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Service Learning FAQ

What is Service-Learning?

Service-learning is both a philosophy of education and a learning method. It is a type of experiential learning that engages the student in service within the community in a way that supports the learning goals of a course. Students enhance their learning by engaging in critical, reflective thinking and examining the relationship of theory and practice.

Service activities are course driven. They are determined by your instructional goals: what students should know and be able to do as a result of successfully completing the course.

At the same time, service activities respond to real needs, mutually defined in partnership with representatives of community organizations.

Unlike most pedagogies, which are inductive, relying on presenting theory and then encouraging application to specifics, service-learning is more deductive, using experience provided by students to lead to conceptual and theoretical understanding.

How is it different from other types of practice-based education?

Clinicals, internships and co-op programs provide students with experiences to develop professional skills. These typically occur within vocational programs after necessary course work is completed. They may be in the for-profit business sector. Service-learning students find placements in non-profit agencies, hospitals and schools. Service-learning emphasizes the service contribution of students and links the service experience to specific learning objectives of a course. This focus on civic responsibility and critical, reflective thinking help the student integrate theory and practice. Service-learning requires a shorter service time commitment (16-20 hours per quarter).

Why do it?

Studies have shown that service-learning programs found greater gains for student participants than non-participants in three major areas, academic development, civic responsibility, and life skills.

Students benefit in many respects:

  • Improved self-esteem
  • Greater likelihood of staying in school
  • Greater satisfaction with course relevance
  • Enhanced intellectual and academic development (more highly developed critical thinking skills)
  • Improved social skills
  • Better preparation for the demands of the modern world
  • Greater sense of empowerment
  • Enhanced leadership development
  • Better preparation to function in a culturally diverse environment
  • Greater likelihood of participation in community programs, commitment to helping others and promoting racial understanding
  • Guidance and experience for future career choice

The community benefits from the substantial human resources provided to meet its educational, human, safety and environmental needs. Many students commit to a lifetime of volunteering after this experience, creating a democracy of participation. (Wow! That’s heady.)

Faculty members benefit in a number of ways, as well:

  • Enriches and enlivens teaching
  • Role changes from expert on top to expert on tap, which enables you to enjoy a new relationship with students and a new understanding of how learning occurs
  • As you connect the community with the curriculum, you become aware of current societal issues as they relate to your academic area of interest
  • Identifies new areas for research and publication, and thus increases opportunities for professional recognition and reward
  • Provides the opportunity to meet the needs of diverse student populations and diverse learning styles.