About Service-Learning at Shenandoah University
Service-Learning is predicated on the mission, core values and vision of Shenandoah University. Through carefully designed classes faculty inspire students to be critical, reflective thinkers; engaged learners and ethical, compassionate citizens who are committed to making responsible contributions within a community, a nation and the world. Service-learning celebrates creative expressions of learning, teaching and community engagement. Through on-going communication with leaders in communities mutually beneficial relationships are nurtured. Students develop core competencies specific to their field of study while also realizing the goals of Shenandoah University as a leader in addressing human and community needs.
By integrating both academic learning and community service, service learning courses differs in focus from both practicum/internship experiences (which focus primarily on student knowledge/skill development) and volunteer experiences (which focus primarily on meeting the needs of the community). The teaching methods and learning activities in service learning courses are more student-directed than is typical in traditional lecture-based courses.
Why Service-Learning at Shenandoah University?
SU Mission Statement
Shenandoah University educates and inspires individuals to be critical, reflective thinkers; lifelong learners; and ethical, compassionate citizens who are committed to making responsible contributions within a community, a nation and the world.
SU Strategic Plan
Inspire Students through Transformative Learning
- Use high-impact practices to embed liberal learning in professional and pre-professional curricula
- Engage students in learning and service activities in partnership with communities and organizations external to the university
- Engage our students through experiences inside and outside the classroom that bring theory to practice, develop intellectual capacity and higher-order thinking, and engender transformative learning in career and life skills, self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and cultural competency.
The preparation of citizens for active involvement in community life has been one of the goals of American higher education since the founding of Harvard in 1636. The public purpose of the American college includes a responsibility to the past, the present and the future (The American College and the University: A History, Rudolph 1962).
Service Learning allows for our students to substantially address the embedded and emerging social problems of communities.
Contemporary service-learning programs represent the confluence of two important historical traditions: (a) the American tradition of service to the community, and (b) the experiential approach to pedagogy (Alt & Medrich, 1994; Shaffer, 1993). The earliest definition of service-learning emerged in the work of Robert Sigmon and William Ramsey and can be found in the publications of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) (SREB, 1967 in Giles & Eyler, 1994). Sigmon and Ramsey defined service- learning as the accomplishment of tasks that meet genuine human needs in combination with conscious educational growth.
Over the last twenty years, at least 300 definitions of service-learning have been published, casting service-learning as an experience, a program, pedagogy, and a philosophy (Jacoby & Associates, 1996). Various terms such as community service, volunteerism, community-based learning and service-learning internship among others are often used interchangeably with service-learning. While the differences in these terms initially may appear simply preferential, some researchers have made clear distinctions among these terms. A closer examination of the activities reveals distinct learning objectives. In particular, differences among various forms of experiential education, especially with regard to the impact of the experience on students have been studied (Furco, 1996). This ambiguity makes it difficult to articulate the goals of service- learning, yet at the same time this flexibility allows faculty across campuses to integrate some form of service-learning.
Although over 300 definitions have emerged, the Commission on National and Community Service has cogently defined service-learning as follows:
Service-learning is a method:
- under which students learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service experiences that meet actual community needs and that are coordinated in collaboration with the school and community;
- that is integrated into the students’ academic curriculum or provides structured time for the student to think, talk, or write about what the student did and saw during the actual service activity;
- that provides students with opportunities to use newly acquired skills and knowledge in real-life situations in their own communities; and
- that enhances what is taught in school by extending student learning beyond the classroom and into the community and helps to foster the development of a sense of caring for others. (National and Community Service Act of 1990).
As a form of experiential education, service-learning is based on the pedagogical principle that learning and development do not necessarily occur as a result of experience itself, but as a result of reflection explicitly designed to foster learning and development (Jacoby, 1996). In contrast to the traditional, paternalistic, one-way approach to service, where one person or group has resources that they share with a person or group that they assume lacks resources, service-learning encourages students to do things with others rather than for others. Participants should expect to change in the process (Karasik, 1993). Service-learning is distinct from volunteerism in that it, “is explicitly linked to curricular objectives, and in that it professes a certain degree of academic rigor, embedded in the reflection and integration students engage in before, during and/or after their service experiences” (Strage, 2000, p. 49).
SU Definition of Service-Learning
Service-learning is a teaching and learning method in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured reflection opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and meet course objectives.
- Provides on-going structured opportunities for students to reflect critically on their service experiences.
- Maintains academic rigor so that class objectives are enhanced
- Recognizes that community definition of its own needs is critical to its success.
- Designs projects that strive to build capacity in the community.
- Includes training, supervision, monitoring, support, recognition, and evaluation to meet service and learning goals.
Creating partnerships within the community to connect students with service- learning opportunities requires the essential ingredients of time, knowledge, interpersonal skills and sustainable resources.
Potential partners often approach the relationship from different places with different goals, priorities, capacities and needs.
So, what makes partnerships works?
- Shared leadership, responsibility, and oversight.
- Relationships are central.
- An appropriate balance is struck between trust building and action.
- Taking enough time for partners to develop a sense of mutual understanding and trust.
- It is vital to move beyond planning in order to begin taking concrete actions.
- An action–reflection approach.
- Mutual understanding and benefits are understood.
- Partnerships as means to achieve benefits for all partners and the community.
- It is important to engage in active efforts for each partner to understand the needs, strengths, goals, limitations, expertise, and self-interests of the other partners.
- Design efforts to reflect those things, including clear expectations.
- Mutual learning objectives and educational activities.
- Vision guides structure.
- What do you hope to accomplish by forming a partnership?
- What is the vision for the community?
- Answering those questions should precede and guide questions of structure, not vice versa.
- Being attentive to planning, communication, training, orientation, and preparation.
- It is important for partners to develop a common language and systems for clear and ongoing communication.
- Then it is possible to provide the opportunities for all partners to learn about each other and be successful in building a relationship and working together
Start small and with concrete goals when developing partnerships. From there, emphasize an action-reflection approach and foster collaboration by setting out to do a concrete, focused task that is mutually shared. With this, the collaborative sense of group and ownership develops and trust is established making a sense of mutuality the expectation. Partnerships often start small and will grow in both size and formality as time goes on. This incremental process helps to avoid the situations in which efforts to create ambitious partnerships from the outset results in an immense amount of time and resources. In addition, remember to keep partnerships fluid and to add new people as the relationships develop.
Service-Learning benefits students in two major ways:
- Unique personal impact of service-learning on each student
- Introduces a variety of personal qualities such as:
- Efficacy, interpersonal skills, reduction in stereotyping, social responsibility, and commitment to future service.
- Service-learning has been found to have a positive effect on students’ personal development, including self-esteem, confidence in political and social skills and building relationships with others
Students are challenged to examine multiple perspectives in theory and in practice through:
- Analyzing models and implementation techniques
- Discussing and debating
- Considering solutions to real problems
There are two kinds of reflection when it comes to service-learning: Personal and Critical.
- Personal Reflection includes an examination of oneself in relation to others, or an examination of one within social groups.
- Critical Reflection includes a deeper understanding of the historical, sociological, cultural, economic and political contexts of the needs or issues being addressed.
Reflection requires structure when brought into the classroom. Structured reflection allows for students to examine critical issues within a service-learning project, connect the service to the class, find personal relevance in the activity and allows for students to be further connected to issues that may spark long-term academic interest.
Elements of Reflection
- The Four C’s
- Reflection throughout the class
- Reflection is structured and directly related to the learning objectives
- Reflection sets high expectations, demands high quality effort and stimulates further learning
- Appropriate activities for the course and the developmental progress of the students
Methods of Reflection:
- Personal Narratives
- Directed Writing
Effective Assessment Plans:
- Focus on core issues
- Reinforce common definitions/terms
- Are grounded in data
- Reflect all participant perspectives
- Document strengths and areas for improvement
- Anticipates the audiences for and applications of results
Assessment outcomes include descriptive information, analytic information and comparisons, case studies, evidence of impacts, principles of good practice and ideas for program development.
Good assessments will:
- define strengths
- validate knowledge
- provide evidence for resource decisions
- identify opportunities for improvement
Bad assessments will:
- consume energy and resources
- undermine program activities
Service learning is about…
- A particular community or population
- A particular issue, challenge, opportunity
- The provision of services to community
- A particular organization or grass-root effort
- Relevant public policies; historic perspectives
- The role of stakeholders
Based on these objectives, students will gain a variety of key concepts as a result of their experience and reflection. These concepts include an awareness of community, a commitment to service, career exploration, self-awareness, understanding course content, communication skill development and cross-cultural skills.
Effective Assessment Methods:
- Focus Groups are efficient and interactive.
- Interviews can be time intensive but allows for deeper views of individual experiences.
- Surveys are time efficient, objective and anonymous but may be superficial.
- Journals, syllabi, site-reports are all useful for validation and cross-checking.
- Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning
- The International Journal of Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement
- Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement
- Partnerships: A Journal of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement
- The International Journal of Education for Social Justice (RIEJS)
- Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship
- Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement
- VA Engage Journal
- Campus Compact