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Service-learning is a teaching methodology that enables students to apply knowledge and skills learned in the classroom to meaningful service to the community.

Through structured critical reflection activities, students analyze their service experience as it reciprocally applies to their academic and career development. Service-learning presents a unique and enriching learning and personal growth experience for students while strengthening communities by addressing unmet community needs.

Service-learning benefits students by:

  • Enhancing understanding of academic curriculum
  • Providing diverse and practical “real-world” experiences
  • Encouraging community involvement
  • Fostering civic responsibility
  • Raising awareness of social justice issues
  • Providing career-exploration opportunities

The goal of service-learning is for students to gain a greater understanding of content knowledge while becoming socially embedded citizens. Critical reflection is a key component and distinguishing feature of a service-learning experience.

Volunteering, community service, internship, or service-learning?

Service-learning interns are students, not volunteers. Students have specific learning objectives for their service experience.

  • Volunteering is worthwhile unpaid activity.
  • Community service is volunteering to fulfill an unmet community need. Participants may learn from their experiences, but not in a formal manner. The primary emphasis is on service, not learning.
  • Internships focus on the acquisition of job skills.
  • Service-learning is characterized by a deliberate connection between academic curriculum and community service. Students’ service is a component of course curriculum and becomes a vehicle for learning course material. Students reflect on their service, relate it to coursework, and evaluate what they are learning. Service-learning also provides students the opportunity to hone job skills. College credit is earned for the academic coursework, not the service itself.

Examples of service-learning

Picking up trash on a riverbank is service; studying water samples under a microscope is learning. When science students collect and analyze water samples during their cleanup efforts, document their results, and present findings to a local pollution control agency that is service-learning.

Hosting a food drive is service, learning about nutrition is learning. When 3rd grade students collect food donations, sort canned food into the basic food groups to make nutritionally balanced meals, and deliver the donations to the local food bank that is service-learning.

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.

Benjamin Franklin

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