Service-Learning: What is it?
The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse defines Service-Learning as “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. Service-learning is a structured learning experience that combines community service with preparation and reflection. Service-learning provides college and university students with a “community context” to their education, allowing them to connect their academic coursework to their roles as citizens.” (http://www.servicelearning.org/)
Thus, Service-Learning is a pedagogical tool that deepens the impact of classroom-based instruction. It is an active learning strategy that promotes community engagement and builds citizenship. Service-learning is a reciprocal relationship that benefits both the student and the community partner.
Four traits that characterize service-learning are:
Commitment to community
Learning and academic rigor
Intentional reflective thinking
Practice of civic responsibility
(Duncan, D. & Kopperud, J., 2008).
Service-learning presents a holistic approach to learning and student (human) development and community engagement. It provides a rich opportunity to bridge academic affairs and student affairs. Through service-learning, students become better critical thinkers and problem-solvers. Participation in service-learning increases understanding which, in turn, leads to more effective action. This cyclical, active learning process is illustrated in David Kolb’s experiential learning theory (model). Service-learning promotes and develops an awareness of community needs, and helps students become empowered as potential change agents in the community, and by extension, the world.
Service-learning provides a hands-on, community-based experience that can demonstrate mastery of course content and learning objectives. Similar to the laboratory exercises in many physical sciences that demonstrate theories and principles, taking part in service-learning courses allows theories and content knowledge within a broad range of courses to come into a better focus for students.
As members of the larger community, colleges and universities have a responsibility to demonstrate commitment to the community that exists outside the halls of academe – to be good citizens of the community. Service-learning affords the university and faculty the opportunity to build close ties and partnerships with community agencies supporting the common good. Service-learning is a concrete way for colleges and universities to demonstrate commitment to community and even bridge “town-gown” divides (Stoecker, R. & Tryon, E. A., 2009).