Service-learning is a form of experiential learning that combines relevant community service experiences with reflective exercises for a powerful learning experience that aligns with course curriculum. Service-learning can be integrated into courses in any discipline. For example, in a history course, students might develop exhibits for a local museum. In civil engineering, students might work with a local heritage organization to determine the potential of a vacant building for redevelopment.
As a form of active learning where students learn in partnership with community organizations, service-learning:
- Integrates community service with course curriculum
- Provides opportunities for reflection on service experiences (often through journalling, group discussions, presentations, essays, etc.)
- Addresses both educational and community needs
- Furthers civic responsibility
Examples of service-learning in university courses
- Creating and delivering outreach or education programs in public schools.
- Working with community organizations to conduct research, plan an event, write a report or proposal or develop training materials.
- Becoming involved in advocacy efforts such as participating in a rally, protest or demonstration.
- Working in collaboration with the community to develop a new community resource or space, such as creating plans for a new park or analyzing possibilities for re-use of vacant buildings.
These service activities become service-learning when the service component is integrated with reflection on the activity itself and how it relates to course content.
Service-learning versus other forms of experiential education
Service-learning is distinct from volunteering in that service-learning experiences are consciously designed to stimulate learning, and are thus linked to the curriculum and performed for course credit. Service-learning is also distinct from co-op and/or practicums due to the focus of servicelearning on developing civic responsibility and a service orientation as compared with the focus of co-op on developing students’ professional skills.
Benefits of incorporating service-learning in undergraduate courses
|Benefit for students||Make the most of this benefit by|
|Develops skills and builds confidence||… letting organizations know what skills students have to share|
|Increases civic responsibility and citizenship skills||… providing choice so that students can participate in a project or with an organization of personal interest|
|Allows students to see how course material is relevant in a broader context||… providing opportunities for students to link their experiences to course curriculum; consider assigning a project or report that is submitted to the organization|
|Engages diverse types of learners||… encouraging organizations to provide different service opportunities for students to choose from (e.g. performing secondary research, working with clients, etc.)|
Possible challenges in incorporating service-learning in undergraduate courses
|Challenge for instructors||Address this challenge by:|
|Time-consuming to co-ordinate service activities with community organizations||… building relationships with organizations so that workload decreases when the course is offered in subsequent semesters|
|Service opportunities may not progress as planned or provide the anticipated experience||… checking in with students and organizations often; Use reflective activities to help students understand and critique their experiences, good and bad; Ask students to evaluate service experiences at the end of the course|
|Have to relinquish some control over how the service portion of the course will progress||… being flexible early in the semester in case students need to be re-assigned to a different project or organization|
|Difficult to quantify / evaluate students’ service contributions||… evaluating students on the “learning” portion of their service-learning experience, not the “service” portion (ie. Evaluate a presentation based on their service experience)|
|Organizations hesitant to engage due to multiple requests and inadequate human resources||… working with a central campus group that coordinates and maintains relationships (at Waterloo, contact Dr. Diana Denton to connect with this group)|
- Bringle, R.G., & Hatcher, J.A. (1996). Implementing service learning in higher education. Journal of
Higher Education, 67(2), 221-239.
- Eyler, J. & Giles, D. (1999). Where’s the learning in service learning? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Canadian Association for Community Service-Learning: http://www.communityservicelearning.ca/eng
This Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Incorporating Service-Learning into University Courses. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.