As defined by the National and Community Service Act of 1990, service learning is “a method under which students or participants learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service." 1
Service learning is direct experience working with communities in need and / or organizations that promote the public good. Service Learning is coordinated with an educational institution and the community in a manner which enhances the academic curriculum, furthers understanding of course content and provides structured time for the students or participants to reflect on the service experience. Service learning helps foster civic responsibility in that it addresses community needs, cultivates student commitment to the community and works toward the betterment of the community as a whole. The service learning experience should be reciprocal in the sense that both the participant and the community benefit equally. 2
Managing the Jargon : Service Learning, Civic Engagement, and Volunteerism
In order to understand and implement service learning programs it is necessary to have a working knowledge of related vocabulary.
Civic Engagement is action taken to identify and address issues of public concern. This type of service encompasses a wide range of involvement. Civic engagement can be individual, collective, organizational, or institutional, including everything from individual service at a soup kitchen or writing a letter to an elected official, to lobbying Congress in order to influence public policy and legislation. Civic engagement and service learning are not the same thing in that not all civic engagement is service learning and not all service learning has a civic component. Civic engagement may encompass service learning but it is not limited to it. 3
Volunteerism is the willingness to donate time and energy on the behalf of others without the expectation of tangible gain.
What This Means: While service learning may include elements of both civic engagement and volunteerism, it is by no means limited by those definitions. For example, a political science student is assigned service as part of a citizenship and democracy course. The student chooses to serve with Oregon Action in order to help register people to vote. In class, students are split into small discussion groups in order to relate their service experiences to one another and answer discussion questions provided by the professor. Throughout the semester, the student is assigned to keep a journal in order record the service experience. Likewise, all students in the class are required to write a citizenship autobiography regarding what it means to be a good citizen, drawing both from their service experiences and the course readings. As a final project, the student works with Oregon Action to organize a campus wide voter registration drive and media campaign to educate students about the importance of voting and being politically aware. The student turns in the journal and a final essay that reflects on the success of the voter drive using the theories learned in class.
This situation is, in essence, a service learning example. However, it also has elements of civic engagement in that the student saw a problem; low voter turnout, and worked to effect change through voter registration. Likewise, the student volunteered time and energy with Oregon Action without the expectation of anything in return. The result was that the student completed that class with a better understanding or course material because there was the opportunity to experience theories in action.
Service Learning Models:
“Pure” Service Learning : These courses are not necessarily discipline specific. Students are assigned community service in order to raise awareness of community issues. The purpose of “pure” service learning is to create engaged, contributing citizens.
Discipline-Based Service Learning : Students engage in community service throughout the semester. Students are expected to choose service work that relates to the class and, in reflecting on their experiences, analyze their experiences with respect to course content.
Problem-Based Service Learning : Students work with the community to identify a specific need or problem. Students serve in partnership with community members to help develop and act upon a solution.
Capstone Courses : Generally assigned to students in their final year of study. Students obtain a better understanding of their discipline as they apply the knowledge they have gained throughout their course work to relevant service.
Service Internships : Students work in a community setting to produce a body of work that is of benefit to the site. Students use discipline-based theories to regularly analyze and reflect upon their experiences. A service internship should benefit the community and the student equally.
Undergraduate Community-Based Action Research : Suitable for individuals and small groups as this model is similar to an independent study course. Students serve as advocates for the community as they work design and execute community-oriented research projects. 4
The Benefits of Service Learning
“Faculty who use service learning discover that it brings new life into the classroom, enhances performance on traditional measures of learning, increases student interest in the subject, teaches new problem solving skills, and makes teaching more enjoyable. 5
Service Learning facilitates professional development, influences teaching strategies and scholarship, motivates students and increases satisfaction. 6
Students in sections that include service learning give more positive course evaluations. 7
Faculty that engage in service learning initiatives are eligible for additional grants, awards and professional internships. Likewise, the federal government offers numerous funding opportunities for service learning programs. See:http://www.compact.org/faculty/opportunities.html http://www.compact.org/national/federalfunding/
Through service learning initiatives, “many faculty have been given the opportunity and the means to get students outside of the classroom and into the community. This changes local networks. On campus there is a group of faculty who have students in the community, who are listening to and working in local community organizations, and who are able to see synergies that are not readily apparent”. 8
Service learning can do wonders for your students. see: Benefits of Service Learning for Students
Service learning raises awareness of current societal issues as they relate to course content and discipline. 9
Service learning aids faculty in identifying areas for research and publication that relate to current social trends and issues . 10
Western Oregon University:
“An inclination join’d with an ability to serve…should be the great aim and end of all learning.” – Benjamin Franklin
As an institution of higher education it is Western Oregon University’s challenge to prepare students not only for their future careers, but also to prepare them to be responsible and engaged citizens. It is all too common for universities to isolate themselves from the communities in which they reside. Western Oregon University is not an island; the future of WOU and that of the surrounding community are intertwined. Community unity and cooperation are the tools to ensure the success of WOU, the local community, and the state of Oregon. Service learning and community-based learning will help Western Oregon University guarantee that WOU is fulfilling its mission of providing students with “a comprehensive higher education experience” (WOU mission statement).
Schuh, Andreas, and Strange state that, “Universities that promote students’ involvement in out-of class experiences that are educationally purposeful create a powerful learning environment and a greater sense of belonging”. 12
Creates creative partnerships between the university and the community and a culture of service on campus.
Over the last decade, service learning has gone from a hidden part of a few courses to an accepted pedagogy, with trade associations, journals, conferences, foundation and government funding programs, centers on campuses, and a presence in academic publishing houses. 13
First year students participating in service learning were more likely than non service learning peers to indicate they planned to re-enroll and eventually graduate from their current institution. 14
Service learning enhances mediating variables for student retention, including students’ interpersonal, community, and academic engagement and peer and faculty relationships. 15
Increased content knowledge and skills
Service learning college students developed a more profound understanding of political science than the control group. 16
Freshman composition students participating in service learning showed higher gains that comparison group in writing abilities, based on Biber’s computer-mediated writing assessment. 17
Improved higher thinking skills
Demonstrated complexities of understanding
Increased ability to analyze increasingly complex problems
Increased critical thinking
Service learning has a positive effect on students’ sense of social responsibility and citizenship skills.
Service learning enhances student’s engagement, commitment to community service and school. 18
Service learning enhances students’ sense of career options and possibilities.
Service learning enhances students’ sense of technical competence.
Personal & Social Outcomes
Service learning increases student’s self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy and empowerment.
Service learning increases students’ likelihood to engage in prosocial behaviors and decreases students’ likelihood to engage in at-risk behavior. 19
Universities have valuable resources such as students, faculty, staff, classrooms, libraries, technology and research expertise that becomes accessible to the community when partnerships with the university are established. 20
Community agencies gain an audience that can help address community needs and facilitate solutions.
Service learning facilitates on-going opportunities for building positive relationships with WOU.
How the Service Learning & Career Development Office supports faculty:
Seek out appropriate, collaborative community partners.
Ensure that community partners are aware of service learning and how it is practiced at WOU.
Ensure that community partners are provided with course and student learning goals.
Coordinate community partners to attend and participate in reflection and discussion opportunities throughout the semester.
Facilitate and / or attend reflections in and outside of class. Assist professors in developing questions for reflection and discussion.
Distribute service learning evaluations to professors at the end of the semester. The department will also provide representatives to proctor the evaluations if necessary.
Inform professors when students are having difficulties or concerns with their projects.
Contact community partners to discuss student’s progress throughout the semester and to work out solutions to issues.
Develop and facilitate or host educational opportunities for faculty
Write grants for new service learning opportunities.
Creating awareness of opportunities for faculty scholarship.
Creating awareness of educational opportunities including state and national conferences and the opportunity to present at conferences.
Provides relevant service learning literature in the SLCD office and through our website.
Further Readings and Useful Links
Eyler, J. & Giles, D. “The Impact of a College Community Service Laboratory on Students’ Personal, Social, and Cognitive Outcomes”. Journal of Adolescence, 17 (1994) 327-339.
Markus, G., Howard, J. & King, D. “Integrating Community Service and Classroom Instruction Enhances Learning: Results from an Experiment”. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 15 (1993) 410-419.