Why Include a Service Learning Component in a Course?
There is much research on the teaching-learning process which strongly supports the notion that students are able to better understand and apply theoretical constructs when an example of the "real world" is included in the learning experience. Comprehension is particularly enhanced if the example or application occurs in a hands-on, active fashion. The off-campus world becomes a learning laboratory. While working at a service learning site, the student conducts the intellectual exercise of exploring all possible sides of an idea in an actual real-life context. At the same time, as they undertake their studies in the field, it is hoped they are gaining a better understanding of the importance of contributing to civic affairs and the well-being of the community. For, proponents of service learning explain, higher education must help today’s student not only become competent professionals in their fields, but grasp how important it is for them to be involved participants in public life for the benefit of all.
1. Students in a Psychology of Learning class are required to conduct 10 hours of K-6 tutoring in an after-school program at a local elementary school. Over the course of the semester, they may tutor a dozen students from a variety of backgrounds and abilities. At the same time, in the college classroom, the professor introduces alternative theories on how individuals learn and asks them to reflect upon their tutoring experiences to examine how well theory and practice match. She might ask, what theories of learning seem to most often apply to their observations and exchanges with the children? What theories or perspectives seem to lack in explanatory power? How would they explain what they have seen or experienced?
2. A classroom of Human Nutrition students are asked to organize and conduct a workshop on an array of health-related topics for a community health center. Teams are formed and presentations are developed. The subjects include, AIDS awareness, alcohol use and abuse, dangers of smoking, and the importance of prenatal care during pregnancy. As the class sets up information tables and presents their materials to an audience of members of the community, the lessons learned in the classroom come vividly alive for not only those they serve, but for the students.
3. An Environmental Studies class is required to participate in a Heal the Bay beach clean-up day. The professor has prepared the students for the experience by discussing the threat to marine life that non-biodegradable materials pose. While the students may memorize facts and figures given in the lecture, the harsh reality of environmental pollution is driven dramatically home as they spend a Saturday picking up endless quantities of plastic material, millions of cigarette butts, along with disposable diapers and even medical waste, such as syringes and used bandages. The dilemma of pollution is rarely grasped until it is observed in an up-close and personal way. Back in the classroom, students are asked to develop solutions to the refuse problem they observed in the field.
The conclusion drawn from most teachers and students who have experienced service learning is that it is an extremely effective teaching-learning methodology. It is good not only for the student in terms of learning, and for the teachers in terms of productive and exciting teaching pedagogy, but for enhancing the quality of life in the community as well.