Narissra Punyanunt-Carter
Material Type:
College / Upper Division
  • Communication
  • Portfolio
  • Relationships
  • Service Learning
    Creative Commons Attribution

    Creating Relationship Communication Portfolios as a Service-Learning Project

    Creating Relationship Communication Portfolios as a Service-Learning Project


    .To acquire objective information about the dynamics of interpersonal relationships—casual friendships, deeper friendships, family relationships and intimate relationships. Information learned will include theoretical material as well as research findings. Students will have better understanding of the nature of different interpersonal relationship dynamics, and be able to apply interpersonal relationship theories to practice. This objective will be achieved through class lectures, the reading of Brehm, and the achievement of this and related objectives will be assessed through service learning projects, journals, papers, etc.


    Semester-long Activites

    Title: Creating Communication Portfolios as a Service-Learning Project for teaching the Relationships Course

    Intended course: Interpersonal Communication/ Relationship Courses

    Learning goal/objectives:

    1. To acquire objective information about the dynamics of interpersonal relationships—casual friendships, deeper friendships, family relationships and intimate relationships. Information learned will include theoretical material as well as research findings. Students will have better understanding of the nature of different interpersonal relationship dynamics, and be able to apply interpersonal relationship theories to practice. This objective will be achieved through class lectures, the reading of Brehm, and the achievement of this and related objectives will be assessed through service learning projects, journals, papers, etc.

    2. To integrate this objective information with students’ self-knowledge about self-concept, interpersonal and relationship skills, attitudes toward friendship and closeness, ethical and moral values, and orientation toward others, who may be different from their background and socioeconomic status. Achieved through participation in class discussion, in-class experiential exercises, and class activities, and the course project; achievement assessed through quality of contributions to discussion and of term project. Students will have deeper understanding about diversity through communicating with different people, and about themselves, such as their conceptions of identity and self-esteem, through reflective activities.

    3. To improve students’ skills in initiating, maintaining, deepening, repairing, and terminating relationships, and to increase students’ mindfulness in the use of these skills. They will work as consultants, and then provid plans about how to solve interpersonal communication problems, and how to improve interpersonal relationships in varies contexts. Achieved through in-class demonstrations, role-play practice, dramatic enactments of problem-solving episodes; achievement assessed by observation of progress in skill-development exercises, and the service learning project.

    Theoretical Rationale for conducting the activity

    Over the past few years, American college students are participating in service-learning projects in high amounts (Liu, Ruiz, DeAngelo, & Pryor, 2009). Service learning is a teaching method that merges traditional classroom formats with a related service to the community (Knapp & Fisher, 2010). It is effective because it connects theory to practice in real life in order to meet challenging social problems (Bringle & Julie, 1996). Kendall (1990, p. 20) noted that service learning are “needed tasks in the community with intentional learning goals and with conscious refection and critical analysis.” Students participate in an organized service activity that "reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility” (Bringle & Hatcher, 1995, p. 112). The benefits of service learning make it one of the best ways to teach students.

    Service learning facilitates students’ personal development (Tomkovick, Lester, Flunker, & Wells, 2008) in many aspects, such as the influence on their conceptions of self, , self-esteem, and identity formation (Jones & Abes, 2004). Students who experience service-learning are more likely to value service as a great way to gain new perspectives, and cope with personal problems (Eppler, Ironsmith, Dingle, & Errickson, 2011). Eppler and his researchers (2011) believed that service learning is not only a valuable way to help students develop their identity within the context of the larger community, but also assist them adjust to college, adapt to social expectations, and define future career goals. Furthermore, most service-learning activities could promoted emotional intelligence and form a strong social climate in learning (Akujobi & Simmons, 1997). During service learning, students could learn much more beyound pure knowledge on textbook under teacher’s guidance.

    Moreover, another benefit researchers noticed in service learning is students’ increased interest in interacting with different cultural and people from diverse background (Simons & Cleary, 2006). Service learning encourages students to form bonds with adults other than teachers and parents (Billig, 2000), which could expand their insight and help them to explore the world. Therefore, students who engaged in community service offen reported better knowledge of diversity issues (Simons & Cleary, 2006), and ability to get along with people of different races and cultures (Astin & Sax, 1998). Service learning opens a window for students to have more direct connections and communication with the real world.

    Most importantly, service learning could produce the best outcomes when meaningful service activities are related to course contents through reflection activities such as project writings, group discussions, and class presentation (Bringle & Julie, 1996). Kohls (1996) discovered that when students have direct contact with their service recipients , then the students reported learning more than from their textbook. Eylers, Giles, Stenson, and Gray (2001) noted that service learning can help retention rates, comprehesion of material, and create better interpersonal relationships. In the same fashion, Kahne and Westheimer (2003) posited that students are more likely to learn from their service learning expereinces if there are several opportunities to refect on daunting expereinces. Faculties also discover that service learning could bring a  new atmosphere to the classroom. It enhances performance of traditional learning method, increases student interest in the subject, provides new problem solving skills, and even makes teaching more enjoyable (Bringle & Julie, 1996). All and all, McKay and Estrella (2008) reported that service learning is very beneficial because of the increase interaction between students and faculty as well as comprehesion of the course material. It is neccesary for instructors to implement service learning for both students and themselves.

     Description of activity:

    The class will be divided in half with 1) one group focusing on romantic relationships and 2) the other half focusing on family relationships. In both sections, students will be put into several groups, and each group will be allowed to have three to four members. Within each group, they will conduct a project on how to improve relationships (family/romantic relationships). At this time, this project is like a proposal, which will include how are they going to evaluate/investigate the relationship, possible ways to solve the potential relationship problems, methods to improve the relationship, and researches/theories that can back up their project. Students will present their project first to the instructor, and then to the class/workshop for the community, such as Children and Family Services.

    After presenting the information, students will have to meet with one couple/ family to investigate their current communication patterns are and how to improve their communication. In other words, the students will act as consultants, with the instructor’s supervision, and provide a brief report on how communication can be effective and beneficial for these relationships. Instructor will meet with the group to facilitate their project, and provide necessary guidance and suggestions. In order to help the client to improve the relationship more effectively, students will need to sympathize their client, and stand on every client’s position to view the relationship and understand his/her concern. Only in this way, the suggestions students provided will be helpful to solve relationship problems, and satisfy every client. These reports, in turn, will be individualized to the specific couple/family, and help them to solve specific problems in certain context. Each group will create a portfolio, which consist of communication assessments, suggestions for the couple/family to get their desired communication behaviors, and research that can help the couple grow. The information could be used to help improve their communication, in turn their satisfaction with each other and their overall happiness. At the same time, the students reflect on their experiences in a journal. Much like a financial portfolio, the students create a communication portfolio, which provides their client with goals and ways to achieve them.

    Each group is required to meet with their service recipients for three separate times. The first time is to assess their communication skills and figure out what communication problems or goals that they have and would like to improve. The second time is to meet and show them the portfolio that they have created. They will have to meet with the individuals and explain the research as well as application of this material. They will offer exercises and strategies to help with their communication problems. The third time each group will do a follow-up meeting on their service learning recipients to see if any changes have occurred or to see if their portfolio was beneficial.

    Debriefing paragraph (including typical results)

     The most important aspect of this assisgnment is to allow input from student relefction. Eyler, Giles, and Schmiede (1996) that service learning is both connected and continuous. Student reflection allows for students to understand the bond between service and the knowledge learned in class.

    Instructions might allow students to respond to the following questions:

    1. What have you learned from this project?
    2. How do you think your project has impacted the client?
    3. How has this project impacted you?
    4. Do you think communication research is important? Why or why not?

    These answers will help instructors determine how much the students have learned and to improve for future semesters. These questions also allow for better comprehension of the material. In addition, the answers allow students to reflectively think the progress they have maded, the influence of this activity on themselves and their relationships, the nature of relationships and how the information is beneficial for others.

    This activity has been done for over three semesters. During this service learning activity, students are able to see the connection between classroom content and real-life application. Many of the students have selected career paths in family counseling and/or relationship specialists. This activitiy is important because it gives students practical experience and offers a way to present information in a professional manner. Often times, the beneficaries of the service are more satisfied in their relationships and are excited to learn new communication skills. Many of the recipients will offer money and gifts to the students for their services.

    Students’ transformation of their learning is significant. The skills students have learned in class but are unable to see the application of them are finally can be applied in this activity. Service learning does not have to be large scale. Some of biggest accomplishments are being able to tackle small problems. In turn, these can help the greater community. For instance, there was a parent who had difficulty talking to her child about bullying. The group offered strategies and creative games to play to increase the communication between parent-child. After the portfolio, the parent reported feeling a stronger connection with her child and the child felt a that we improved the lines of communication and understanding. As a result, the child had reported lower stress levels and a better sense of confidence. The parent stated that teachers of the child also noticed lower levels of attention seeking activites and fewer classroom disruptions.

    It is important to note, that some groups stated that their service recipients did not experience any changes in their communication behavior. There are some group projects that feel that their portfolio is a waste of time. They might express how it was busy work and may not be able to see the application of their knowledge. In addition, the groups that complain are also the ones that did not put as much effort into the project compared to their cohorts.

    At the end of the semester, each group will present their findings to the class so that the class can compare how they all did. The class will discuss about problems and pitfalls.

    Appraisal/Evaluation of the activity:

    Often times, students are only exposed to their personal relationships. Hence, they do not realize that communication in other relationships may be very different. This communication course has been taught  for four semesters and teaching the course as a service-learning course greatly improves student learning and enhances their understanding of the course content, because the service learning opportunity will puts them in a situation, which will apply what they are learning to assist with the community. It provides the students with a valuable experience by exposing them to other communication and relationship styles. Moreover, it provides students with the opportunity to evaluate the material that they have learned. Overall, service learning improves the lives of some one who may really need these services.

    References and Suggested Readings

    Akujobi, C., & Simmons, R. (1997). An assessment of elementary school service-learning teaching methods: Using service-learning goals. National society for experiential education quarterly, (Winter), 19-27.

    Astin, A. W., & Sax, L. J. (1998). How undergraduates are affected by service participation. Journal of

    College Student Development, 39(3), 251-263.

    Batchelder, T. H., & Root, S. (1994). Effects of an undergraduate program to integrate academic learning

    and service: Cognitive, prosocial cognitive and identity outcomes. Journal of Adolescence, 17(4),


    Bringle, R., & Hatcher, J. (1995). A service learning curriculum for faculty. The Michigan Journal of

                  Community Service-Learning, 2(1), 112–122.

    Bringle, R. G., & Julie, A. H. (1996). Implementing service learning in higher education. The journal of higher

    education, 67 (2), 221-239.

    Billig, S. H. (2000). Research on school-based service-learning: The evidence builds. Phi delta kappan 81(9),


    Eyler, J., Giles, D. E., Jr., & Schmiede, A. (1996). A practitioner’s guide to reflection in service learning:

    Student voices and reflections. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University.

    Eppler, M. A., Ironsmith, M., Dingle, S. H., & Errickson, M. A. (2011). Benefits of service-learning for freshmen college students and elementary school children. Journal of the scholarship of teaching and learning, 11 (4), 102-115.

    Jones, S. R., & Abes, E. S. (2004). Enduring influences of service-learning on college students' identity

    development. Journal of College Student Development, 45(2), 149-166.

    Kahne, J., & Westheimer, J. (2003). Teaching democracy. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(1), 34–40, 57–66.

    Kendall, J. (1990). Combining service and learning: An introduction. In J. Kendall (Ed.), Combining service and learning: A resource book for community and public service (pp. 1–33). Raleigh, NC: National Society for Internships and Experiential Education.

    Knapp, T.D., & Fisher, B. J. (2010). The effectiveness of service learning: It’s not always what you think. Journal of Experiential Education, 33(3), 208-224.

    Kohls, J. (1996). Student experiences with service-learning in a business ethics course. Journal of Business Ethics, 15, 45–57.

    Liu, A., Ruiz, S., DeAngelo, L., & Pryor, J. (2009). Findings from the 2008 administration

    of the College Senior Survey (CSS): National aggregates. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA.

    Mckay, V.C., & Estrella, J. (2008, July). First-generation student success: The role of faculty interaction in service learning courses. Communication Education, 57 (3), 356-372. Doi:10.1080/03634520801966123

    Simons, L., & Cleary, B. (2006). The influence of service learning on students' personal and social

    development. College Teaching, 54(4), 307-319.

    Tomkovick, C., Lester, S.W., Flunker, L., & Wells, T.A. (2008). Linking collegiate service learning to future

    volunteerism: Implications for nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit Management and Leadership,

    19(1), 3-26.