Service-Learning: Connecting the Classroom with the Community

By Sandy Chapman

As an instructor, have you ever wondered about assigning a project in which students are expected to engage in a community activity to learn an academic concept? Service learning does just that, helping to increase student understanding of academic course material, providing avenues for developing social skills, all while solving complex, real-world problems.

Typically, service learning combines meaningful experiential learning with reflection. For example, students doing fieldwork that involves rehabilitating a local wetland or tutoring at-risk students may take field notes and write short, reflective essays on their experience. In the process, students not only learn from multiple sources in multiple environments, but also contribute to the community. Ideally, service learning benefits all the collaborating agents--the community, the students, and the faculty.

Research has demonstrated that courses with service learning components:

  • provide greater benefits than those without a service-learning component,
  • promote understanding of the course material at a deeper level,
  • promote cross-cultural understanding and civic-mindedness,
  • provide insight into complex social problems and their causes and possible solution,
  • increase ability of to apply course material to new situations and in the real world,
  • promote academic (cognitive) and social (affective) integration,
  • improve critical thinking skills and writing skills,
  • improve student motivation and college retention,
  • help faculty to achieve course objectives and curriculum goals, and
  • foster deeper faculty-student, faculty-faculty, and student and faculty-community relations.

For an in-depth article on the effectiveness of service learning, go to What is Service Learning? by Clayton Hurd, former Director of Service-Learning at Colorado State University.

Please click on Service-Learning for Faculty at Colorado State University. to learn more about including and implementing Service-Learning as part of your CSU course design.