Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Implementing Service Learning in Higher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Implementing Service Learning in Higher Education

Article excerpt

In a recent article, "Creating the New American College," Ernest Boyer challenges higher education to reconsider its mission to be that of educating students for a life as responsible citizens, rather than educating students solely for a career. By doing so, the "New American College" will take pride in connecting theory to practice in order to meet challenging social problems, particularly those faced by universities in urban settings. As Ira Harkavey of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Community Partnerships has noted, "Universities cannot afford to remain shores of affluence, self-importance and horticultural beauty at the edge of island seas of squalor, violence and despair" [5, p. A48]. Emphasizing service has the potential to enrich learning and renew communities, but will also give "new dignity to the scholarship of service" [5, p. A48].

Universities have valuable resources (for example, students, faculty, staff, classrooms, libraries, technology, research expertise) that become accessible to the community when partnerships address community needs. They also have a tradition of serving their communities by strengthening the economic development of the region, addressing educational and health needs of the community, and contributing to the cultural life of the community [12, 23, 27]. Emphasizing the value of community involvement and voluntary community service can also create a culture of service on a campus [for example, 17, 26].

From a programmatic perspective there are two salient means through which universities support and promote community partnerships: (a) extracurricular and (b) curricular. On campus a significant number of college students actively participate in extracurricular community service through student organizations, the activities of student service offices, and campus-based religious organizations [for example, 1, 24]. Many faculty, staff, and students, particularly those at urban campuses, are involved in their communities (for example, neighborhood development, community agencies, churches, youth work) independent of the university.

Academic programs can also engage students in the community. Professional schools in particular create a variety of experiential learning opportunities for their students (for example, clinicals, internships, co-op programs, field experiences, practice, student teaching). However, the learning objectives of these activities typically focus only on extending a student's professional skills and do not emphasize to the student, either explicitly or tacitly, the importance of service within the community and lessons of civic responsibility.

We view service learning as a credit-bearing educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and 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 civic responsibility. Unlike extracurricular voluntary service, service learning is a course-based service experience that produces the best outcomes when meaningful service activities are related to course material through reflection activities such as directed writings, small group discussions, and class presentations. Unlike practice and internships, the experiential activity in a service learning course is not necessarily skill-based within the context of professional education.

Service learning provides an additional means for reaching educational objectives, and academic credit is appropriate for service activities when learning objectives associated with the service are identified and evaluated. Faculty who use service learning discover that it brings new life to the classroom, enhances performance on traditional measures of learning, increases student interest in the subject, teaches new problem solving skills, and makes teaching more enjoyable. …

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