Resources on Community-Engaged Teaching

Why Service-Learning?

To understand the complex intersection of goals in Service-Learning, it is important to know that it is grounded in two perspectives. It is an educational practice aimed at:

a) creating tangible positive change through reciprocal campus/community partnerships

b) addressing the larger issues of social and economic justice by creating an informed, active citizenry

c) giving students a more transformational education - not simply adding facts but affecting the way students think

Practitioners strive to give balanced attention to addressing community needs, facilitating transformation learning, and addressing the connections between their discipline and civic engagement.

A good read on this background is available in Stanton, Giles and Cruz (1999). Service-learning: A movement's pioneers reflect on its origins, practice, and future. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Available in Gelman Library.


Why Should I Consider Service-Learning?

The most compelling argument for using any pedagogy is that it is effective in reaching learning objectives. “Research heralds traditional service-learning programs for their transformative nature—producing students who are more tolerant, altruistic, and culturally aware; who have stronger leadership and communication skills; and who (albeit marginally) earn higher grade point averages and have stronger critical thinking skills than their non-service-learning counterparts” (Mitchell, 2008, p. 50-51).

A review of the early literature on the value of service-learning (Eyler & Giles, 1999) resulted in four key themes:

Learning from Experience.  As a form of experiential learning, SL captures all the benefits of learning by doing compared to the traditional method of lecturing and testing.

Connected Learning.  It has been shown that intellectual development and personal development are integral to each other (Perry, 1970).  SL captures this more holistic way of learning, recognizing that transformative learning begins with making personal connections.

Social Problem Solving.  Many believe that learning has not occurred if students cannot use their knowledge to solve problems.  SL can play an important role in learning how to analyze situations and think creatively.

Citizenship and Civic Life.  One goal of higher education is to prepare students to be responsible citizens who are engaged in democratic life.  The review found many sources citing service as a way to deepen students’ sense of social responsibility. 


Achieving Intended Outcomes

The research has shown that courses involving community-engaged scholarship or service-learning only achieve their goals when implemented well. Here, two well-known guidelines for good practice are provided in full: a relatively recent selection (Clayton and O'Steen, 2010) and a classic (Porter Honnet & Poulsen, 1989).

Good Practice in Curricular Service-Learning Pedagogy

Adapted from Clayton and O’Steen (2010)

Integration.  The community engagement component of a course should be integrated into the course, with students’ community experiences considered in the context of the course readings, assignments, class discussions and other teaching and learning strategies.  Simply adding a service requirement to an otherwise unchanged course is not truly using CBL pedagogy.

Academic Grounding.  Do not sacrifice academic rigor.  In a traditional course, credit is not given for reading a textbook, but for demonstrated learning from that reading, through exams, papers or other assignments.  Similarly, in CBL, students do not receive credit for hours served, but for demonstrating what was learned from that experience.  Simply having an experience is no guarantee that learning has occurred.  Clearly stated learning objectives, thoughtfully planned CBL projects and well-designed assignments help facilitate this assessment of learning.

Attention to Civic Learning.  In addition to learning course-related content, CBL courses help students understand the public purposes of a higher education in general and of a discipline in particular.  Instructors must be clear enough about their own purposes that they are able to articulate to students the value of developing knowledge and skills in order to apply them to the common good. 

Reflection.  Copious research has shown that the reflection component of CBL is critical to producing the transformational learning this pedagogy is capable of.  Some faculty skip the reflection component, believing it to be more similar to a “touchy-feely” personal diary than an act of connecting experience and learning.  Challenging reflection, through discussions or assignments, “generates, deepens, and documents learning” (Clayton & O’Steen, p. 107).  Learning to facilitate such reflection is a skill that continues to develop over time.

Community and Student Voices.  In traditional classrooms, the instructor may often be the only voice in the room.  In CBR, the community-partners and students also have an important voice in the way projects, assignments, and class discussions take shape.  True collaboration takes time and trust.  Sustained community relationships (faculty and community partners who continue working relationships from year to year) are more likely to find success in developing trusting , collaborative partnerships.

Build Student Capacity to do Community Work.  Students may not come prepared with the knowledge and skills needed to successfully meet the goals of a service project.  Besides knowing how to complete the required tasks, they may need help managing relationships, dealing with ambiguous problems and roles.  Attention to issues of diversity, privilege and power will help students engage with community members more sensitively.  The ability to work collaboratively with others (other students, other community members) can and should be added to the learning objectives of the course itself.


Wingspread Principles of Good Practice for Combining Service and Learning

(Porter Honnet & Poulsen, 1989)

An effective and sustained program that combines service and learning:

  1. Engages people in responsible and challenging actions for the common good.
  2. Provides structured opportunities for people to reflect critically on their service experience.
  3. Articulates clear service and learning goals for everyone involved.
  4. Allows for those with needs to define those needs.
  5. Clarifies the responsibilities of each person and organization involved.
  6. Matches service providers and service needs through a process that recognizes changing circumstances.
  7. Expects genuine, active, and sustained organizational commitment.
  8. Includes training, supervision, monitoring, support, recognition, and evaluation to meet service and learning goals.
  9. Insures that the time commitment for service and learning is flexible, appropriate, and in the best interests of all involved.
  10. Is committed to program participation by and with diverse populations.