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Service Learning Definitions & Examples

From the University of North Dakota:

Service Learning at the University of North Dakota is experiential learning for academic credit that combines community service with student learning. Coursework that includes community service should respond to community needs and provide service opportunities that enhance student learning of specific objectives of the course. Possible community partners are nonprofit organizations, community associations, and public entities. Assessment of service learning outcomes through student reflection and connection to course content is expected. Service learning opportunities may be paid or unpaid, required or optional.

From Minnesota Campus Compact:

"Service-learning is a process through which students are involved in community work that contributes significantly: 1) to positive change in individuals, organizations, neighborhoods, and/or larger systems in a community; and 2) to students' academic understanding, civic development, personal or career growth, and/or understanding of larger social issues. This process always includes an intentional and structured educational/developmental component for students, and may be employed in curricular or co-curricular settings. Even with an expanded vision for the field, service-learning will undoubtedly continue to play a critical role in campus-community collaboration."

--From Charity to Change, 1999 Campus Compact. (2004). Essential Resources. [Pamphlet]. Providence, RI.

From Campus Compact:

"Service-learning is a teaching method which combines community service with academic instruction as it focuses on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility. Service-learning programs involve students in organized community service that addresses local needs, while developing their academic skills, sense of civic responsibility, and commitment to the community."

-- National Center for Community Colleges. Online at Retrieved 6/24/05.

From the Corporation for National Service:

"Service-learning is a method by which students improve academic learning and develop personal skills through structured service projects that meet community needs. Service-learning builds upon students' service activities by providing them with opportunities to learn by preparing, leading, and reflecting upon their service experiences."

--Online at

From the American Association for Higher Education:

"Service-learning means a method under which students learn and develop through thoughtfully organized service that: is conducted in and meets the needs of a community and is coordinated with an institution of higher education, and with the community; helps foster civic responsibility; is integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum of the students enrolled; and includes structured time for students to reflect on the service experience."

--Series on Service-Learning in the Disciplines (adapted from the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993) Campus Compact. (2004). Essential Resources. [Pamphlet]. Providence, RI.

From the University of Richmond:

"Service learning is first and foremost an academic endeavor requiring the expertise of professors, who provide the essential context which links community service to theoretical texts and principles. Service learning entails course-based, credit-bearing service activities; is directly accountable to community-identified needs; and has explicit learning objectives for students. These objectives include: analysis and evaluation of service activity, increased understanding and improved application of curriculum material, and deeper appreciation of civic responsibility."

--Online at Retrieved 6/27/05.

From the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning:

"Service Learning is a credit-bearing, educational, experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility."

-- Bringle, Robert, and Julie Hatcher, "A Service Learning Curriculum for Faculty," Fall 1995 Campus Compact. (2004). Essential Resources. [Pamphlet]. Providence, RI.

From Thomas Ehrlich:

"Service-learning is the various pedagogies that link community service and academic study so that each strengthens the other. The basic theory of service-learning is Dewey's: the interaction of knowledge and skills with experience is key to learning. Students learn best not by reading the Great Books in a closed room but by opening the doors and windows of experience. Learning starts with a problem and continues with the application of increasingly complex ideas and increasingly sophisticated skills to increasingly complicated problems."

--"Foreward" (pp.xi-xii) in Barbara Jacoby and Associates, Service-Learning in Higher Education: Concepts and Practices. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 1996.