Service-learning is a branch of applied-learning and can be defined as learning by doing through an act of giving. When students give back to their community, they are learning life skills that cannot be obtained in the traditional classroom. In addition, when students are engaged and feel a part of their civic or campus community, we find that this alone helps students feel a sense of purpose and belonging in their community. This sense of belonging is key to ensure a student is on the right path to stay in school through the completion of their degree. Service-learning has another side of the coin, however. If service could be called “heads,” then learning would certainly be identified as the “tails” side of the coin. Without both, the experience is as one-sided as a coin without heads and tails.
The learning emphasis on “service-learning” is equally important, but often overlooked. Students mustbe able to understand, master, and retain the learning or course objectives in the class as a result of the service-learning project. Otherwise, a student would find themselves volunteering at best. The incorporation of learning must be weaved into the course and not an episodic experience. In addition, service-learning is not an “add on.” Teachers should not be expected to “add on” service-learning to their curriculum. Rather, it is meant to be part of an ongoing curriculum and can often replace or be an aid to many assignments. For example, instead of students writing a marketing plan for a fake company, why not help a non-profit or sole proprietor out by creating a marketing plan for their business?! The student will understand the learning objectives of the course because they are applying the skills needed to create a marketing plan but the real life emphasis takes the student much farther than creating a plan for a fake company. The student is engaged with the community and can use the marketing plan as experience on their resume, or even ask for a reference.
As educators, we have a responsibility to help students, or as I like to call them learners, succeed. No longer is the chalk and talk or memorization and recall pedagogy widely accepted in higher education. Our collegiate peers are embracing applied-learning teaching methods to help students contextualize the learning objectives in the class. Further, students are not asking, but demanding for real life experience that take them farther than the walls of a classroom.
If you are a teacher who is looking to use service-learning as a teaching methodology in your course, you may have a lot of questions. Finding answers to questions is a great place to start and I encourage instructors to ask questions throughout the service-learning experience. Often, we tend to learn just as much, if not more, about ourselves as teachers through a service-learning experience as ourstudents in understanding the learning objectives in the course. My first suggestion to any instructor would be to utilize the resources available on your campus. In the event that your campus has rules and regulations with students working with people or organizations outside the college, it is best these are understood prior to planning a service-learning project. Verify if your campus has a Service-Learning Coordinator or Academic Support Specialist who can answer your questions on service-learning and help you plan your project. While the title name may vary across campuses of who this support person is, typically, most colleges and universities now have a department or team lead individual identified to help faculty with service-learning projects.
In addition to using your campus resources, the second suggestion I give instructors is to utilize the resources at your library. While there are not many books published on service-learning, there are a few good foundational books that are often available through library circulation. There are also many websites you can utilize to learn more about service-learning in K-12 and higher education:
Service Leader: http://www.serviceleader.org
National Service-Learning Clearinghouse: http://www.servicelearning.org/
National Youth Leadership Council: http://www.nylc.org/
United We Serve: http://www.serve.gov/
Campus Compact: http://campuscompact.org/