Let’s start out by defining our terms. The definition of service-learning differentiates it from volunteering and old-fashioned community service.
It is true that there are many definitions about service-learning floating around, some since the 1970s. In fact, everyone reading this probably has one. But this definition is a solid working one, succinctly covering the distinctives:
High-impact learning practices—first-year seminars, learning communities, service-learning, undergraduate research, and capstone experiences—can provide intensive learning for students and improve retention, persistence to degree, and postgraduate attainment. However, to be effective, institutions need high-level support and cross-divisional collaboration, says Lynn E. Swaner, a higher education consultant and coauthor (with Jayne E. Brownell) of Five High-Impact Practices: Research on Learning Outcomes, Completion, and Quality (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2010). In an interview with Academic Leader, Swaner talked about her research and offered suggestions on successfully implementing these practices.
Service-learning courses offer a combination of academic content, service experience, and critical reflection. To make service-learning successful, consider the following recommendations from Barbara Jacoby, Faculty Associate for Leadership and Community Service-Learning at the University of Maryland, College Park.
While it is easy to see how service-learning meshes with courses in the social sciences, public health and education, can it work equally well in other areas, such as the hard sciences and the humanities?
Yes. While service-learning is not appropriate for every course, it can and does work well in every discipline. No matter the discipline, research has shown that service-learning helps students identify and examine the “big questions” and the social context in which the disciplines are situated.