Service-Learning courses are credit bearing courses in which students take action to address a community question, challenge, or problem. Students combine academic concepts and ideas with practical learning and service to create mutual benefit in a community. Students reflect on their service activity to explore how theory and experience interact, helping to enhance their sense of community engagement and responsibility. The development of service-learning courses is central to the vision of Transformation through Service outlined in the UM 2020 Plan.
You are invited to visit our pages on the benefits of service-learning, best practices, resources, and our service-learning toolkit. Additionally, you can read about examples of service-learning at UM and submit a course proposal to apply for support to create a new service-learning course or convert an existing course to a service-learning format.
What is service-learning?
Service-learning is an academically rigorous, real-world learning experience in which students integrate classroom and experiential learning in mutually beneficial exchanges of teaching, learning, and reflection. Service-learning is gaining prominence and is frequently touted for its potential to encourage student learning while fostering campus and community connections.
The University of Mississippi Council on Community Engagement established the common definition of service-learning courses as “credit bearing courses in which students take action to address a community question, challenge, or problem. Students combine academic concepts and ideas with practical learning and service to create mutual benefit in a community. Students reflect on their service activity to explore how theory and experience interact, helping to enhance their sense of community engagement and responsibility” (Grisham-McLean Institute, 2015, para. 2).
The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse (2007) defines service-learning as “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. Service-learning is a structured learning experience that combines community service with preparation and reflection. Service-learning provides college and university students with a ‘community context’ to their education, allowing them to connect their academic coursework to their roles as citizens” (p. 5). Thus, service-learning combines academic rigor, intentional reflection, and mutually beneficial partnerships to expand the impact of classroom-based instruction to the benefit of the students, faculty, communities, and institutions involved.
How is service-learning different from volunteering?
The University of Mississippi Council on Community Engagement defines community service as “activities designed to improve the quality of life in a community. This can be direct service to individuals or indirect service at the organizational or structural levels” (Grisham-McLean Institute, 2015, para. 3). Both service-learning and volunteering are considered community service under this definition, however, service-learning activities correlate to academic concepts from a course and serve to fulfill learning objectives.
Furco (1996) defines volunteerism as “the engagement of students in activities where the primary emphasis is on the service being provided and the primary intended beneficiary is clearly the service recipient” (p. 4). The figure below, (Furco, 1996, p. 3), distinguishes different service programs by illustrating the range in focus and intended beneficiary. The continuum shows how volunteer activities focus predominantly on the service provided and recipient of that service as the primary beneficiary.
Service-learning activities, in contrast, are “designed in such a way that ensures that both the service enhances the learning and the learning enhances the service” (Furco, 1996, p. 4). In this way they balance emphasis on learning and service ensuring that the provider and recipient of the service benefit equally.
To schedule a service-learning consultation with Grisham-McLean staff, please contact Laura Martin.
A complete list of references for this article is available here.
For suggested readings, visit our Resources and Readings page.
Find more information about service-learning from Campus Compact, including sample syllabi for service-learning courses.