Putting Theory into Practice: Incorporating a Community Engagement Model into Online Pre-professional Courses in Legal Studies and Human Resources Management

Antoinette France-Harris, J.D., Christie H. Burton, Ed. D., Mara Mooney, J.D.


As part of community-engaged educational partnerships, students are paired with community members in instructor-focused activities linked to an academic curriculum.  Scholars widely agree that this type of approach can significantly improve the learning experience for students while simultaneously having a positive impact on the community.  As faculty in higher education implement this pedagogical tool, it is a natural progression for it to expand into online classrooms.  In particular, while there is a growing body of research related to community engagement in online healthcare and science-related fields, less research exists on the incorporation of community engagement in other types of online pre-professional courses.  This paper explores student perceptions in online pre-professional undergraduate courses in the legal studies and human resources fields in which community engagement projects were utilized.  These experiences should lead to a deeper understanding of the benefits and challenges of community-engaged online classrooms and give guidance for developing future projects.


community engagement; service learning; experiential learning; online learning; student perceptions; legal studies; paralegal studies; human resources; human resources management

Full Text:



Barker, D. (2004). The scholarship of engagement: a taxonomy of five emerging practices. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 9(2), 123-137.

Behar-Horenstein, L.S., Isaac, N., Southwell, C.N., Hudson-Vassell, M.E., Niu, L., Pratto, M., Roberts, K.W., Wingfield, R.J., Wolfgang, J.D., & Zafar, M.A. (2016). Promoting academic socialization through service learning experiences. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 28(2), 158-67. Retrieved Sept. 20, 2017 from http://www.isetl.org/ijtlhe.

Bernier, A. & Stenstrom, C. (2016). Moving from chance and “chemistry” to skills: Improving online student learning outcomes in small group collaboration. Education for Information, 32, 55-69.

Bossaller, J.S. (2016). Service learning as innovative pedagogy in online learning. Education for Information, 32, 35-53.

Bourelle, T. (2014). Adapting service-learning into the online technical communication classroom: A framework and model. Technical Communication Quarterly, 23, 247-264.

Boyatzis, R.E. (1998). Transforming qualitative data: Thematic analysis and code

development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Brail, S. (2013). Experiencing the city: Urban studies students and service learning. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 37(2), 241-256.

Brail, S. (2016). Quantifying the value of service-learning: A comparison of grade achievement between service-learning and non-service-learning students. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 28(2), 148-157.

Bringle, R.G., Hatcher J.G., & Jones, S.G. (2011), International service learning: Conceptual frameworks and research. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 17(2). Retrieved July 31, 2017 from https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mjcsl/3239521.0017.207/1.

Brown, R.E. (September 2001). The Process of community-building in distance learning classes. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2). Retrieved August 24, 2017 from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=72592EF8402CAA1FE7558C38E303F509?doi=

Butchey, D. (2014). Tools to make online students and community partners in a service learning project more “AT-EASE” – evidence from a finance class. Metropolitan Universities, 25(1), 125-146.

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. (2008). Carnegie selects colleges and universities for new elective community engagement classification. Retrieved July 3, 2017, from http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/newsroom/news-releases/carnegie-selects-colleges-universities-2015-community-engagement-classification/.

Chickering, A.W. & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and identity (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Cooks, L. & Scharrer, E. (Fall 2006). Assessing learning in community service learning: A social approach. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 44-55. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ843846.pdf.

Dailey-Hebert, A. & Donnelli, E. (2010). Service e-learning: Educating today’s learners for an unscripted future. International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 12, 216-227.

Feen-Calligan H. & Matthews, W.K. (2016). Pre-professional arts based service-learning in music education and art therapy. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 17(17). Retrieved September 15, 2017 from http://www.ijea.org/v17n17/.

Felton, P. & Clayton, P.H. (Winter 2011). Service learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 128, 75-84.

Furze, J., Black, L., Peck, K., & Jensen, G.M. (August 2011). Student perceptions of a community engagement experience. Physiother Theory Practice, 27(6), 411-421.

Glaser, B.G., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. Chicago: Aldine.Gruenwald, D. (2005). Foundations of place: A multi-disciplinary framework for place-conscious education, American Education Journal, 40, 619-654.

Helms, M.M., Rutti, R.M., Hervani, A.A., LaBonte, J., & Sarkarat, S. (2015). Implementing and evaluating online service learning projects. Journal of Education for Business, 90, 369-378.

Hervani, A.A., Helms, M.M., Rutti, R.M., LaBonte, J., & Sarkarat, S. (Spring 2015). Service learning projects in online courses: Delivery strategies. Journal of Learning in Higher Education, (11)1, 35-41.

Hoppes, H., Bender, D., & DeGrace, B.W. (Spring 2003). Service learning is a perfect fit for occupational and physical therapy education. Journal of Allied Health, 34(1), 47-50.

Jackson, D. (2016a). Re-conceptualising graduate employability: The importance of pre-professional identity. Higher Education Research & Development, 35(5), 925-939.

Jackson, D. (2016b). Developing pre-professional identity in undergraduates through work-integrated learning. The International Journal of Higher Education Research, 1-21.

Jenkins, A. & Sheehey, P. (2012). A checklist for implementing service-learning in higher education. Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship. Retrieved September 22, 2017 from http://jces.ua.edu/a-checklist-for-implementing-service-learning-in-higher-education/.

Kelly, S.P. & Miller, E.W. (2008). Education for service: Development of a service learning course, Journal of Physical Therapy Education, 22, 33-42.

Kuh, Kinzie, Buckley, Bridges, & Hayek, 2007. Piecing together the student success puzzle: Research, propositions, and recommendations. ASHE Higher Education Report (Vol. 32, No. 5). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lehman, R. & Conceicao, S. (2010). Creating a sense of presence in online teaching: How to “be there” for distance learners. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Lincoln, Y.S., & Guba, E.G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Lysne, S., Miller, B. and Bradley, K. (2013). Exploring Student Engagement in an Introductory Biology Course, Journal of College Science Teaching, 43(2), 14-19.

Marshall, C. & Rossman, G.B. (1995). Designing qualitative research. (2nd ed.). Thousand

Oaks, CA: Sage.

McGorry, S.Y. (2012). No significant difference in service learning online. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(4), 45-54.

McNall, M., Sturdevant Reed, C., Brown, R.E., & Allen, A. (March 2009). Brokering community-university engagement. Innovation in Higher Education, 33(5), 317-331.

McNiff, J. & Aicher, T.J. (2017). Understanding the challenges and opportunities associated with online learning: A scaffolding theory approach. Sport Management Education Journal, 11, 13-23.

Miles, M.B., & Huberman, A.M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Moore, C., Boyd, B.L. & Dooley, K.E. (Winter 2010). The effects of experiential learning with an emphasis on reflective writing on deep-level processing of leadership students. Journal of Leadership Education, 9(1), 36-52.

Murray, L.I., Plante, J.D., Cox T.D., & Owens T. (Fall 2015). Service learning: Creating opportunities to expand students’ worldviews. Journal of Learning in Higher Education, 11(2), 21-59.

Nielson, D. (2016). Facilitating service learning in the online technical classroom. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 46(2), 236-256.

Patton, M.Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods. (3rd ed.). Thousand

Oaks, CA: Sage.

Pelco, L.E., Ball, C.T., & Lockerman, K.S. (2014). Student growth from service-learning: A comparison of first-generation and non-first-generation college students. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 18(2), 49-66.

Prentice, M. & Robinson, G. (2010). Improving student learning outcomes with service learning. American Association of Community Colleges, 1-16.

Quaye, S.J. & Harper, S.R. (2015). Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations, Second Edition. New York, NY: Routledge.

Rovai, A.P. (April 2002). Building sense of community at a distance. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 3(1). Retrieved September 20, 2017 from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/79/153.

Ruona, W.E.A. (2005). Analyzing qualitative data. In R.A. Swanson & E.F. Holton, III

(Eds.), Research in organizations: foundations and methods of inquiry (pp. 233-263). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Sadera, W.A., Robertson, J., Song, L., & Midon, M.N. (June 2009). The role of community in online learning success. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(2). Retrieved July 31, 2017 from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol5no2/sadera_0609.pdf.

Sapp, D.A. & Crabtree, R.D. (2002). A laboratory in citizenship: Service learning in the technical communication classroom. Technical Communication Quarterly, 11(4), 411-431.

Schindler, V.P. (2014). Community engagement: Outcomes for occupational therapy students, faculty, and clients. Occupational Therapy International, 21(2), 71-80.

Sheafer, V. (Dec. 2014). Using service learning to teach classic learning theories. Psychology Journal, 11(2), 77-82.

Smith, S., Smith, C., Taylor-Smith, E., & Fotheringham, J. (2017). In search of graduate employability: An exploration of student identity. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 18(1), 15-24.

Song, L. Singleton, E.S., Hill J.R., & Koh, M.H. (2004) Improving online learning: Student perceptions of useful and challenging characteristics. Internet and Higher Education, 7(1), 59-70.

Stevenson, K.T. & Peterson, M.N. (2015). How experiential service-learning affects student perceptions of education in their careers and as a wildlife management activity. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 39(4), 732-737.

Tesch, R. (1990). Qualitative research: Analysis types and software tools. London: Falmer.

van Es, R. (2003). Teaching business communication ethics with controversial films. Journal

of Business Ethics, 17(16), 1817-1823.

Waldner, L.S., McGorry, S.Y., & Widener, M.C. (2012). E-Service-learning: The evolution of service-learning to engage a growing online student population. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 12(2), 123-150.

Zhao, J. & Zhang, X. (2017). The influence of field teaching practice on pre-service teachers’ professional identity: A mixed methods study. Frontiers in Psychology, 24(8). Retrieved September 22, 2017 from http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01264/full.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v23i2.1448

Copyright (c) 2019 Antoinette France-Harris, J.D., Christie H. Burton, Ed. D., Mara Mooney, J.D.