Technology and Service Leaning from Action to Reflection

Photo courtesy BK

Photo courtesy BK

In my last post, I began to talk about the five stages of Service Learning and how technology can be used to redefine this teaching practice. In this post I will continue with the final four stages of the process, with a focus on the reflection stage.

Now that the initial step has taken place and a community need has been identified, students  and teachers now take time to learn more about the topic and come up with a specific plan for action.

Preparation and Planning

This is a time to explore while also coming up with ideas for what type of action to take. Books, newspapers, magazines and other media play an important role in this process. These offer not only inspiration but also perspective, so students can begin to understand the issues at hand.  Technology can be used to examine primary source materials, or can be used for simulations.  Technology allows for students to step into the shoes of others and through these experiences, students become more familiar with the underlying problem which helps lead to plans for action.

During this stage, we also begin to identify and practice the skills needed to be successful.  One skill that is reinforced in this stage is interviewing, which encompasses so many fundamental skills.  Other skills that are developed through service learning are  creativity, active listening, collaboration, critical and inventive thinking and communication, which are all 21st century skills that are intrinsically related to technology.

Finally, the ultimate product of this stage is the action plan.  Having a clearly articulated action plan, with a timeline, assignment of roles and responsibilities of all individuals involved, is key to moving forward.   It is also important to keep in mind the students interests and talents, when coming up with a plan as this ensures continued motivation, engagement and ownership.

Taking Action Photo courtesy Stephen Thomson

Taking Action
Photo courtesy Stephen Thomson


With thorough preparation and planning, students develop a solid plan for action.  In choosing how to take action, it is important to ensure that the action has value, purpose and meaning, with plenty of room for student voice and choice.  There are four kinds of action: direct, indirect, advocacy and research.


A key part of the service learning experience is ongoing, guided reflection.   Reflection is where students make the connection with the action they are taking and their own learning, so that it becomes more than just an experience.  More often than not, reflection happens by putting pen to paper, however there are many powerful ways to reflect. Technology is a great way to differentiate this reflection, while also fostering reflective thinking.  Check out the links below for examples of this type of reflection:

Blogs – A web log or “blog”  is a place for journaling reflective thinking, kind of like a digital diary. The key feature of a blog, is that it can also be collaborative.  Students can receive feedback or ideas in the comments section.  Keeping everything in one place, can help students begin to see patterns emerge, facilitates building of future plans and emphasis impact that the action is having. Here are some examples: TamAmyKim Sa, Maidson

Podcast – There are a variety of multimedia tools that can be used to create audio or video reflections.  These can be from simple narrations to digital stories, that weave in music, videos and photos. Simple tools such as Voicethread  and Explain Everything can be used with younger students, while older students may find that imovie and garageband can be used to make these reflective pieces. Here are some examples: LinusKhan

Social Media – Micro-blogging is quickly becoming the reflective tool of choice for students with the use of web sites such as Twitter, Facebook or google+ to share brief thoughts and other media with a chosen group.  The advantage of this type of reflection is that it can be sent or updated by a variety of devices, from a variety of locations.  This really facilitates capturing feelings as they unfold, helping to capture those raw emotions as they are felt in the moment.  This is juxtaposed by blogs which are usually a summary of an experience, written after the fact with time and thoughtfulness.  Here are some examples: Joe

Wikis – A wiki is a collaborative space where groups of students can contribute their reflections.  It is much like a blog, however it is more collaborative in nature.

For more information on reflection, check out Javier Laung’s presentation “Using Technology in Reflective Activities.”


This is the final step in the service learning process.  It is a time for students to share what they have learned, how they learned and what they have accomplished. It is a form of intrinsic gratification in accomplishment while also being a way to solidify what they have learned. This demonstration can take many forms, it can be a skit or a play, art display, digital scrapbooks, podcasts, a website or wiki, TED style presentations, letters to the press, and more. The key is that this final demonstration encompasses work accomplished throughout the process.

There are many ways that technology can be used in this stage.  For example, students could demonstrate the results from their investigation and their action by  posting videos, blogs, or content to a wiki or website, then they could encourage local organizations and others to link to the postings as a way to share learning about the community and to gather a wide audience.

Final Thoughts on Service Learning

In his video Myths and Opportunities: Technology in the Classroom, Alan November challenges us to think about the emerging role of “student as contributor.”  In this video he encourages teachers to allow students to choose their own assignments and to connect them to authentic audiences.  Service Learning does just that, allowing room for student voice and choice while also drawing upon their own interests, skills and talents.  At the heart of Service Learning is purpose, ensuring intrinsic motivation as well.

For more information on the topic of literacy and service learning and for a list of books, you may want to read Cathy Berger Kaye’s article, Transforming Words into Action: Service Learning as a Teaching Strategy.

Technology and Service Learning

As we continue to integrate 21st skills into our curriculum and daily lessons, technology integration and service-learning are both strategies that can be used to engage youth in their education, connecting the learning that happens in the classroom to life. When we integrate service learning, we also ensure that this learning gives room for student voice and purpose.

Based on the principles of Service Learning as outlined by Cathryn Berger Kaye, there are five key stages: Investigation, Preparation and Planning, Action, Reflection, Demonstration. Technology can be used in each of these stages to help students connect their interests to the content. This bog post is dedicated to sharing some ideas on how technology and service learning can be used to achieve this. In this blog post I will focus on the first of these service learning steps, investigation. I will address the other steps in a future blog post.

courtesy alexkerhead

courtesy alexkerhead


There are two parts to this stage. The first part is investigation of the resources within the classroom, including human resources. A key part of this investigation is taking inventory of student’s interests, skills and talents. The second part is investigating community need. Once a community need is identified, this need is researched using Media, Interview, Survey and Observation (MISO). There are many tech tools that will help facilitate this research, here are some tools and examples of their use:

Media – There are many different types of media: digital, broadcast, print, etc. Currently for most of us, the internet is usually the first stop for investigation with media, however we should not just limit ourselves to simple google searches.

  • Maximize Social Media – This is quickly becoming a platform for investing needs and priorities in the community and related to different issues.
    • Trending hashtags on twitter. Use Twitter to see a live stream of what people are currently thinking about or taking action on. Go to “” and either type in key terms or see the topic trends that people are talking about.

    • Real time current events – Google Alerts can be set to learn about news related to your community and the particular issues you seek to impact. This tool allows you to choose keywords and let Google search for blogs and news articles that contain that keyword.

    • Get the most out of your search – Google scholar (research of periodicals, peer review sources, filter searchers) is an index for scholarly literature. Also the use of advanced search filters can help to focus content. If for example students want to search about the Vietnam war and they simply type that into the google search, likely they will find that their results are very one sided, from an American perspective. A simple way to get a different perspective, is to filter the search for articles written from Vietnam (or other countries). To learn more about advanced searches, check out this blog post from November Learning, Twelve Reasons to Teach Searching Techniques with Google Advanced Search… Even Before Using the Basic Search also check out this post from a fellow COETAILer in Bulgaria, Top Google Search strategies.

    Courtesy Frankie Roberto

    Courtesy Frankie Roberto

    Interview – Conducting interviews with community members and experts can provide very close, personal and focused perspective on a community need. There are many techniques that students can employ to prepare for interviews, including review of the interviewee’s resume, practice in note taking and active listening, etc. Here are some ideas for using tech tools to broaden this method.

  • Bringing experts into the classroom – Skype and google hangouts allows for opportunity to conduct interviews with experts, no matter their location. Students in Saigon, were able to interview Nirvan Mullick, the filmmaker responsible for creating the documentary “Caine’s Arcade.” While sitting in his home in Los Angeles, students interviewed Nirvan to learn more about what inspired him to make his film.

Survey – Sampling and surveys are a way to gather quantitative or social (opinion) data. In survey research, students select a sample of respondents and that are then given some sort of standardized questionnaire. There are various web based models that facilitate the distribution and collation of information collected in surveys.

  • Online surveys – Google forms are one such tool that is simple to use and there are so many ways that the collected information can be displayed. I just learned that you can layer information on maps. Using this tool for community mapping can be a powerful way for students to spot trends.
    • Collaborative hubs – Wikis, blogs, website, or other collaborative spaces are not only a good platform to host and manage surveys, but they can also be used to facilitate design investigation tools, allowing students to design the questions, methods, and strategies even when they are not able to meet in person.

    • Gathering data – Social Media and google plus is a good way to help you get the word out to a broader community.

    Courtesy Paisley Yorguk

    Courtesy Paisley Yorguk

    Observation – Again, tech tools allows for observations to occur remotely. It is best for students to get out into the “environment” but that is not always possible. There are also many tools that can be utilized to collect and assimilate data collected during this stage.

  • Google maps – Using placemarks as data points plotted on google maps, students can collect and display data that they have collected in their observations. For example, students can conduct a community walk with cameras in hand and a specific observation goal, and this data can be layered onto a google map. Here is an example of how students use google map tools to explore to what extent human construct has on the diversity and population of plant life.

  • Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) students can virtually explore areas that have been previously mapped. For example, if students are looking into the issue of plastics in the world’s oceans, they can make observations via the Marine Research Institute website.

In my next blog post I will address the remaining four steps of Service Learning.