Over the next few months, the CITL’s Service-Learning Program will be sharing a series of posts on the Foundations of Service-Learning. For more posts, click here.
Service-learning (SL) begins with John Dewey’s understanding of higher education: Universities are tasked with helping students become active, knowledgeable citizens. SL enables students to discuss issues in their community and begin doing the work of building a more equitable society.
SL is a course structure that uses community-based service to reinforce learning outcomes while also helping students learn the skills to engage in civic life. To support these outcomes, Furco (1996) argued service and learning course goals must support each other and be equally valued. Unlike volunteering and internships, the community partner plays a central role in guiding the partnership—and in educating students.
Yes, service is a core piece of the SL class. But opportunities to critically engage with and discuss service, positioning it in line with the theory and concepts from class are integral to successful SL experiences. Reflection in a variety of forms—from discussion to essays, both graded and not–give students an opportunity to practice critical thinking and link the learning at their service site to their learning in the classroom. (Reflection will be discussed more as this series progresses.) This is one way in which service moves beyond the town-gown and become members of their community, receiving as much as they give.
Another way SL students move from what we refer to as “service at” the community to “service with” the community is by practicing the principle of reciprocity in course design and partnership maintenance. Students learn to see their community as a source of knowledge and expertise as their faculty models this behavior. When helping faculty and community partners think through reciprocity, we start with two questions: Is the service meeting a community-identified need that support the agency’s mission? Does the service clearly support learning outcomes and themes from the course? Both of these topics will be covered more fully in future Foundations of Service-Learning series posts. Next up, we’ll talk more about how service-learning and community engagement happen at IU-Bloomington.
Know a colleague who might benefit from this information? The CITL encourages you to share this information with your friends and colleagues. Interested in learning more about service-learning? Contact Michael Valliant (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a one-on-one consultation, or join in our informal coffee hours. The first fall coffee hour will be held on September 28.
- Furco, A. (1996). Service-learning: A balanced approach to experiential education. In Expanding boundaries: Serving and learning. Washington, DC: Corporation for National Service, p. 2-7.
- Kendall, J. C. (1990). Combining service and learning: An introduction. In Combining service and learning: A resource book for community and public service. Raleigh, NC: National Society for Internships and Experiential Education, p. 1-33.