Pedagogical Challenges

One challenge of service-learning course design is ensuring that students understand how their service relates to course learning objectives and how course learning objectives relate to students' personal and professional lives. Usually when students make these connections, they become more engaged learners.

In 2010-2011, SSU's STEM faculty were asked to frame students' service-learning experiences with David Kolb's "What? So What? Now What?" model for critical reflective analysis. Faculty members' main objectives in using Kolb's model were to: 1) help students become more engaged during the semester, 2) help students integrate their service learning with their classroom and future learning, and 3) promote civic engagement after the semester had ended.

Kolb's model generally asks three questions about the service, with each question building on the previous question:

  1. What?
  2. So what?
  3. Now what?

Kolb's Model for Reflection: What?

The "what" question asks students to share what they plan to do, are doing, or did. Students may be required to reflect upon their past experiences with service-learning or community service and may also be asked to learn about the organization in advance of providing a service. This question gives students the chance to reflect on what they did, on how that service had an impact on them, and on what they learned.

Kolb's Model for Reflection: So What?

The "so what" question asks students to think about why their service-learning partners needed the service and also about why the class required the service. Students might be asked to reflect upon how the experience supports the academic learning goals of the class, or upon how the service relates to readings, lectures, films, personal experiences, and so on.

The "so what" question plays an important role in helping students retain information; faculty who are concerned about issues of skills and knowledge transfer often emphasize "so what" types of reflections.

Kolb's Model for Reflection: Now What?

The "now what" question asks students to connect the "what" and "so what" to their lives beyond the course and beyond their time at SSU. Students might reflect upon what strategies will be useful in the future to continue to address unmet needs; strategies might include engaging in discussions, becoming involved in ongoing civic actions like communicating with elected officials, volunteering, or pursuing a specific career path. "Now what" questions give students the opportunity to reflect on what kind of citizen they are inspired to become.

Kolb's Model at SSU

To learn more about how STEM faculty incorporated Kolb's model into their 2010-2011 curriculum design, see Featured Service-Learning Projects and Classes.

Resources for Developing Reflection Activities

CCE offers many resources about service-learning and reflection, including Facilitating Reflection, A Manual for Leaders and Educators, which includes multiple examples of analytical activities for students. For more information contact the CCE.