A study to define Service Learning


Service-learning is a credit-bearing educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility (Bringle and Hatcher,1996). Service-learning is defined by Payne (2003) as "a method of teaching through which students apply newly acquired academic skills and knowledge to address real-life needs in their own communities", and this method of learning has been shown to have numerous positive effects on student participants and the academic process overall. Greene (1998) highlighted how students tended to perceive their service as having a greater impact on them personally rather than on the individuals actually receiving assistance. These students prominently cited the educational value of civic engagement and an altered point of view as beneficial consequences of service-learning Research has also shown that students participating in service-learning tend to score higher on exams than students who have not been involved in a service-learning activity (Strage, 2000). Additionally, the service-learning component has been shown to enhance faculty-student interaction which in turn tends to advance the student's educational integration processes (McKay & Estrella, 2008).

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In order to gain relatively accurate information pertaining to the perceptions of students participating in service-learning it is common for the course component to use reflection which combines commentary and self-evaluations related to the service experience (Moely, McFarland, Miron, Mercer, & Ilustre, 2002). The main goal of this reflection process is to foster a greater understanding of the academic ideologies behind the course teachings as it relates to the service activity (Hatcher, Bringle, & Muthiah, 2004). In addition, student reflection on their service has been utilized in order to guide the student in developing deeper cultural and self-awareness (Cone & Harris, 1996). Overall reflections are deemed extremely valuable to the learning experience, with classes requiring service but not including reflection showing lower rates of learning when compared to service-learning classes that included a service-reflection element (Godar, 2000)

Generally, females participate in civic engagement activities more often than do males and overall tend to exhibit more positive outcomes as a result of service-learning course components (Eyler & Giles, 1999). In a study by Nichols and Monard (2001), focused on gerontology courses implementing a relevant service-learning component, found that females tended to benefit most when their service involved one-on-one relationship building while males seemed to benefit most when their service was directly related to future occupational goals. Furthermore, this study found the same correlation observed with females appeared in relation to younger students, highlighting a recommendation for socially oriented service when dealing with younger, females (Nichols & Mondard, 2001). Programs and classes involved in community service learning are differentiated from other educational courses in the fact that community service learning courses benefit both the student and those they are serving equally (Simons & Cleary, 2006). Research by Green (1998) found that some students believed that community service actually played a greater impact on their than on those they were actually providing service for. Predisposing factors of students who participate in service-learning courses include: leadership ability, a strong desire to help in community action programs, outside involvement in religious programs/activities and less materialistic tendencies (Astin & Sax, 1998). Ideas such as civic engagement and a novel point of view are also often quoted beneficial results by students who engage in community service-learning courses (Green, 1998).

Research by Simons and Cleary (2006) revealed that, after only one semester, students in a service learning course showed significant improvements in political awareness and diversity, as well as community self-efficacy. Students also reiterated that the benefits of helping other people, feeling personal satisfaction, improving the community, improving society as a whole, academic enhancement and fulfilling civic or social responsibilities as reasons why they participated in service-learning (Astin and Sax, 1998). In a study by Moely, McFarland, Miron, Mercer & Ilustre (2002), it was also noted that students who participated in service-learning courses were more likely to maintain positive attitudes, over the course of a semester, than those who did not participate in service-learning courses. Students who participated in service-learning opportunities also stated "self-expansion" as a prime motivator for their participation (Brody & Wright, 2004). As far as reasons on how students can be effective and successful in the field of community based-research (within the larger field of community service learning as a whole) setting goals, setting realistic expectations and time frames, establishing clear support systems, ensuring prior experience and skills, and facilitating personal investment in the actual project are all key (Brody & Wright, 2004). Moely, Furco, and Redd (2008) also found that students involved in community service learning, "changed the way [they] think about societal problems," and "learned to appreciate different cultures." Also students noted community-service learning, "studied more diligently and intensively then [they] typically had before" and "changed [their] plans for [their] career and lives' work."

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Historical Background

The origins of service learning can be found in the Morrill act of 1862, which established the land grant institution. The focus of land grant institutions was to serve the public good through service (NEED CITATION). These land grant institutions developed educational outreach programs which provided an early model for service-learning. Service bureaus were a part of land grant institutions that helped with activities such as "offering technical information on community problems, inciting public interest and when necessary, helping the community to organize for action (Reber, 1916, p.191).

The reflection component to service learning can be linked to the Educational philosopher John Dewey in his 1933 book How we Think. Dewey discuses both reflective thinking and reflective activity and their ability to aid in learning. This recognition of reflection as a key component of learning helping to establish it as an important aspect of service-learning (Brooking, 2009). Giles and Eyler note Dewey's, "principles of experience, inquiry and reflection as the key elements of a theory of knowing in service-learning" (1994, p NEED).