About Service Learning

Service-learning is defined as a “course-based, credit bearing educational experience in which students (a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs, and (b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of personal values and civic responsibility” (Bringle & Hatcher, 2009, p.38).

  • Credit bearing: For the purposes of the university, there is a credit based incentive attached to service- learning.
  • Organized service activity: Activities are thought out and organized with community partners so that there is a deliberate relationship connecting the service opportunity with course material.
  • Identified community needs: Projects meet need(s) identified by community partners. Projects do not attempt to create a need for the results of service-learning. Instead, projects assist organizations with needs they already have. Communication with community partners is essential.
  • Reflects: Time is spent specifically on reflecting and analyzing the volunteer experience in relation to course content and personal experience.
  • Course content: Service is not simply an added component of a course, but integrated into the course as a tool used to reach course goals.
  • Civic responsibility: Explores the social connections to scholarly research and academic exploration.

Well-designed service-learning courses engage students in service activities that are mutually beneficial to community stakeholders (e.g., agency, recipients, community) and meet the educational objectives of the course. The educational outcomes are developed through reflection activities (e.g., journals, small group discussions, directed writing) that link the service experience to learning objectives, are guided, occur regularly, allow feedback and assessment, and include the clarification of values (Ash, Clayton, & Atkinson, 2005; Ash & Clayton, 2004; Bringle & Hatcher, 1999; Eyler, Giles, & Schmiede, 1996; Hatcher & Bringle, 1997).

One goal of integrating service into academic studies is to develop a life-long habit of civic involvement and community service. Unlike many forms of experiential learning, which focus on pre-professional training (e.g., internships; Furco, 1996; Perold, 1998), one of the defining attributes of service-learning is that, along with academic learning; it also aspires to enhance students’ civic growth (Annette, 2003; Ash et al., 2005; Battistoni, 2002). Thus, in addition to “serving to learn,” service-learning intentionally focuses on “learning to serve.” Although developing good citizens is not a new role for higher education, and there are numerous pedagogical approaches for civic learning (e.g., classroom instruction on civics, moderated discussions of current events, student governance and community activities, simulations; Levine, 2003), the emergence of service-learning has heightened attention to the nuances of the civic domain and social responsibility as a set of intentional educational objectives to be addressed seriously in higher education (Astin & Sax, 1998). Even though, as Dionne and Drogosz (2003) note, “citizenship cannot be reduced to service” (p. 25), service-learning needs to be better understood as a means for teaching toward civic learning objectives.

Service Learning is, therefore, an effort to promote the fact that much learning takes place when we can connect classroom instruction to real-life situations. Furthermore, emphasis is placed on linking what students are doing at their individual sites with broader community issues and involvement.

Principles of Good Practice in Combining Service and Learning

An effective and sustained experience:

  1. Engages people in responsible and challenging actions for the common good.
  2. Provides structured opportunities for people to reflect critically on their service experience.
  3. Articulates clear service and learning goals for everyone involved.
  4. Allows for those with needs to define those needs.
  5. Clarifies the responsibilities of each person and organization involved.
  6. Matches service providers and service needs through a process that recognizes changing circumstances.
  7. Expects genuine, active, and sustained organizational commitment.
  8. Includes training, supervision, monitoring, support, recognition, and evaluation to meet service and learning goals.
  9. Insures that the time commitment for service and learning is flexible, appropriate, and in the best interest of all involved.
  10. Is committed to participation by and with diverse populations.

Ellen Porter Honnet and Susan J. Poulson. Wingspread Principles of Good Practice for Combining Service and Learning. The Johnson Foundation. 1989.

Principles of Good Practice for Service-Learning Pedagogy  

  • Principle 1: Academic Credit Is for Learning, Not for Service
    Academic credit is not awarded for doing service or for the quality of the service, but rather for the student’s demonstration of academic and civic learning.
  • Principle 2: Do Not Compromise Academic Rigor
  • Principle 3: Establish Learning Objectives
    It is a service-learning maxim that one cannot develop a quality service-learning course without first setting very explicit learning objectives. This principle is foundational to service-learning.
  • Principle 4: Establish Criteria for the Selection of Service Placements
    Requiring students to serve in any community-based organization as part of a service-learning course is tantamount to requiring students to read any book as part of a traditional course. Faculty who are deliberate about establishing criteria for selecting community service placements will find that students are able to extract more relevant learning from their respective service experiences, and are more likely to meet course learning objectives.
  • Principle 5: Provide Educationally-Sound Learning Strategies To Harvest Community Learning and Realize Course Learning Objectives
    Requiring service-learning students to merely record their service activities and hours as their journal assignment is tantamount to requiring students in engineering to log their activities and hours in the lab. Learning interventions that promote critical reflection, analysis, and application of service experiences enable learning. These activities include classroom discussions, presentations, and journal and paper assignments that support analysis of service experiences in the context of the course academic and civic learning objectives.
  • Principle 6: Prepare Students for Learning from the Community
    Most students lack experience with both extracting and making meaning from experience and in merging it with other academic and civic course learning strategies. Therefore, even an exemplary reflection journal assignment will yield, without sufficient support, uneven responses.
  • Principle 7: Minimize the Distinction Between the Students’ Community Learning Role and Classroom Learning Role
    Classrooms and communities are very different learning contexts. Each requires students to assume a different learner role. The solution is to shape the learning environments so that students assume similar learning roles in both contexts.
  • Principle 8: Rethink the Faculty Instructional Role
    Commensurate with the proceeding principle’s recommendation for an active student learning posture, this principle advocates that service-learning teachers, too, rethink their role. An instructor role that would be most compatible with an active student role shifts away from a singular reliance on transmission of knowledge and toward mixed pedagogical methods that include learning facilitation and guidance.
  • Principle 9: Be Prepared for Variation in, and Some Loss of Control with, Student
    Learning Outcomes
  • Principle 10: Maximize the Community Responsibility Orientation of the Course
    One of the necessary conditions of a service-learning course is purposeful civic learning. Designing classroom norms and learning strategies that not only enhance academic learning but also encourage civic learning are essential to purposeful civic learning.

Excerpted from Howard, Jeffery, ed., Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning: Service-Learning Course Design Workbook, University of Michigan: OCSL Press, Summer 2001, pp. 16-19

Service-learning is an effective pedagogical tool through which students:

  • experience a positive impact on their problem analysis, critical thinking, cognitive development, and understanding of academic subject matter
  • report stronger faculty relationships than those not involved in service-learning, and improved satisfaction with college, and therefore retention
  • enhance their sense of social responsibility and citizenship skills
  • reduce stereotypes and increase cultural and racial understanding
  • develop their leadership and communication skills
  • experience positive effects on interpersonal development & the ability to work with others

Material gathered from Introduction to Service-Learning TOOLKIT. Providence, RI: Campus Compact

It is the mission of MSUM Service Learning to work collaboratively with faculty, students, and community organizations to initiate and provide quality academic service learning opportunities that enrich the education and development of MSUM students while fulfilling real needs within the local community.