Training: Papers‎ > ‎

(Everhart 2016)

Title:  Teaching Tools to Improve the Development of Empathy in Service-Learning Students
DOI or Website Link:  
Authors:   Robin S. Everhart
Date:   2016


Students participating in service-learning classes experience many benefits, including cognitive development, personal growth, and civic engagement. Student development of empathy is an understudied area, especially with respect to how students develop empathy through interactions in their service-learning placements?

This article describes a project designed to pilot teaching tools (e.g., self-assessment, reflective writing) related to empathy development in 12 undergraduate students. This study examined changes in level of student empathy across the semester, critical incidents linked to such changes, factors that enhanced or challenged empathy development, and student metacognition related to empathy. 

Findings suggest that certain experiences, such as observing the emotional experiences of others or being given more responsibility at a community site, might prompt changes in level of empathy for service-learning students. Strategies for integrating findings from this pilot project into other service-learning courses and future directions for empathy research are also described.

Topic Area: (In which field / sector / perspective was this study conducted?)
  • education
  • "One area within service-learning research that has not gained much attention is the impact of service-learning on the development of empathy within students and, specifically, the process by which students develop empathy through service-learning."

Definition(How was empathy defined?)
  • "Empathy is defined as “the ability to walk in another’s shoes, to escape one’s own responses and reactions so as to grasp another’s” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 98)."

Benefits(Were any benefits of empathy mentioned?)

Criticisms  (Were any criticisms, negative effects or risks of empathy mentioned?)

Methods(What were the methods used to train empathy?)

Target Group:  (Who participated in this study / training?)
  • Students

Measurements(About the assessment: How was the change in empathy measured before/after the intervention/method?) 
  • students were asked to determine their current level of empathy (shock, normalization, engagement).
  • self-assessment of empathy by writing a paper
  • reflective writing

Result: (What was the result?)
  • "Service-learning courses provide an ideal platform for students to develop empathy as they allow students to participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996)."
  • "Through this process, students develop empathy; they move toward viewing others as more similar to themselves and improve their ability to place themselves in the position of others."
  • "All 12 students in this project experienced improvements in their level of empathy at some point in the semester, as demonstrated by the percentage of reflections describing an increase in empathy."

Posted By:  Edwin Rutsch

(Any other relevant information)
other studies to check

'As noted, a handful of studies have evaluated empathy as a student outcome in service-learning courses.' 
  • 'one study, dental students reported increased empathy for the needs and situations of patients after providing dental services in community-based settings (e.g., community health center, nursing home; Mofidi et al., 2003).
  • In a marriage and family class, students participated in either a service-learning project or a book discussion project; students  completing the service-learning assignment were more likely to express empathy in their reflective writing than those students  that participated in the book discussion project (Wilson, 2011). 
  • undergraduate nursing course, students described developing empathy for the daily struggles facing families by working with individuals who were different from themselves (Hunt, 2007).
  • In a lifespan development course (Lundy, 2007), students who chose to complete a service-learning project demonstrated a significant increase in emotional empathy, as measured by the Emotional Empathetic Tendency Scale (Mehrabian & Epstein, 1972), compared to students who chose other project options (e.g., interview project, research paper).
  • Finally, feelings of empathy were reported in a group of baccalaureate nursing students who worked at a camp for children with diabetes (Vogt, Chavez, & Schaffner, 2011).'


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, 341-355. 

Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (1996). Implementing service-learning in higher education. Journal of Higher Education, 67, 221-239. 

Driscoll, J. (2007). Practising clinical supervision: A reflective approach for healthcare professionals (2nd ed.). Edinburgh, UK: Bailliere Tindall Elseviers.

Galinksy, A. D., & Moskowitz, G. B. (2000). Perspective-taking: Decreasing stereotype expression, stereotype accessibility, and in-group favoritism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 708-724.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam. Hirschinger-Blank, N., & Markowitz, M. W. (2006). An evaluation of a pilot service-learning course for criminal justice undergraduate students. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 17, 69-86.

Hunt, R. (2007). Service-learning: An eye-opening experience that provokesemotion and challenges stereotypes. Journal of Nursing Education, 46, 277-281.

Konrath, S. H., O’Brien, E. H., & Hsing, C. (2011). Changes in dispositional empathy in American college students over time: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15, 180-198.

Lundy, B. (2007). Service learning in life-span developmental psychology: Higher exam scores and increased empathy. Teaching of Psychology, 34,23-27.

Mehrabian, A., & Epstein, N. (1972). A measure of emotional empathy.  Journal of Personality, 40, 525-543.

Mofidi, M., Strauss, R., Pitner, L. L., & Sandler, E. S. (2003). Dental students’  reflections on their community-based experiences: The use of critical  incidents. Journal of Dental Education, 67, 515-523.

Novak, J. M., Markey, V., & Allen, M. (2007). Evaluating cognitive outcomes  of service learning in higher education: A meta-analysis. Communication  Research Reports, 24, 149-157. Quest for Distinction,

Rockquemore, K. A., & Schaffer, R. H. (2000). Toward a theory of engagement: A cognitive mapping of service-learning experiences. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 7, 14-24.

Rosenkranz, R. R. (2012). Service-learning in higher education relevant to the promotion of physical activity, healthful eating, and prevention of obesity. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 3, 672-681.

Sandy, M., & Holland, B. A. (2006). Different worlds and common ground:   Community partner perspectives on campus–community partnerships .  Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 9, 27–33. 

U.S. Census Bureau. (2012). 2012 Census population and housing. Washington,  DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics  Administration.

Vogt, M. A., Chavez, R., & Schaffner, B. (2011). Baccalaureate nursing student experiences at a camp for children with diabetes: The impact of a servicelearning  model. Pediatric Nursing, 37, 69–73.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wilson, J. C. (2011). Service-learning and the development of empathy in US college students. Education + Training, 53, 207-217.

Yorio, P. L., & Ye, F. (2012). A meta-analysis on the effects of service-learning on the social, personal, and cognitive outcomes of learning. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 11, 9-27.