About Service-Learning

Service-learning provides an opportunity for colleges and universities to enhance learning by engaging in activities that are driven by community needs. This teaching pedagogy represents a necessary link in the application of theory to practice while establishing partnerships with local agencies, schools, non-profit organizations, and government.

The University of North Carolina- Greensboro defines “Academic Service-Learning” as a teaching method that links community action and academic study so that each strengthens the other. Students, faculty and community partners collaborate to enable students to address community needs, initiate social change, build effective relationships, enhance academic skills and develop civic literacy. Service-learning encourages critical consideration of the ethical dimensions of community engagement.

For more information about service learning at UNCG, please contact Denisha Bland, Assistant Director of Frontier Set Initiatives in the Division of Student Success at drbland@uncg.edu.

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The Service-Learning Model

The Service-Learning Model

An academic service-learning program provides educational experiences:

  • under which students learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service experiences that meet actual community needs and that are coordinated in collaboration with school and community
  • that are integrated into the students’ academic curriculum or provide structured time for a student to think, talk, or write about what the student did and saw during the actual service activity
  • that enhance what is taught by extending student learning beyond the classroom and into the community and helps to foster the development of a sense of caring for others
  • that provide a student with opportunities to use newly acquired skills and knowledge in real life situations in their own communities

Four Myths About Service-Learning

Myth #1 – The Myth of Terminology

Academic service-learning is the same as student community service and co-curricular service-learning.

Academic service-learning is not the same as student community service or co-curricular service-learning. While sharing the word “service,” these models of student involvement in the community are distinguished by their learning agenda. Student community service, illustrated by a student organization adopting a local elementary school, rarely involves learning agenda. In contrast, both forms of service-learning (academic and co-curricular) make intentional efforts to engage students in planned and purposeful learning related to the service experiences. Co-curricular service-learning, illustrated by many alternative spring breaks and dance marathon programs, is concerned with raising students’ consciousness and familiarity with issues related to various communities. Academic service-learning, illustrated by student community service integrated into an academic course, utilizes the service experience as a course “text” for both academic learning and civic learning.

Myth #2 – The Myth of Conceptualization

Academic service-learning is just a new name for internships (or student teaching or practica).

Many internship programs, especially those involving community service, are now referring to themselves as service-learning programs, as if the two pedagogical models were the same. While internships and academic service-learning involve students in the community to accentuate or supplement students’ academic learning, generally speaking, internships are not about civic learning. They develop and socialize students for a profession, and tend to be silent on student civic development (in most cases, not all; depending on the internship). They also emphasize student benefits more than community benefits, while service-learning is equally attentive to both.

Myth #3 – The Myth of Synonymy

Experience, such as in the community, is synonymous with learning.

Experience and learning are not the same. While experience is a necessary condition of learning (Kolb, 1984), it is not sufficient. Learning requires more than experiences, and so one cannot assume that student involvement in the community automatically yields learning. Harvesting academic and/or civic learning from a community service experience requires purposeful and intentional efforts. This harvesting process is often referred to as “reflection” in the service-learning literature.

Myth #4 – The Myth of Marginality

Academic service-learning is the addition of community service to a traditional course.

Grafting a community service requirement (or option) onto an otherwise unchanged academic course does not constitute academic service-learning. While such models abound, the interpretation marginalizes the learning in, from, and with the community, and precludes transforming students’ community experiences into learning. To realize service-learning’s full potential as a pedagogy, community experiences must be considered in the context of, and integrated with, the other planned learning strategies and resources in the course.

From the Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning Course Design Workbook