research Questions It would seem logical that the students who have engaged in service learning and who are willing to volunteer would be more open to considering careers in nonprofit organizations.
Therefore, the following research questions will be investigated:
RQ1: Does taking a service learning class have an impact on a student’s willingness to work for a nonprofit organization?
RQ2: Do students who have taken a service learning class have a more favorable opinion of career opportunities in a nonprofit organization?
RQ3: Do students who have taken a service learning class have different career values than students who have not?
RQ4: Do students who have taken a service learning class have different personal values than students who have not?
RQ5: Do students who have taken a service learning class have a different sense of giving back to society than students who did not?
RQ6: Does the quality of the service learning experience influence the likelihood of a student to consider a career in a nonprofit organization?
Methodology Two groups of participants were used in this study: students taking public relations, communication, advertising or journalism related courses that did not offer a service learning component, and communication students taking public relations, communication, advertising or journalism related courses that did offer a service learning component. Both public and private colleges and universities in the major geographic regions of the United States were contacted to take part in the study..
Survey Development: The service learning student survey consisted of several multi-item dimensions. An amended multi-item dimensions was then developed for the non-service learning students. Statements were built using a 5-point Likert type scale. Participants were asked to indicate the extent to which they endorsed each statement (1=strongly disagree, 191 5=strongly agree) for all questions except the first question about the amount of volunteer experience they had, and any demographic information questions.
A review of the literature on service-learning resulted in the development of the following dimensions.: 1) Appreciation: This dimension was included only on the service learning survey as it specifically asked students about their service learning experience. It measured the level of appreciation a student felt during their service learning experience.
Examples include, “My supervisor thanked me for my work,” and “People at the organization treated me with respect”; 2) Personal values: Included on both surveys, students were asked to indicate the importance of “Helping others who are in difficulty,” or “Becoming involved in programs to clean up the environment.”; 3) Career values.
Included on both surveys, this dimension was designed to determine what students value in a career, such as, “High income potential,” “Creativity and initiative,” or “Flexible work hours.” ; 4) Willingness to work for a nonprofit. Included on both surveys, students were asked to indicate their agreement with statements such as, “I believe that I would find it rewarding to work for a nonprofit organization after graduation,” and for the service learning group specifically, “My service learning project has helped me consider working for a nonprofit organization as a career choice after graduation.”; 5) Volunteerism and social responsibility. This was included on both surveys. Statements included, “I believe individuals have a responsibility to give back to society,” and “people should donate time to nonprofit organizations that work to better society.”; 6) Skills and learning. Included only on the survey given to students engaged in service learning. These statements were meant to determine if students felt that their service learning experience reinforced what they learned in the classroom, while preparing for a career. Statements included, “The work I did at the nonprofit organization helped improve my career skills,” and “I improved my people skills during my service learning experience.” ; 7) Service learning students were also asked two questions about their potential voluntary involvement in a future service learning class: “Knowing that service learning was a part of this class made the class more appealing to me,” and “If I had the opportunity, I would choose to take another class that had service learning in it.” Site Selections and Participants The National Communication Association (NCA) web site provided a list of colleges and universities that had communication majors and service learning programs called the “Guide to College and University Service Learning Programs.” After contacting institutions it was found that many schools were not appropriate for inclusion in the study.
These reasons included: not currently offering service learning courses; programs and courses had been dropped permanently; service learning was defined differently, and therefore, conceptually the classroom experience was different from the study’s premise;
refusal to participate in the survey; timing of the survey made it difficult to participate; and failure to respond to several attempts to contact. Eight schools from across the country were included in the final list, culled from the list of 384 on the NCA website some public and some private.
Chairpersons of communication-related departments were contacted at these schools and were asked to identify particular courses and instructors involved in service 192 learning. Only five of the eight schools were available to assist. A total of 86 hard copy surveys were mailed directly to the instructors at these four schools to administer to a total of five different class groups. Sixty-three surveys total were returned via the mail, however, two students opted out of the survey resulting in a total of 61 completed surveys.
Timing of the survey, at the end of the semester, was important, so that students would be able to reflect on a complete service learning experience when completing the survey.
Faculty members at a university in the mid-Atlantic region were contacted and agreed to administer the non-service learning survey to students. A total of 98 surveys were passed out to six different class groups and 98 surveys were returned.
Analysis Because the t test statistic, which would be used to analyze the data, has been found to be robust when the number of participants in the first group is equal to the number of participants in the second group (n1 = n2) it was important to equalize the number of surveys in each group. In order to achieve this, surveys from the non-service learning group where the major was marked “undecided” were dropped., as were those who had previously taken a service learning course. A table of random numbers was used to bring the number of surveys in the non-service learning group down to 61, equaling that of the service learning group. Sixty-one undergraduate communication students were used in each group (for a total of 122).
Data Analysis Correlations were run on each group of students. Additionally regressions and t tests were used to analyze the data.
Results The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of taking a service learning class on a student’s willingness to work for a nonprofit organization.
Statistical Analysis of Demographics: Service learning group. A total of 86 hard copy surveys were mailed, which resulted in a 73% response rate (n = 63).. The respondent sample was predominantly female (88.5%) with 57.4% white/Caucasian and a proportional split of other racial/ethnic backgrounds; 95.1% of the respondents were senior level undergraduate students. Non-service learning group. Ninety-eight hard copy surveys were distributed to professors at Towson University to administer in their classes, which resulted in a 100% response rate (n = 98). After the surveys were returned, those surveys where the respondent had marked “undecided” as their major, or something other than a mass communication, public relations, advertising, journalism or another mass communication related major were excluded. Students in the non-service learning group who had previously taken a service learning course were also dropped. Because there were still an uneven number of surveys, a table of random numbers was used to bring the number of surveys between the two groups down to n = 61, equaling that of the service learning group.
The respondent sample was predominantly female for the non-service learning group (88.5%) with 82% white/Caucasian; 39.9% of the respondents were senior level 193 undergraduate students, while 29.5% were both junior and sophomore level undergraduates.
Complete respondent demographic information is provided in Appendix A. All majors were within the communication discipline(see Appendix B).
Findings by Research Question: “Does taking a service learning class have an impact on a student’s willingness to work for a nonprofit organization?” t tests were performed to see if the two groups differed on the scores of career choice.
No significant differences were found as t (120) =.84, p.05; mean = 2.95.
The second research question examined if students who have taken a service learning class have a more favorable opinion of career opportunities in a nonprofit organization than students who have not taken a service learning class. t tests were performed to see if the two groups differed on these scores. No significant differences were found as t (120) =.80, p.05; mean = 13.54 Research question number three asked if students who have taken a service learning class have different career values than students who have not taken a service learning class.
t tests were performed to see if the two groups differed, and no significant differences were found as t (120) = 1.07, p.05; mean = 36.80.
Research question number four investigated if students who have taken a service learning class have different personal values than students who have not taken a service learning class. t tests were performed to see if the two groups differed on these scores, and a significant difference was found as t (120) = 2.35, p.020. The service learning group scored higher (mean = 42.16).
Research question five asked if students who have taken a service learning class have a different sense of giving back to society than students who have not taken a service learning class. t tests were performed to see if the two groups differed on these scores, and there was again a significant difference as t (120) = 3.34, p.001. The service learning group scored higher (mean = 20.06).
The final research question examined if the quality of the service learning experience influenced the likelihood of a student to consider a career with a nonprofit organization. A regression was performed using the eight “appreciation” questions on the survey as the independent variables and the question about the impact of the service learning experience on their career plans after graduation. The regression was significant, F (120) = 8.035; p.01; df = 60. (see Table 1). The ten appreciation items on the service learning survey were used to create an index of the quality of experience. This index was examined, and had a Cronbach’s alpha of.88 as shown in Table 2.
.876.883 8 Correlations In addition to the regression that was performed, correlations showed that if students felt appreciated during their service learning experience, they also felt that the service learning experience helped them improve their career skills (r =.59**, p.01) and people skills (r =.48**, p.01), and would consider taking a service learning class again (r =.39**, p.01). See Appendix C.
And while the primary research questions were answered above, other information was gleaned through the analysis of correlations that were performed separately on both the service learning and non-service learning group. The following tables illustrate some of the results that were produced. In the service learning group, areas such as leadership, and skills and learning, were correlated with many of the major dimensions.
Appendix D shows that in the service learning group, there is a strong correlation between several main areas: (1) interest in working for a nonprofit organization, (2) student’s having positive feelings about social responsibility, (3) student’s feelings about whether their service learning experience helped improve their skills and learning, (4) the student’s willingness to take another service learning class, and (5) two specific career values (leadership and flexible work hours). These correlations not only show support for the t tests that show service learning 195 students place a high importance on social responsibility (research question five), but what this indicates is that although these students would not plan to go in to a career at a nonprofit after graduation, they find leadership potential and things like flexible work hours to be important.
They also think that nonprofit organizations are important, serve an important purpose in society and should be supported. In addition, these correlations also indicate that if the students had a positive service learning experience that helped them improve their career skills, people skills, and class work, they would be more likely to sign up for another service learning class. This reinforces the previously mentioned correlations regarding appreciation during the service learning experience.
Discussion The findings of this study offer potential ways to enhance teaching and learning through service learning, as well as to understand how the combined activities that are part of service learning can reinforce the principles taught in communication and public relations classes, while growing a socially responsible public relations workforce.