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About Service Learning



What is SL?


Among young adults, charity work and volunteerism are substantially more common than political activism, civic engagement, and social justice initiatives.  Since much of charity work aims only to provide temporary band-aid fixes, many young adults are growing up believing that the modest gains afforded through charitable community work are the only changes they are able to affect in the communities they care about.  While community projects such as preparing meals for nursing homes, sweeping trash from a parking lot, distributing blankets at a homeless shelter, or even conducting vision screenings are valuable and important in the development of social responsibility and civic commitments in today’s undergraduate students, we believe that community service alone cannot instill important values and understanding that leads to a lifelong commitment to community and society.  Because these activities do not address root causes of problems, they do not achieve the kind of structural change necessary both to eliminate a problem entirely, and to provide young people with a sense of their own ability to affect structural change.


As a result, many colleges and universities have made greater efforts to involve students in service-learning, a credit-bearing, educational experience that combines organized service activitywith in-class academic study in a way that enhances learning of the course content as well as applies scholarly learning to salient community issues, providing structured time for students to think, talk, and write about what they did and saw during the activity.  At its best, service-learning improves student learning by allowing students to gain further understanding of course content, addresses community needs, facilitates public debate and dialog, and creates campuses that are true partners with their communities. Perhaps most importantly, service-learning is a key tool for engaging students in the democracy and educating the citizens of today and tomorrow.  Hundreds of college and university presidents, most of the major higher education associations, and a number of highly influential scholars actively support the development of service-learning as a teaching strategy on college campuses.   



What SL is NOT


Community service differs from service-learning in that volunteerism alone, outside of the context of a class, emphasizes the service being provided and the benefits of the service activities to recipients, and thus the focus is on charity and temporary solutions rather than systemic issues and social change.  While there might be meaningful service to the community, and depending on the nature of the experience possibly also purposeful civic learning, there is no enhanced academic learning.  Students must be provided structured opportunity for students to critically reflect on experiences in order for meaningful civic development and deeper commitments to society to develop.



For more information


Feel free to browse through our library of service learning books and articles, which are available for loan, and our collection of links to national organizations providing resources related to service learning.


If you’d like to learn more about the pedagogy of service learning, we’d be glad to talk to you.  Contact the CESR at cesr@ua.edu or (205) 348-6490.