Service-learning is both pedagogy and a methodology for active learning that enhances academic studies by providing a rich context for course content. Through the incorporation of community service experiences into the curriculum, students are provided with fertile ground on which to test theories and to concretize abstract thought.
This experiential dimension of courses leads to deeper comprehension and retention of course material. Research conducted on the effects of service-learning experiences reports an increase in students’ self-esteem and an enhancement of leadership, team-building, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. Service-learning expands students’ analytical abilities thus allowing faculty to focus on higher order cognitive skills in the classroom.
By increasing student responsibility for learning, skills for lifelong learning are instilled and classroom dynamics change and become more democratic. Service experiences build relationships among students and alter their interactions from a competitive to a cooperative mod. Students are also provided with the opportunity to explore career interest and acquire practical skills.
Service-learning is not do-gooding, nor is it the patronizing model of “helping those less fortunate.” Service-learning is a pedagogical model that acknowledges the dignity and contributions of all constituents—students, faculty and community. It does not attempt to “fix” problems or people but rather encourages dialogue and strategies for social action in which all members are given equal voice. It recognizes that our communities are partners, not “laboratories” for university research or mere “volunteer placement sites.” At its best, service-learning should promote empowerment models of personal and community development.