Service Learning

In a nutshell:

Service learning must be closely tied to courseobjectives.

Service learning requires active reflectionfollowing the event/project.

Service learning has the "feel good" and activecitizenship benefits of volunteering and service alone, plus itenhances learning.

Service learning has been defined as "the processof integrating volunteer community service combined with activeguided reflection into the curriculum to enhance and enrich studentlearning of material" (David Johnson, Miami-Dade C.C.).

Service learning is distinct fromservice/volunteering in that service alone, while beneficial initself, may not be systematically incorporated into the learningprocess. When a service/volunteer project is complete, it may or maynot be reflected upon with respect to how it relates to courseobjectives. With service learning, the "circle" is completed.Students are required to tie their experience back to courseobjectives. This can be done through individual reflection papers orgroup discussion.

Service-learning often may involve teaching otherssome of the course content/information has been learned by thestudent. Teaching is one of the best ways to truly learn information.It requires full processing of the topic so that others' questionscan be answered. Many students memorize course information for anexam and then quickly forget it. Most students (and most of us ingeneral) are usually motivated to do a good job and not embarrassourselves in front of others. Thus, we put in the effort to learninformation well enough to competently teach it to others. The endresult is that a deeper level of understanding and more completelearning occur.

Service learning may also involve a project forthe community (university or city) that requires understanding ofcourse content in order for students to be able to complete it.Because it is being done for others and not just for course credit,it becomes service. The process of reflection and meaningfulintegration into the course will make it service learning. As withthe teaching projects, because the projects involve others, thestudents are usually motivated to a greater level than for projectsthat don't leave the classroom.

In addition to enhancing learning, servicelearning (as with service alone) can give students the sense ofaccomplishment and fulfillment that occurs when helping others. Thepositive feedback from participants makes the event enjoyable, evenif it was originally dreaded because of the extra effort it wouldrequire, or due to fear of speaking in front of others. My experiencehas consistently been that following our service-learning events, mystudents have unanimously told me I should always include such arequirement in my course. Many of my students discovered positiveaspects of themselves that will carry over into the rest of theirlives. Many discover how rewarding service can be -- it's not justvolunteering time or money -- it can make a meaningful difference inothers' lives. Such experiences can be the foundation for involvedcitizenship.


Some example projects from my classes in thepast:

Some examplereflection paper assignments.

Return to Scharfffront page.