STEM and Service-Learning: Does Service-Learning Increase STEM Literacy?

Barbara Hayford, Sally Blomstrom, Buffany DeBoer


The importance of education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines is again a topic of discussion among policy makers and scientists, particularly given perceived declines in STEM performance by students in the U.S.  Service-learning has been used in innovative and creative ways to enhance learning in a variety of STEM-related courses. Improving STEM literacy is also a focal point of STEM education and has been explicitly linked to service-learning projects. Herein the authors review literature linking service-learning to academic achievement in STEM-related courses.  They then examine whether service-learning enhances STEM literacy in a STEM-centered communications course at an aeronautics engineering university and in two biology courses at a small rural college.  Despite early calls by researchers for improved rigor in the field of service-learning research, the literature review indicates that few studies over the past 15 years employed rigorous research techniques when examining whether service-learning affects academic achievement in STEM courses. Results of mixed-methods analyses showed that service-learning enhanced science literacy in the three STEM-related courses.  First, students scored significantly higher on a post-service survey of skills and content relative to the pre-survey survey at the aeronautics engineering university.  Second, students earned significantly higher grades in a written report of their service-learning project relative to a non-service-oriented project in the small rural college.  Third, students indicated through comments on evaluations and reflections that the service-learning projects enhanced the STEM content in the courses.


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