As the needs in communities continue to rise, so seem service learning courses in higher education. Many universities now offer service learning not just as a portion of a course, but as a credit-bearing course entirely. It is a valuable learning experience for learners as they are able to take their classroom work and apply it to real life experiences. They not only take the classroom knowledge, but develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills as they relate to the issue that the community is faced with. This form of learning is also beneficial to students who in a traditional classroom (whether that be face-to-face or online) faces learning challenges. Miller points out that it provides an opportunity for all students to experience success providing students the ability to transfer academic concepts into outside world environments; and possibly motivate students who have become disengaged in the learning process.
When designed carefully, service learning has a positive affect on academic achievement. This form of learning is typically interdisciplinary in its approach. Experiential learning can lead to greater student achievement when skills and knowledge are integrated into the service learning experience. This comes about because the opportunities provide students the ability for practical exploration.
Service Learning projects should be collaborative in nature, sustainable when the students complete their work, and build capacity in the communities. Projects are meant to be developed to include the following:
- The need the project is addressing
- Project objectives
- Contribution to be made by both communities (the school and the community)
- Management and operational roles
- Associated involvement of local government and non-government organizations
- Method for evaluation
Over 10 years ago, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute began offering students the opportunity to earn credit for service learning. Our school district was able to reap the benefit of a couple students technology and design work. Up until the point, the district did not have a website. With the help of these two students, they met with the Superintendent and Librarian to begin the development of the site. They worked with teachers and staff in the district to assess the needs for distributing and promoting information through a website; talked about layout and design; established a content criteria; and made the site simple enough to use (at the time) so that once they were finished with the project, someone within the district could easily take over the task of maintaining and sustaining the site. Careful thought and planning had to go into the project. It was a valuable experience for the students as they not only developed and created the site, but then provided training for its maintenance. Upon completion of the project, students each wrote a reflective paper based on their experience.
Miller, K. (2012) Creating an Engaging and Relevant ‘Classroom’ that Ignites a Love of Learning: Inspiring, Practical Social Education through Service Learning. Teaching and Learning. Ethos : V0I2O, No 1