Students’ Perceptions of Service-Learning in an Advanced Research Course




Service-learning, engaged teaching, social work, research competency, metacognition


Social work students are often anxious, apathetic, or resistant to learning research knowledge and skills. They may view research courses as irrelevant and disconnected from social work practice. Studies suggest that service-learning improves learning outcomes in social work research courses, but less is known about the processes through which these outcomes are achieved. This study explored the perceptions of 70 Masters-level social work students enrolled in an advanced research course that included a pro bono program evaluation of a shelter serving homeless men. Content analysis of students’ narratives revealed three main themes. First, students perceived that they had changed their thinking about homelessness in positive ways. Second, students made connections between their research experience and the social work curriculum. Finally, an unanticipated theme of curriculum integration emerged. Critical reflection about a meaningful experience—an integral aspect of service-learning—supported students in developing metacognitive insight. This helped students to develop and apply social work research skills. The service-learning project supported students’ mastery of other social work competencies and improved their integrated practice abilities. Because this approach is effective in helping students to embrace research and integrate it with social work practice, application and evaluation of service-learning are recommended for social work education.

Author Biographies

Stacy M. Deck, Spalding University

Associate Professor, School of Social Work

Laneshia Conner, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Assistant Professor, School of Social Work

Shannon Cambron, Spalding University

Assistant Professor, School of Social Work


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