Susan J. McAleavey, Director
Center for Public Policy and Service, Mesa Community College
1. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EXPERIENTIAL
LEARNING AND SERVICE-LEARNING?
Experiential learning denotes any learning activity that directly engages the learner in the phenomena being studied. Service-learning falls within the continuum of experiential learning.
However, one of the primary differences between experiential learning, as it is commonly known, and service-learning is that the focus of experiential learning is often on the benefit to students, whereas the focus in service-learning is twofold. Service-learning is reciprocally beneficial, with meaningful service being provided to the community and meaningful learning experiences provided for the student. "Service-learning programs emphasize the accomplishment of tasks which meet human needs, in combination with conscious educational growth." (Kendall, 1990, p. 40)
According to Kendall an effective service-learning program:
2. WHY SHOULD FACULTY PROMOTE SERVICE-LEARNING?
A. Service-learning enhances student learning
From John Dewey (1938) to Robert Coles (1990), the assertion is repeated: . . . one learns as well or better by doing as reading or listening. Education is not only a function of books, but a function of experience and connecting what one reads and hears with ongoing observation and experiences. Service-learning is a particularly appropriate pedagogy, therefore, for courses that have performance skills or social awareness components which are best developed through participation.
As faculty we seek to influence our students; we do not want simply to give information. Service-learning provides a vehicle to effect change because it readily engages the emotions and spirit, which is much more deeply motivating. Add to this engagement a reflection component, which is a crucial part of service programs, and the learning can be guided and integrated into coursework with assistance from the professor.
Research on the benefits of experiential learning to students has been well documented. In comparison, research on service-learning is in its infancy, but the evidence is consistent with past research on experiential learning. Benefits of service-learning include the development of higher thinking skills, understanding problems in a more complex way, a more motivated and inquiring attitude toward education, learning and the world, plus the additional benefits of continued community involvement and a heightened consciousness of citizenship. Also, the hope is that the student will take away with him or her the motivation to seek out more information independently, and in this way educators can also promote life-long learning.
Service-learning faculty and staff can also testify to the heightened interest in, and more meaningful and sustained learning of course material (Gray, 1996; Campus Compact, 1994; Boss, 1994; Giles and Eyler, 1996; Campus Compact, 1995). Roger Henry, director of Brevard Community College's Center for Service-Learning reported "about 90 per cent of students say that their service-learning experience was as valuable or more valuable to them than their classroom work (Willis, 1992, p. 36)."
Additionally, as the body of research grows on the importance
of addressing different learning styles among our students, we
know that the paths to knowledge are diverse (Duffy and Jones,
1994). Service and experiential learning provide a framework
whereby varied learning styles can be accommodated (Kolb, 1984).
New research possibilities may emerge from students' ideas and
research, and new ideas can be developed for use in the classroom
B. It promotes a sense of civic responsibility among students.
Service-learning can be a vehicle to greater community participation, and as Ben Franklin put it, "We want to develop in young people an inclination joined with an ability to serve one's friends and family." Ben Barber (1992) claims that we are born free but we are not born citizens, and that educators need to teach effective participation in a democracy.
The California Policy Center for Higher Education (1993) concluded that amidst the clamor and furor over lack of funding a more immediate problem is the need for new, coherent and comprehensive policies to be articulated in colleges and universities. This includes the fact that an institution has a responsibility to the community from which it is funded. Many college students' education is supported by tax dollars from varied sources, with the support often equaling 80% of college costs. Service-learning can thus be viewed as also giving back a little.
Similarly, Ed O'Neil (1987) notes that institutions of higher learning must begin to recognize civic education as central to their purpose which " . . . requires the opportunity for the practice of skills in the public realm" (p. 200). Service-learning can provide this opportunity.
Once students are given the opportunity to participate in the
community in a meaningful way, research indicates that they frequently
continue to engage in volunteerism and social activism (Gray,
1996). Furthermore, service-learning demonstrates that intellectual
challenge and the exercise of concern need not be regarded as
rivals (Willis, 1992).
3. DO SERVICE-LEARNING ACTIVITIES DETRACT FROM
THE RIGORS OF CLASSROOM/LABORATORY LEARNING?
These learning activities should complement each other. Service-learning requires us as faculty to somewhat relinquish the notion that the only worthwhile academic pursuit happens in the classroom. It frequently requires more time and energy of the student than literary research. For example, time spent volunteering, journaling and reflecting can be perceived as quite rigorous by the student, especially as the experience can be emotionally draining even as it is rewarding. The fact that the student may find this process more fun or even frustrating than pure literary research does not take away from its academic value. Indeed, the service experience should be combined with reading around the subject area.
While sensitive to the issue of service-learning watering down
the academic content, research indicates that if we focus on giving
credit for student learning, as opposed to memorization and repetition
of information, our teaching will be enhanced (Resnick, 1987).
4. WHY IS IT IMPORTANT THAT SERVICE-LEARNING BE
INCORPORATED IN THE TRADITIONAL CURRICULUM?
As the level of interest in and sense of urgency about community and public service grows greater every day, educators are grappling with what they often perceive as student apathy and mediocre academic performance (Roueche, 1993). If properly implemented, service-learning can provide an effective response to these concerns, especially since it offers opportunities that cannot be obtained in any other way (Boyer, 1987).
Warren Bryan Martin (1977) poses the question "if human passions are to change . . . (in order to address the needs of a turbulent society) . . . how can our passions be changed? The answer is . . . Certainly not by lectures. Just as creativity requires more than studying examples of creativity, so the practice of judgment, magnanimity and other ideas requires opportunities for students to practice these virtues. Providing these opportunities deserves the attention of all faculty members and administrators" (pp. 199-200).
Do we want our students to leave the classroom with motivation to continue their learning, with more skills to apply and contribute to society? Do we wish to seek ways to touch our student's pre-formed attitudes and to have them question such attitudes in light of new information? If so, service-learning can expedite that process of personal as well as academic development by inculcating the habit of thoughtful reflection. "Thinking begins in what may fairly be called a forked-road situation; a situation which is ambiguous, which presents a dilemma" (Dewey, 1938). It is much harder to replicate a forked-road situation in the classroom, and theoretical dilemmas are not generally as motivating. By placing our students in circumstances where they are inspired to ask the question "why?", we are building a student body that may find more meaning and pride in their course work.
Furthermore, both the structure of knowledge used and the social conditions of its use may be more fundamentally mismatched than we previously thought. Studies show that the general, widely usable skills and theoretical principles which schools aim to teach are not always relevant to the situation-specific competencies needed in the world of work, and this pedagogical practice often avoids ethical issues, (Resnick, 1987). For example, Ernest Boyer (1987) noted that physics students at Cornell cannot relate what they learn to the outside world, which can bring serious consequences. Service-learning can promote connections between students' learning and the applications of that learning in the real world, with all of its moral and ecological implications.
More specifically, do we want our classes to have relevance for
students' futures in the world of work? Social skills are highly
valued in the workplace. John D. Rockefeller (1907) stated that
he would pay more for the ability to deal with people than any
other ability under the sun. Service-learning can contribute
to students' recognition of the importance of getting along with
others and can enhance the skills to do so. Students often must
step outside their comfort zones when they engage in service which,
combined with reflection, contributes to greater self knowledge
and personal growth (Delve et al, 1990). Service-learning
is thus a process that links college, work/community and personal
5. HOW CAN I INCORPORATE SERVICE-LEARNING
INTO AN ALREADY CROWDED SYLLABUS?
If as faculty we are prepared to relinquish some control and focus on student learning rather than our teaching, service-learning will become less of a competitor for valuable instructional time and more of a tool to enhance learning. By implication, our "already crowded syllabi" may be making several assumptions that are actually at odds with what most faculty want students to learn from a college education, such as self responsibility and critical thinking skills. As Tim Stanton (1987) points out, if we focus on information delivery we place students in a passive role, and consequently they may lose the ability to formulate theories and think independently.
In order to make time for service-learning, we need to establish our priorities as educators. The extent to which we embrace service-learning may reflect the extent to which we value experimenting with a new form of teaching to facilitate learning. It may also reflect the extent to which we are willing to demonstrate our commitment to community and to educating for democratic participation. In other words, we must sacrifice some class time for learning activity that will ultimately get us more of what we want.
The majority of faculty who try service-learning are immediately gratified by students' responses. This gradual building of confidence will result in transformed classrooms which effectively combine service, reflection and course material. Service-learning faculty learn to trust a process which gives students more responsibility for their own learning, yet institutes a structure of accountability for the quality of work. Combining course material with service experiences takes time to develop, but there are many prototypes and sample materials currently available (see answer to Q.7 below).
Many experienced service-learning faculty believe that if we
are to see service-learning as compatible with classroom instruction,
we may have to move toward the notion of "service as text"
(Morton and Battistoni, 1995). This would entail making substantial
service-related substitutions for traditional class texts and
the chapter-per-week format of many college classes. Even for
those faculty sympathetic to this notion, this could not, and
should not, happen overnight. A well-integrated service-learning
classroom has had many semesters of experience, community partnering
and planning put into it, and, as with teaching in general, will
always be a work-in-progress.
6. HOW DO WE EVALUATE STUDENTS' PROGRESS IN
In theory, in order for service-learning to be an educational experience it must meet the criteria of all methods of educational delivery: (1) Measurable objectives must be part of the learning plan, (2) appropriate activities or experiences must be identified to effect learning to meet the objectives, and (3) the learning must have a certain economy of time and effort in order that the great variety of "things" that must be learned can be considered.
In practice, evaluation tools include a learning plan, students' journaling, or an equivalent measurable reflection activity, an integrative paper or papers and contact with the site supervisor. Teaching students how to "read" their experiences and theorize about them in the context of discipline-based knowledge may require a shift in emphasis from learning outcomes to learning as a process. Learning objectives may, therefore, need to be re-defined in terms of a continuum. With this in mind, intended outcomes (those learning objectives which were predetermined and planned) must be continuously evaluated against the realities of the service experience. A learning plan should also reflect academic content commonly found in the discipline offering the course, as well as address more practical student and site personnel expectations.
For many faculty, individual student accountability takes the form of journal writing or an equivalent, which is monitored for inductive reasoning and depth of responses to the experience and perhaps to structured questions posed by faculty. Many service-learning faculty require a weekly writing activity, connecting students' service experience to concepts in a specific chapter of a text or article. Other faculty combine individual reflection with regular structured class reflection activities. Integration can thus be part of ongoing assignments throughout the semester or can take the form of a final paper or presentation (e.g., skit or song).
Another important component of evaluation is information received from the site supervisor or community partner, such that supervisors' comments can become part of the grade assigned. Faculty or a service-learning coordinator needs to be in contact with these community partners as the semester progresses, and care needs to be taken that the latter know who to contact should any problems arise.
Important considerations in evaluation include clarifying to
students where instructor emphasis lies with respect to the service
per se and the demonstration of learning. Thorny issues can
arise in certain situations, e.g., where students do an outstanding
service assignment per the site supervisor but perform poorly
in terms of demonstrated reflection and learning . . . or vice-versa.
How then does the faculty grade? In order to avoid such confusion,
written communications to students need to clearly delineate
expectations and grading criteria.
7. HOW CAN I PREPARE FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF
In the past few years many written materials have become widely available to assist faculty in implementing service-learning. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), has many resources, including a service-learning bibliography, Internet references and current research on community college involvement in service-learning, (see Resources). Campus Compact National Center for Community Colleges (the Center) offers technical assistance and resources to advance service-learning on community colleges. The Center provides resources through its Web site (http://www.mc.maricopa.edu/other/engagement/) and recently published three sourcebooks on service-learning integration models, campus-community partnerships, and disciplinary pathways to service-learning. The Center has also implemented The Faculty Role: From the Margin to the Mainstream project that mobilizes service-learning faculty to work with community college campuses in select geographic regions. The Center also sponsors an annual conference specifically for community college faculty, administrators, students, staff, and partners.
If you are a lone voice on campus, find a like-minded colleague for support, and if possible, partner with a staff member from student activities who already has linkages with the external community. Identify other faculty who practice some form of experiential learning already, who volunteer themselves, or who practice collaborative learning. These faculty are more likely to be your allies. Lobby for at least one person to become responsible for helping others to coordinate service-learning programs on campus. Part-time faculty are frequently interested in helping to pilot and coordinate service-learning programs, which incurs minimal costs to the institution.
Finally, give your senior administrators literature on established service-learning programs at other community college campuses which document their successes, including the wider benefits of closer partnering between college and community. If your campus is not a member of AACC and CCNCCC, encourage your president to join, drawing attention to the benefits outlined above, plus grant and mini-grant opportunities to help launch fledgling service-learning programs.
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|Table of Contents | Bibliography|
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Boyer, E. (1987a). College: The Undergraduate Experience.
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