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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is Service Learning?
  2. Is service learning the same as an internship?
  3. What are the benefits of service learning to:
    1. Students?
    2. Faculty?   
    3. Community? 
    4. University?
  4. Does research support any of these benefits?
  5. What elements do courses with a service learning component contain?
  6. Does service learning need to take the entire semester, or can it be just a portion of the course?
  7. What are some of the elements that are essential in developing service learning programs on campus?

What is Service Learning?

Service learning is a teaching methodology that integrates academic instruction with strategic community service. Students engage in classroom activities and discussions, and perform service projects which are related to their academic coursework with a community partner. Service Learning is similar to internships, field work and experiential education programs, but goes beyond the scope of these through the integration of classroom reflection methods and reciprocity for all participants (students, faculty, and community partners).

More than a volunteering opportunity, service learning furthers educational goals and contributes to critical and reflective thinking. From focused instruction and concept discussions with classmates to practical, real-world application, coupled with reflection and assessment, the learning process becomes a much richer, well-rounded experience. Through reflective activities, students enhance their understanding of course content, learn to apply academic training to solve real-world problems, and develop a sense of civic responsibility.

is SERVICE LEARNING the same as an internship?

Internship programs and experiential education are career-building exercises in which students develop practical skills and garner valuable experiences to facilitate future employment opportunities. Partnerships are often between local businesses or organizations rather than non-profit or community service agencies, either with or without pay. The emphasis in experiential education is on skill development; service learning builds on the internship or experiential educational program through reciprocity between the non-profit agency and the student, thereby creating an opportunity for each to directly benefit from the experience.  It incorporates social consciousness and awareness development, frequently termed “citizenship,” through reflection and hands-on experience.

What are the benefits of Service Learning?

Participants - students, faculty, community partners, the university - benefit from the service learning experience.

a.  Student Benefits:

  • Students gain academic credit while serving the community, and better understand the relevance of their academic coursework.
  • Students collaborate on real-world solutions.
  • Students develop marketable skills which translates into jobs and higher educational goals.
  • Service Learning programs improve critical thinking, interpersonal communication and conflict resolution skills.
  • Service Learning helps students find their passion to make a difference in their local and global communities

b.  Faculty Benefits:

  • Service learning encourages faculty to be innovative in their teaching, enriching the experience for both teacher and student.
  • Direct contact with local issues keeps faculty connected with their communities and provides them with data they would not have otherwise obtained.
  • Service learning provides opportunities for new areas of research and publication, and for outside funding sources to reduce research budgets.
  • Student research conducted in service learning courses is a cost-effective way to facilitate research on a limited budget.

c.  Community Benefits:

  • Community outreach programs receive talented, energetic and motivated resources needed to meet increasing needs.
  • Student-community partnerships promote civic responsibility and a sense of community.
  • Student volunteers bring critical analysis skills and generate fresh insight about organizational operations that translate into increased capacity to serve clients.
  • Partnerships bring increased community awareness to the problems facing community organizations.

d.  University/Institution Benefits:

  • Service learning assists in the fulfillment of the institution’s mission of service and outreach efforts to communities.
  • Service learning increases campus-community collaboration and partnerships, which endears the community to the university and shows its responsive to community needs.
  • Outside funding sources reduce research budgets, yet maintain cutting-edge research projects.
  • Campus-community partnerships bring increased publicity to the institution; heightened visibility and prestige can lead to increased funding and enrollment.

Does research support any of these benefits?

Research studies have been documented. The benefits of service learning have been the focus of many studies, especially over the last twenty years. Programs involving grade K-12, secondary, and college students have been evaluated, with particular emphasis on undergraduate level college and university students. Many early studies focused on multiple student outcomes: impact on grades, test scores and communications skills. Other research looked at specific but less quantifiable effects on outcomes such as personal efficacy, citizenship and attitudes on issues of racism and diversity. Studies have also sought to determine the impact of service learning on participating communities, faculty, and institutions. Examples of research supporting service learning projects involving post-secondary students include:

  • “Effects of an undergraduate program to integrate academic learning and service: cognitive, prosocial cognitive, and identity outcomes,” Batchelder, Thomas H. and Root, Susan (1994)
  • “The Benefits of Service: Evidence from undergraduates,” Sax, Linda J. and Astin, Alexander W. (1997)
  • “Effect of a Comprehensive Service-Learning Program on College Students’ Level of Modern Racism,” Myers-Lipton, Scott J. (1996)
  • “Effect of a Comprehensive Service-Learning Program on College Students’ Civic Responsibility,” Myers-Lipton, Scott J. (1998)
  • “An Assessment Model for Service-Learning: Comprehensive Case Studies of Impact on Faculty, Students, Community, and Institution,” Driscoll, A., Holland, B., Gelmon, S., and Kerrigan, S. (1996)

What elements do courses with a Service Learning component contain?

Effective service learning classes are built on three core elements: preparation, performance, and reflection. A fourth element, recognition, can also enhance the overall service learning experience for students and faculty.

Preparation:

  • Projects should be developed to enhance the academic coursework, develop or practice skills, and foster education through experience.
  • Objectives, goals, and expectations should be clearly defined.
  • Service opportunities and community partnerships should be carefully chosen to ensure that the services to be performed address the actual needs of the community.
  • Both faculty and student interests and abilities should also be assessed in order to provide meaningful, practical, and sustainable programs.

Performance:

  • Service learning programs work best when program facilitators involve both service providers and recipients in all stages of program planning, execution and evaluation.
  • Faculty instructors and program facilitators should be available to discuss students’ experiences with them during and after the program.

Reflection:

  • Perhaps the most distinguishing and essential characteristic of service learning is the emphasis placed on students’ reflection on their experiences. Both public and private reflection are encouraged, often through journaling, discussion, and presentations with faculty and fellow student participants.
  • Reflection by program facilitators and faculty is also important. Many different assessment tools are utilized to judge the effectiveness of programs and to identify opportunities for improvement. The growing body of research obtained from program assessments helps to increase awareness of and participation in service learning programs.

Recognition:

  • Recognizing and celebrating students’ community service participation shows them that their efforts are both valued and appreciated. It also positively reinforces and further strengthens their service ethic.
  • Faculty and program facilitators benefit from recognition of the efforts put forth in service learning programs. Many programs require more effort to develop, maintain, and evaluate than conventional methods, with correspondingly higher rewards for the investments of time and energy. Stipends and other monetary incentives, as well as public recognition, can provide valuable rewards to faculty willing to go the extra mile on behalf of their students, institution, and community.

Does service learning need to take the entire semester, or can it be just a portion of the course?

This depends upon the course focus and student outcomes. In some courses, service learning will be the overall focus of the class. It thereby takes a majority of the time allotted and accounts for a large portion of a student's grade. For others, it may consist of a project that enhances the class, and thereby be a smaller portion of class time and student grades. 

What are some of the elements that are essential in developing Service Learning programs on campus?

  • A service learning committee consisting of administrators, faculty, student, and community representatives.
  • An administrative support system, including operations and management systems and technical support staff.
  • A mission statement and philosophy.
  • Clear goals and objectives.
  • Academic, curricular, and risk management policies and guidelines.
  • Assessment and evaluation methods.
  • Faculty incentive and recognition policies.

Service Learning Courses

Find out how you can learn and serve! Check out some of the service-learning courses offered at UT Arlington.

Faculty Service Learning Bios

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