What is Academic Service-Learning?

 Academic Service Learning is a teaching method that combines project learning and community service with academic instruction. Students provide a service to a non-profit community agency and are then graded on their ability to demonstrate a critical analysis of their experience as it relates to the class objectives. 

Service-Learning is sometimes called Experiential Learning, Project-Based Learning, Community Service and depending upon the service activity (i.e., students completing a research-based study for a local non-profit) service-learning can be called Research-Based Learning. 

There are three elements that distinguish service learning from either volunteerism or an internship:

  • service work is tied to the course objectives 
  • academic, critical reflection is required 
  • placement is in a non-profit setting
Service learning is not volunteerism. Students must perform a service that is fundamentally connected to the learning objectives of a specific class. Creating a web page for a homeless shelter could become a service learning project for a web design class.
Service learning is not an internship, because students do not work in the private sector or receive compensation. With service learning, students provide service in a non-profit environment. The only extrinsic reward is the  
academic credit they earn for their coursework. The time commitment for a service-learning project is typically less than that of an internship. Additionally, in an internship reflection is not a required activity. 

Service learning distinguishes itself most clearly from volunteerism and internship work by requiring critical reflection. In critical reflection, students demonstrate in an academic format that they have analyzed their work in the community and connected their experience to their classwork and to their personal growth. 

The benefits of service learning are many. Students
transfer the theory and content of their classes to creative and relevant problem-solving. Both faculty and students strengthen their ties to the community as they build relationships with non-profit groups. Community agencies benefit from the creative energy of student service, while providing those students with work opportunities in the "real world." Perhaps most importantly, student involvement in service learning develops a sense of civic responsibility and active citizenship that can continue beyond college.

We encourage faculty who are interested in offering service-learning in their course or courses to contact the Office of Service-Learning & Civic Engagement at least one semester beforehand.