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What is Service-Learning?

Service-Learning is a teaching strategy that integrates course content with relevant community service.  Through assignments and class discussions, students critically reflect on the service in order to increase their understanding of course content, gain a broader appreciation of the discipline, and enhance their sense of civic responsibility.
Adapted from the National and Community Service Trust Act

Service-Learning is not volunteering, interning, participating in a community service project, or completing field experience. These are all valuable forms of service, but they are not service-learning.

  • Volunteering & Community Service Projects:  Are not tied to a course, they focus on the benefits to the community rather than student’s learning, and do not include structured reflection.
  • Internships/Practicum/Field Experience: Provides students with work place skills, but does not integrate course content and service.  The focus is on the student and not the community partner.  These experiences do not generally include structured reflection.
  • Service-Learning:  Integrates both course content and service experiences.  It allows students, faculty, community partners, and community members all to benefit from service experience and offers avenue for structured reflection so students can connect service experiences to course content

Guiding Principles of Service-Learning

Successful service-learning results when students connect academic material, relevant service experience, and critical reflection to create a more enriching, engaging, and relevant learning experience.

  • Academic Material: Effective service-learning is intentional and built into the course syllabus. Service is not a one-time experience, but is connected to course content throughout the semester.
    • The course syllabus is developed and revised to incorporate the service experience into the teaching and learning objectives of the course.
    • Academic credit is awarded for the learning gained from the experience, not for the service itself.
  • Relevant Service: Successful service-learning experiences address a genuine need in the community, not just the learning needs of the student. The service usually focuses on an underserved population.
    • Partner agencies define their needs and are included in planning for the service.
    • The faculty member becomes acquainted with each community agency that students are placed with, and understands the agency mission, clientele, and location and student role.
    • Students are introduced to the partner agency before the service begins, and are given an orientation to the issues being addressed.
  • Critical Reflection: Reflection is thinking about a service experience in order to connect the service experience and the course material. Although one can reflect alone, it is important to share perceptions with others who may have interpreted the experience very differently or made different connections. Learning comes through the critical analysis of what we do.
    • The service experience is connected to the course through readings, projects, and class presentations.
    • Reflection on the service experience is ongoing and includes dialogue about community issues and the need for the service.
  • Civic Responsibility: Successful service-learning helps students to understand the value and relevance of service, the community issue their service addresses, and to become more engaged citizens in their community
    • Preparation for the service addresses student training, clarification of responsibilities, and risk management issues.
    • Students, faculty and community representatives participate in the evaluation process provided by the Service-Learning Program.

~Adapted from Service Integration Project at Colorado State University~