Do Good; Learn Well
What is service-learning?
Service-learning is an experiential method of teaching in which students “learn and develop through thoughtfully organized service" that:
- Is conducted in and meets the needs of a community and is coordinated with an institution of higher education, and with the community
- Helps foster civic responsibility
- Is integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum of the students enrolled
- Includes structured time for the students to reflect on the service experience.” (Campus Compact, Intro to Service-Learning Toolkit, 2003, p. 7)
Is service-learning the same as internships?
Although service-learning and internships are related, they are different in at least four important ways:
- Service-learning students practice course skills, and they draw on their community experiences to help explain and expand on course readings and lectures. In contrast, interns focus on course skills.
- Service-learning students often explore links between their course work and content from other academic fields of study
- Service-learning students often explore ways in which policies and legislation help or hinder the people with whom they are volunteering
- Service-learning students are not paid, whereas interns might be
What are examples of service-learning projects?
There are many service-learning opportunities available, including
- Mentoring/tutoring children
- Tutoring adult learners
- Assisting the elderly
- Participating in electoral projects
- Fund-raising for nonprofit agencies
- Historic Preservation
- Participating in environmental projects
- Helping developmentally-challenged children and adults
- Creating newsletters and Websites
- Conducting health-advocacy projects
- Creating community development projects
- Event design and promotion
- Needs assessment
How is service-learning integrated into a course?
As in traditionally-taught classes, students in service-learning classes learn by reading and by attending lectures. They also learn in more active ways: they
- Apply course knowledge and skills to real-life situations
- Draw on their community experiences to help explain and expand on course readings and lectures
Rather than learning only from the “outside-in” (lectures and reading), service-learning students also learn from the “inside-out”: they combine classroom lessons with community experiences to generate their own data (examples, statistics, quotes, narratives), and they use those data to draw their own conclusions; to create their own learning. The main way in which students do so is through reflection.
Reflection is the heart of service-learning; through it, students connect course work with real life. In this way, they
- Develop a better understanding of the course’s importance
- Understand the relevance of, and apply ideas from other academic areas
- Identify ways in which legislation and policies help or hinder them and the people with whom they volunteer
Students in Community Health (HLH 203), for example, helped under-served groups in Cortland County. As a result of their service-learning experiences, many of the students learned that they need to value community members’ perceptions at least as much as their own. In a reflection, one student realized that:
…putting together a community health program is no easy task because you have to understand the group you are working with…Other things you have to realize are that people in that society may not see the same problem you do. They may be more concerned with other issues, and you have to work around that to address what they think is the most important issue in their community.
Students can reflect through a variety of activities, such as class discussion, journal entries, and art work.
Other examples of how service-learning is integrated into academic courses:
- Some students in Adapted Physical Education and Sport (PED 356) apply their course knowledge and skills as they participate in projects such as the Thursday Night Wheelchair Sports Program. In their reflections, students
- Discuss professional challenges that they would not necessarily have encountered in a traditionally-taught class
- Learn about Adapted Physical Education and Sport
- Learn about therapeutic recreation, pre-physical therapy, and sensory integration. These topics are not covered in the text, but students begin to understand and apply information about these professionally-important topics earlier than other students might
- Encounter and deal with legislation and/or educational policies that could interfere with their work’s effectiveness
- Some Urban Sociology (SOC 461) students
- Designed and conducted a survey for the Regional Sports Council to better understand the spending patterns of event participants and attendees
- Researched and mapped local student housing for a community development organization to guide the development of future housing initiatives
- Interviewed artists and business owners for the Cultural Council of Cortland County to evaluate and improve the Cortland Arts Trail
- Through such projects, students
- Applied their course work in real-life situations with professionals from a variety of fields
- Identified skills that they needed to sharpen; these skills were not necessarily pointed out in their text. The skills included listening, record-keeping, and computer keyboarding
- Recognized ways in which differing opinions are valid and valuable as they work toward solutions
- Inclusive Special Education majors in Perspectives on Disabilities (FSA 280) tutored and mentored Cortland community children with disabilities. Many students also described community support organizations that the children’s families could go to for additional assistance. In their reflections, students
- Identified some of the complexities in parenting a child with a disability
- Identified many of the values of home-school-community partnerships
- Considered challenges that teachers face when working with families who have a child with a disability; in this way, students realized the importance of understanding various cultural differences (such as poverty, ethnicity, and personal values)
- Gained knowledge of issues and of needs for support resulting from legislation and policy decisions that strengthen the mandate for inclusive education and differentiated curriculum for students with disabilities.
In History Adolescence Education (AED 391), students volunteered with an organization from one of 4 categories: local history, global studies, teaching resources, or community service. Some students volunteered with Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois, a local history organization that maintains a recreated French Fort in Liverpool, NY; those students engaged in historical preservation and research.
Students who volunteered with Doctors Without Borders publicized and raised funds for the organization. Other students participated in the Dance Performances Project, through which they helped arrange local tours for high school students from Turkey and Africa. In each case, college students combined course knowledge and volunteer experience to create their own lesson plans.
This service-learning course helps these teacher candidates to link student, community, global concerns to the curriculum and standards in ways that will provide effective and engaging learning experiences. The students’ service-learning activities and reflections provide
- Experiences and ideas for teaching social studies, both in the field placement and in their own future classrooms
- A greater understanding of other cultures
- A more complex understanding of current pressing global concerns
- Experience with a range of skills, such as research, professional writing, and public presentation
What if my instructors do not offer service-learning and I want to participate?
- Contact John Suarez, Director, Institute for Civic Engagement and Coordinator of Service-Learning, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 607-753-4391. You can also visit him at his office in D-116 of Cornish Hall. Or, you may…
- Let your instructors know that you would like to participate in a service-learning project, and ask if they will work with you on arranging such an activity.
John Suarez, Director, Institute for Civic Engagement and Coordinator of Service-Learning
Can I do my service-learning where I currently volunteer?
This depends on the course and on the instructor. In most sections of Academic Writing in the Community (CPN 102 and 103), for example, you would probably be able to do so.
How many hours do I have to volunteer?
This depends on the course: you might volunteer between 15 and 30 hours across the semester. However, rather than thinking of the amount of time you’re volunteering, think about meeting (or surpassing) your project’s goals. Remember that you are conducting your community engagement experience so that you can learn more effectively and enjoyably while joining others with similar interests.