The following blog post was written by guest blogger Claire Seigworth. Claire graduated with a B.A. in International Relations and a minor in Spanish Literature from Marquette University. She has traveled to many Latin American countries, studied in Santiago, Chile and worked in Panama for Global Brigades.
Service-learning is becoming a more common practice in U.S. universities. In the wake of this phenomenon, it is important to understand what it is and the results of service-learning on the students. Is this just a fad or are there benefits to this type of learning?
In the 1970s service-learning was defined as “reciprocal learning” where the flow of information from traditional classes transferred to service opportunities. In this fashion, the student learns from the experience and the people that the students interact with also learn from the experience. In this way the impact of education transfers from the classroom into the community.
Over time, the definition of the term has expanded to include other types of experiential learning. Robert Sigmon researched the expansion of the definition of service-learning and created a matrix of different types of experiential learning based on the intended beneficiary of the activity and the focus of the program on a continuum. He defines service-learning at the center of both continuums, where the recipient and provider equally benefit from the activity and service and learning are also equally important. Community service leans more towards benefiting the recipient and focuses on the service aspect, while field education leans the opposite way. Volunteering completely focuses on service and benefits the recipient the most and internships are the complete opposite of volunteering on the continuum.
While there are a broad range of options for experiential learning in universities, it also important to see if there are measurable benefits to service-learning to make sure that it enhances learning. In a scientific study written by professors at the University of Michigan, they researched student attitudes and beliefs on citizenship confidence, citizenship personal values, citizenship skills, and perceptions of social justice. They noticed that students that choose classes with service-learning generally scored higher on these traits than students that did not choose classes with service-learning. They concluded that the differences in students before and after participating in service-learning based on these characteristics are statistically significant, but small. Their biggest recommendation is to make service-learning a more widespread practice as the difference between students who do and do not sign up for service-learning is quite large, in an attempt to improve the student body’s perspective on these issues as a whole.
There is evidence that service-learning is beneficial to students and that students are increasingly seeking experiential learning. As the job market for recent graduates remains difficult, the combination of traditional learning and experience is a good way for students to increase the impact of what they learn and benefits them by giving real world experience to students.