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DH 1400 Dental Hygiene Theory II

Salt Lake Community College

April 22, 2020



Comparing the Effects of Service-Learning Versus Nonservice-Learning Project Experiences and Service Leadership Emergence and Meaning Schema Transformation


  1. Chen, R. S. Snell, and C.X. Wu


Service-learning (SL) is a popular teaching method that is implemented in many educational institutions.  It has also gained attention among researchers (Celio, Dulark, & Dymnicki, 2011).  Students who participate in SL projects ideally make a positive impact on their community while gaining academic understanding.  In this study, Chen, Snell, and Wu compared SL projects with nonSL projects in a course on strategic management at a Hong Kong-based university (2018).


The positive impact of SL has been established in previous studies (Celio et al., 2011).  Chen et al. sought to gain understanding about how and when the developmental effects of SL occur.  The hypothesized impact of SL projects as compared to nonSL projects was based on a complex model.

“Service leadership” and “meaning schema transformation” were the two positive development outcomes used to measure the efficacy of each type of project (Chen et al., 2018).  A core belief of service leadership is that “leadership is a service aimed at ethically satisfying the needs of self, others, groups, communities, systems, and environments” (Chen et al., 2018, p. 480).  The authors defined meaning schema transformation as “a richer and more complex understanding of themselves and the material that they are learning” (Chen et al., 2018, p. 481).

Chen et al. hypothesized that the factor that differentiated SL from nonSL projects, leading to an increase in the desirable outcomes, was project efficacy belief (2018).  They believed that the belief that their contributions could be truly valuable led students to develop greater service leadership emergence and meaning schema transformation.  Even if students did believe that their projects were effective, the authors suspected that students also needed adequate resources in order to succeed.  They examined the responsiveness of partner organization representatives (PORs) as a boundary condition for project efficacy belief.  They expected that POR responsiveness affected the extent to which project efficacy belief led to development outcomes.  POR responsiveness was defined as “the extent to which PORs are responsive to students’ requests for support, resources, and information that are necessary for project completion” (Chen et al., 2018, p. 475).  According to the hypothesized model, a project with high project efficacy belief was likely to lead to service leadership emergence and meaning schema transformation if it also had high POR responsiveness.

Chen et al. stated their hypotheses as follows:

The hypothesized model is summarized in Figure 1.

Hypothesis model

Figure 1. Hypothesized model. From Comparing the Effects of Service-Learning Versus Nonservice-Learning Project Experiences and Service Leadership Emergence and Meaning Schema Transformation (Chen et al., 2018, p. 480).


Undergraduate students enrolled in a particular strategic management course at a Hong Kong-based university were invited to participate in the study.  In this course, students were required to choose between the an SL and a nonSL section.  In total, the participants included 281 students in 10 SL sections and 210 students in 7 nonSL sections.  64.7 percent of the respondents were female.  The study population represented different majors, including accountancy (30.9 percent), marketing (30.9 percent), human resource management (14.2 percent), finance (13.8 percent), insurance management (5.8 percent), and general business management (0.7percent).  The remaining respondents were international exchange students.  Data were gathered using questionnaire surveys administered during class time.

Chen et al. used a three-wave design; wave 1 at the beginning of the semester, wave 2 mid-semester, and wave 3 at the end of the semester (2018).  The surveys were used to gather information on four factors: project efficacy belief, POR responsiveness, service leadership emergence, and meaning schema transformation.  The surveys also helped to gather information on external variables.  All the surveys were in English.  The survey in wave 1 identified some lurking variables.  Chen et al clarified that “[The survey] included an item about whether enrolling in a particular section was a student’s preferred choice, or was experienced as an imposition due to external factors, such as course schedule conflict, unavailability of places for his/her preferred sections, or meeting the University’s graduation requirement for civic engagement (2018)”.

Wave 2 was designed to measure the mediating factors, efficacy belief and POR responsiveness.  To evaluate efficacy belief, the authors used a six-item scale.  The students were asked to evaluate how they perceived their project could have an impact on the companies they were working with (Chen et al., 2018).  POR responsiveness was also measured with a six-item scale.  Items in the questionnaire included “timely and regular communication, open dialogue, and candid feedback” (Chen et al., 2018, p. 484).Wave 3 evaluated the relevant course outcomes.  It contained “items about service leadership emergence and meaning schema transformation, and asked students to report their attendance rate for the course” (2018, p. 483).  Responses were matched using student ID numbers.

Correlations between the four factors – project efficacy belief, POR responsiveness, service leadership emergence, and meaning schema transformation – in relation to SL versus nonSL projects were analyzed using statistical modeling.


All the scales used in the survey were developed by the researchers.  They were based on several scientific articles related to cognitive theory (Ashforth, 1989; Kember, 2000; Snell, Chan, Ma, & Chan, 2015; Spreitzer, 1995).  The exact questionnaires had never been used before, but they could conceivably be used again in subsequent research of another population.


Chen et al. identified and controlled for some potential lurking variables that could affect the study results.  These included gender, initial cumulative grade point average, attendance rate for the course, and whether students experienced a preferred or imposed choice to attend a particular section.  Other uncontrolled variables could have also played a role: age and previous volunteer or SL experience, for example.  The authors conjectured that “students who had already taken [service-leadership courses] might have higher awareness and better understanding of the service leadership model than their counterparts” (Chen et al., 2018, p. 491).

Participation in the surveys was voluntary and did not affect the students’ grades.  However, a small reward was given to each person who participated.  This could have had an effect on the population who participated.

Since all data were self-reported, the results could have been subject to common method bias.  The three-wave survey system was designed to help mediate this effect.  Questions about different parts of the study were separated by time.

One of the greatest limitations to this study’s validity was its scope.  It was conducted at a single Hong Kong-based university within a single undergraduate business course.  The results could differ in similar studies done in other places in the context of different subjects.


 Chen et al. (2018) stated their results:

Those respondents who enrolled in the SL sections, as compared with their counterparts in the nonSL sections, reported significantly higher POR responsiveness (r = .13, p  < .05), project efficacy belief (r = .21, p < .01), service leadership emergence (r = .27, p < .01), and meaning schema transformation (r = .16, p < .05).  Moreover, project efficacy belief is positively correlated with service leadership emergence (r = .25, p < .01), but has a nonsignificant correlation with meaning schema transformation (r = .10, ns)… Interactional effects between POR responsiveness and project efficacy belief on service leadership emergence and meaning schema transformation are significant and positive (β = .18, p < .01; β = .18, p < .01, respectively)… Relationships between project efficacy belief and service leadership emergence and meaning schema transformation, respectively, are significant and positive if POR responsiveness is high (2018, p. 485) (simple slope = .25, p < .01; simple slope = .17, p < .01) (2018, p. 485-486).

These results supported H1a, H1b, H2, H4, H3a, H4, and H5.  However, they did not support H3b.  Participation in SL projects were correlated with higher levels of the desired development outcomes (service leadership emergence and meaning schema transformation) as compared to participation in nonSL projects.  Participation in SL projects was also correlated with higher levels of project efficacy belief as compared to participation in nonSL projects.  Project efficacy belief and service leadership emergence had positive correlation.  This supports the authors’ hypothesis that students who feel that their projects are effective become more service-oriented in general.  However, project efficacy belief and meaning schema transformation did not have positive correlation.  While this study provided evidence that students who participated in the SL courses gained greater understanding of their course material than those that participated in the nonSL courses, it did not provide evidence as to why that occurred.  The results also supported the authors’ belief that higher levels of POR responsiveness increased the extent to which project efficacy belief could help bring about positive outcomes.

Insights Gained

Whereas other studies have confirmed the positive effects of SL on students’ education (Celio et al., 2011), Chen et al. (2018) provided data that can help explain how and why this occurs.  Their study provided evidence supporting two specific positive impacts: service leadership emergence and meaning schema transformation.  The authors believed that SL helps students achieve these outcomes because it provides project efficacy belief.  They believed that the sense that the students are having a positive impact on their community is critical.  This study supports that belief in part.  The authors further believed that some SL projects are more effective at helping students achieve development outcomes than others.  This study provides evidence that projects with high POR responsiveness, or representatives that collaborate with the students and give them adequate resources and feedback, were more helpful than those without.


Although the context of this study was rather specific, the evidence it provided could be helpful for other institutions that incorporate SL.  Because project efficacy belief is a moderating factor in achieving development outcomes, it is important that SL projects are relevant to both coursework and community needs.  Students need to feel that their coursework has helped them provide purposeful service.  The organizations working with students doing SL should provide adequate communication and resources.  They should be willing to allow students to make meaningful contributions.


Service-learning is a critical component of the Dental Hygiene Program at Salt Lake Community College.  This article supports the use of service-learning in an educational curriculum, with recommendations for implementation.  Service-learning is associated with two positive developmental outcomes: service leadership emergence and meaning schema transformation.  Students who participate in service-learning activities such as those available at Salt Lake Community College will will have a deeper understanding of their course material.  Because they use their skills to truly help with something important, they develop a greater ability to constantly search for ways to serve those around them.  In this way, they will be better able to meet their own needs and those of the community.  The results of this research also suggest that specific service-learning projects should be chosen with care.  Organizations should have adequate communication with the students, and the students should believe that their contributions are valuable.  With service-learning, students have the opportunity to learn things they may not have otherwise, while creating a stronger community.


Ashforth, B. E. (1989). The experience of powerlessness in organizations. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 43(2), 207-242.

Celio, C.I., Durlak, J., & Dymnicki, A. (2011). A meta-analysis of the impact of service-learning on students. Journal of Experiential Education, 34(2), 164-181.

Chen, T., Snell, R. S., & Wu, C.X. (2018). Comparing the effects of service-learning versus nonservice-learning project experiences on service leadership emergence and meaning schema transformation.  Academy of Learning & Education, 17(4), 474-495.

Kember, D., et al., (2000). Development of a questionnaire to measure the level of reflective thinking.  Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 25(4), 381-395.

Snell, R. S., Chan, Y. L. M., Ma, H. K. C., & Chan, K. M. C.  (2015).  A road map for empowering undergraduates to practice service leadership through service-learning in teams.  Journal of Management Education, 39(3), 372-399.

Spreitzer, G. M. (1995). Psychological empowerment in the workplace: Dimensions, measurement, and validation. Academy of Management Journal, 38(5), 1442-1465.

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