What Is Service Learning?

The difference between ordinary volunteer service and "service learning" is the act of academic reflection consisting of both classroom and field observance. The "curriculum-based" service learning approach is supported by professors who provide the academic context for service activities. Students are asked to reflect upon the social conditions that make service necessary, the reasons people do service, and the effect service may have on local or even national community. In so doing, students develop a firmly grounded understanding of the connections between abstract theories and social issues and their "real life" applications.

In curriculum-based service learning, the professor asks students to undertake a service project outside the classroom related in some way to the course subject. The exact specifications of the projects are as varied as the many types of disciplines that incorporate service learning into their curricula. Two criteria remain constant, however: each project must in some way serve the community, either on campus or off, and students must reflect upon their service experience within the context of the course.

Service learning is valuable to the university because it teaches what has been called "socially responsive knowledge." Socially responsive knowledge imparts in students a sense of community and a sense of responsibility to others; it helps develop in them the aspirations to resolve, rather than ignore or leave to others, the problems of society. When combined with "professional" and "foundational" knowledge - the traditional types of knowledge helps students learn to be truly engaged citizens of the community in which they live, as well as of the world around them.

A large number of recent studies have shown that "hands on" learning is absorbed more readily by students than is abstract information. This firsthand knowledge empowers students in a way that changes their lives - and changes the lives of others - immeasurably.


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Copyright 2001. The Center For Cultural Travel, Inc.