Service Learning

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Service Learning?

"A method: under which students learn and develop through active participation in...thoughtfully organized service experiences that meet actual community needs; that is integrated into the students' academic curriculum or privides structured time for a student to think, talk, or write about what the student did and saw during service activity; that provides students with the opportunities to use newly acquired skills and knowledge in real-life situations in their own communities; and that enhances what is taught in school by extending student learning beyond the classroom and into the community and helps to foster the development of a sense of caring for others." -National and Community Service Act of 1990

Four Basic Principles of Service Learning

  1. Engagement - Does the service component meet a public good? How do you know this? Has the community been consulted? How? How have campus-community boundaries been negotiated and how will they be crossed?
  2. Reflection - Is there a mechanism that encourages students to link their service experience to course content and to reflect upon why the service is important?
  3. Reciprocity - Is reciprocity evident in the service component? How? "Reciprocity suggests that every individual, organization, and entity involved in the service-learning functions as both a teacher and a learner. Participants are perceived as colleagues, not as servers and clients." (Jacoby, 1996 p.36)
  4. Public Dissemination - Is service work presented to the public or made an opportunity for the community to enter into a public dialogue? For example: Do oral histories that students collect return to the community in some public form? Is the data students collect on the saturation of toxins in the local river made public? How? To whose advantage?

The Six Models of Service Learning

The following models of service learning based courses provide categories for how service learning is generally applied in the classroom.

"Pure" Service Learning: The community is the central focus of the class. Students go out into the community to serve. The intention of the course is to foster community awareness and civic engagement. These courses are generally not housed in any one discipline.

Discipline Based Service Learning: Course content drives the area of service and works as a guide for reflecting upon student experiences. Students have a strong presence in the community.

Problem Based Service Learning: Students work individually or in groups to understand and develop a solution for a specific community problem. Students work closely with community members as they involve themselves in the problem and its solution.

Capstone Courses: These courses offer students in their final year the opportunity to transition from theory to practice, to see their studies come to life. Students generally draw upon the knowledge they have obtained through their studies and apply it in the community.

Service Internships: These courses usually require a larger time commitment than regular service learning courses, sometimes 10 to 20 hours per week. These internships differ from traditional internships in that students have on-going reflective experiences through out the term in small groups or one-on-one with the instructor. In a service internship the community takes equal importance, in that the service meets an identifiable community need.

Community Based Action Research: This course works best when students are already familiar with community work. Students work closely with a faculty member to learn research methods while serving as advocates for the community. The reciprocity must be evident in that the findings somehow benefit and are channeled back into the community.

Why use Service Learning?

Adapted from the State Superintendent's Service-Learning Task Force, CA Dept. of ED., 1999

  • to understand the relevance of what is being taught in school and apply learning and skills to the outside world
  • have an improved understanding of their role as citizens in a democratic society
  • understand that working with other people as a team is often an effective way of addressing issues and solving community problems
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