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Frequently Asked Questions About Service Learning

What is service learning?
According to the Campus Compact National Center for Community Colleges, service learning is defined as follows:

Service-Learning is a teaching method that combines community service with academic instruction as it focuses on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility. Service-Learning programs involve students in organized community service that addresses local needs, while developing their academic skills, sense of civic responsibility, and commitment to the community.

What is the difference between community service and service learning?
The key difference between community service and service learning is that the latter is an instructional strategy. A key reason for providing the “service” component in service learning is that it provides a context for learning. Community service activities are not necessarily tied to the curriculum and, therefore, are often viewed as extracurricular.

How will the service learning participation affect a student’s employment opportunities and chances of being admitted to colleges and universities?
More and more employers, colleges, and universities are looking for students who have demonstrated experience in leadership and service activities. In addition to improving learning, service learning can provide students with a real edge when it comes to developing these kinds of skills and abilities.

Are there different degrees of phasing in service learning?
Yes. There is a wide range of possibilities that students and teachers may explore in implementing a service learning activity. An example of a simple activity is identifying an issue that is relevant to other students and then taking action on that issue by writing a report (learning content) and presenting the findings to a group (community) of students or others. More complex activities might involve the targeting of major issues, such as the use of alternative transportation, environmental conservation, or establishment of a cross-age tutoring program between the college and local elementary school.

How can we make sure that the “learning” part of service learning happens?
The teacher must first identify the subject-matter standards that will be the content core of the service learning. These standards are the basis on which the student designs his or her activity. The teacher must be very clear about what the student is expected to know and be able to do as a result of the service learning activity.

How does a teacher find time to do the “extra” work necessary to design and implement service learning experiences?
In the case of the less complex activities, the students should do any necessary additional work. The teacher identifies the content core and oversees the students’ progress. There may be a need to provide class time for students to do work or to provide access to a telephone or other means of communication. In many cases, adult volunteers (college students, retired people, parents, or volunteer center staff) can help students organize and implement their activities. Obtaining these volunteers can be a component of the student’s service learning activity. The most structured approach is to hire a service learning coordinator to work with the teacher(s) and perform the necessary organizational and logistical work in helping to organize and implement the service learning activities. Funding for this staffing may come from state or federal categorical funding, the state’s General Fund or private funds.