Geography, professional identity, rural, service learning
This paper explores, at university level, the value of a service learning approach to teaching and learning rural geography to develop students’ awareness of a professional identity. Drawing on theories of service learning as experiential learning, and the construction of professional identities in practice-based contexts, it explores how the service learning (practice-and inquiry-based) process can enhance students’ capacities to identify themselves as rural geography professionals. In particular, the paper explores how service learning contributes to raising students’ awareness via reflective exercises about the contribution of their geographical knowledge and skills to local development problem-solving. The paper uses a case study example of a service learning module run as part of a Master’s in Rural Sustainability programme. The evidence accrues from ten of these Master’s students working with two locally-based development organisations situated in a rural market town and their efforts to devise and assess a project’s feasibility to contribute to the town’s development needs. Overall, the paper adds to the knowledge of how professional identity is formed through practice and, how this can be facilitated via certain practice-based strategies via the service learning experience. It concludes by reflecting on the effectiveness of this project-based approach, and on the implications of enhancing this aspect of graduates’ development vis-à-vis their future employability as rural geography professionals.