Academic journal article Making Connections

Combining Service Learning and Diversity Education

Academic journal article Making Connections

Combining Service Learning and Diversity Education

Article excerpt


Service learning emphasizes course content within the context of community needs. If the service learning experience is properly aligned with course content, it can enhance student understanding by effectively connecting community action to course concepts (Dunlap, Scoggin, Green, and Davi 28). Accordingly, it has the potential to be a powerful tool in diversity education. Student engagement in experiential activities where they are challenged to think more critically about the meaning of diversity on micro and macro levels can have a significant impact on learning (Eyler and Giles, At A Glance 76). This article examines how service learning can enhance students' development in correspondence with the goals of diversity education, while also addressing potential cautions to consider when implementing this educational practice.

Definition of Service Learning

Service learning has been used for decades, and the concept has been applied to education since the early 1930s (Slavkin 110). John Dewey believed that learning evolved through social interactions in realistic settings (Kovarick, 2). Service learning puts this belief into action. Service learning can be defined as "a learning experience that facilitates student acquisition of awareness, knowledge, and skills while promoting a commitment to personal, social, civic, and professional responsibility" (Burnett, Long, and Horne 158). Holland further explained that the hope of the service learning pedagogy in diversity education is to promote student reflection and awareness of political, social and economic intolerance in order to foster a deeper respect and appreciation for diversity (195).

Many universities across the country are incorporating service learning courses into the curriculum. The intent quite simply is to combine the needs of the community into the classroom content thus becoming a win-win for all parties involved (Blouin and Perry 132). Tryon et al. explained that one of the most popular ways of adding in an experiential component is by including a service learning assignment into an existing course (16). The marriage between academics and service differentiates service learning from volunteering. Service learning experiences typically last only one semester in duration and usually only a few hours per week outside of the classroom (Jay 259).

Rationale and Benefits of Service Learning within Diversity Education

With an ever-expanding multicultural society, more emphasis is being placed on the responsibility of universities to facilitate citizenship education. Lecture-style classrooms tend to reach students at the cognitive level, leaving the more resilient areas of behavior and affect, more or less, untouched (Sperling 311). One way to enhance students' understanding of the world around them is through service learning activities, where students are immersed directly into real world situations and engage in guided critical thinking to help problem solve complex problems (Morris, Pomery, and Murray 6). This educational practice is a sound, influential medium that can fundamentally result in numerous benefits for those involved (Slavkin 109). Combining community service with learning in multicultural education courses complements classroom learning by making the community a place where students can practice the skills they are learning in the classroom. It is through these experiences that students may interact with community members that they may have never had direct exposure to in their day to day lives. Lenz et al. explained that infusing service learning into the curriculum provides access to greater understanding as well as proficiency in areas such as social and cultural diversity (6). In addition, Taylor and Trepanier-Street suggested that civic engagement is a skill set that needs to be practiced and nurtured (15). Service learning may be one way to foster that skill set within the contexts of self-awareness and academic life. …

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