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Research Articles

Vol. 19 No. 4

Picturing Service-Learning: Defining the Field, Setting Expectations, Shaping Learning

December 24, 2015


This study used content analysis and audiencing to understand how service-learning is presented visually by institutions of higher education and interpreted by college students. Data included 834 photographs from the service-learning web pages of 63 four-year institutions in California. The majority showed a narrow range of direct service including engaging with young people in out-of-classroom activities, tending gardens, tutoring, and working at a building site. Looking at a selection of these photos, a sample of 14 college students questioned definitions and power dynamics of service and noted a pattern of those serving being White and those served being people of color. Images were perceived differently by viewers depending on their backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. If service-learning is to draw on the talents of students from diverse backgrounds and develop the knowledge, skills, and commitment to engage with society’s complex problems, then the visual representation of service should reflect those aims.