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Overview of Service-Learning

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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This country cannot afford to educate a generation that acquires knowledge without ever understanding how that knowledge can benefit society or how to influence democratic decision-making. We must teach the skills and values of democracy, creating innumerable opportunities for our students to practice and reap the results of the real, hard work of citizenship." (Campus Compact, 1999)


The posting below gives a nice overview of the current state of service-learning at higher education instituteions in the United States. It is from Chapter One, Overview of service-learning, in Service-Learning Code of Ethics by Andrea Chapdelaine, (Albright College), Ana Ruiz and Judith Warchal, (Alvernia College) and, Carole Wells (Kutztown University). Anker Publishing Company, 563 Main Street, P.O. Box 249, Bolton, MA 01740-0249 []. Copyright ? 2005 by Anker Publishing Company, Inc. All Rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. ISBN 1-882982-83-5. Reprinted with permission.


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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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One of the central purposes of higher education in the United States is to teach each new generation of citizens the democratic ideals of the nation, build moral character, and cultivate an educated, engaged citizenry (Lucas, 1994). Building upon that long-standing tradition, a significant number of colleges have revised their mission statements to embrace more fully these ideals, and they have taken significant steps to position themselves as responsible and responsive participants in the life of their surrounding communities (Chambers & Burkhardt, 2004). The Center for Liberal Education and Civic Engagement, established through a partnership between Campus Compact and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) to deepen understanding of the relation of liberal education to civic responsibilities, set forth the following principles:

* A 21st Century liberal education must provide students with the knowledge and commitment to be socially responsible citizens in a diverse democracy and increasingly interconnected world.

* Colleges and Universities committed to liberal education have important civic responsibilities to their communities, their nation, and the larger world.

* Civic Engagement involves true partnerships, often between the institution and the community in which it is residing that serves mutual, yet independent interests, thereby honoring the integrity of all partners.

* Students' service activities can best serve society and the academy when connected directly to academic work, courses, and activities. (Campus Compact, 2004)

Moreover, approximately 500 college and university presidents have now signed the Declaration on the Civic Responsibility of Higher Education, which states:

We challenge higher education to re-examine its public purposes and its commitments to the democratic ideal. We also challenge higher education to become engaged, through actions and teaching, with its communities. We have a fundamental task to renew our role as agents of our democracy. (Campus Compact, 1999)

Included in this commitment is a call not only for the university, but for the students themselves, to be civically engaged. "The civic mandate of liberal education is to develop in students the deepest knowledge base and the highest degree of critical independence possible to undergird informed, socially responsible judgments as voters, parents, consumers, professionals" (Stoddard & Cornwell, 2003, p. 44). The aforementioned presidential declarations further states:

This country cannot afford to educate a generation that acquires knowledge without ever understanding how that knowledge can benefit society or how to influence democratic decision-making. We must teach the skills and values of democracy, creating innumerable opportunities for our students to practice and reap the results of the real, hard work of citizenship. (Campus Compact, 1999)

Yet, this growing call for a commitment to civic engagement in higher education has not gone unquestioned (Colby, Ehrlich, Beaumont, & Stephens, 2003; Ehrlich, 2000; Fish, 2003; Kenny, Simon, Stamm, 2004). It has been debated whether colleges and universities should be teaching values, even those deemed essential to a democratic society (Barber, 2000; Callan, 1997; Galston, 1991; Young, 1997). We argue that there is merit in the teaching of values. Further, for many academic institutions, value acquisition is consistent with their mission statements.

Regardless of one's stance on the values issue, we believe that the primary focus should not be on whether students or other members of the college community come to adopt a certain set of values (a prescriptive approach), but instead on whether the college and its faculty provide and teach a process for exploring and critically reflecting upon the students' own value systems. Ehrlich (2003) states:

Those of us who teach materials that particularly lend themselves to raising moral and civic issues have an obligation to do so in ways that help students wrestle with their own moral dilemmas as well as with large social and political concerns. It is not enough simply to show that any moral framework built by reason can be criticized by reason, but rather we must also take on the much more difficult task of helping students to think through for themselves which moral perspectives is best able to answer their intellectual, personal, and social needs. (pp. 3-4)

Service-learning does provide the opportunity for students to practice citizenship and engage in value exploration, and thus is viewed by many as an ideal way to achieve the vision set forth by this goal of a liberal education. "By aiming to provide students with an active, engaged environment for deepened learning and an awakened commitment to community and civic engagement, service-learning is amongst the most progressive pedagogies" (Oates & Leavitt, 2003, p.7). It is teaching tool that fosters the development of democratic principles such as tolerance, fairness, concern and respect for others, and a sense of responsibility to be civically knowledgeable active. Such education is critical for the continuation of a self-governing society. "Service-learning contributes to returning higher education to its broader public mission: graduating students for responsible, active citizenship" (Oates & Leavitt, p.5).

Given its strong association with the renewed commitment to civic engagement, the expansion of service-learning during the past decade has been unprecedented. In the 2003 annual membership survey involving the participation of 402 campuses, Campus Compact found that 36% of students had participated in some form of service-learning (a record number since they conducted their first survey in 1987), 83% of the campuses had a community service or service-learning office to support such activity, and 25% reported that faculty involvement in service-learning has increased 10% or more in the past three years.

Similarly, according to a 2002 survey administered by The Policy Center on the First Year of College, approximately 60% of the institutions surveyed (1,000 colleges and universities participated) offer some type of service-learning experience in their first-year courses. Such growth is also reflected in the frequent mention of service-learning at national conferences of higher education (e.g., American Association for Higher Education, Association of American Colleges and Universities) and their publications.

Along with the growth in service-learning, the obligation to address the role of value exploration and values clarification is becoming increasingly clear as students, faculty, and administrators wrestle with the practical complexities and ethical dilemmas that accompany the practice of service-learning. By its very nature service-learning supports Dewey's (1916/1997) well-entrenched maxim that optimal learning occurs through active engagement with the course material (Zlotkowski, 1998). Key elements include 1) the provision of a service by students to address a community need, 2) matching of the service activity to course learning objectives, and 3) reflective thinking. Bringle and Hatcher (1995) provide one of the most comprehensive and widely used definitions of service-learning, describing it as a course-based, credit-bearing educational experience that allows student to (a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and (b) 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. (p. 112)

Consistent with these definitions, educational research has demonstrated that students gain more when they fully engage in and critically reflect upon the course material. These are elements that service-learning is uniquely designed to provide (Astin, 1991; Eyler & Giles, 1999; Jacoby, 1996; Kaye, 2003; Nist & Holschuh, 1999; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Research on service-learning has also shown an impact on other kinds of learning, including increasing in theoretical understanding, cognitive complexity, and ability to apply knowledge to novel programs (Astin & Sax, 1998; Markus, Howard, & King, 1993; Osborne, Hammerich, & Hensley, 1998; Strage, 2000; Vogelgesage & Astin, 2000).

Thus service-learning, based in experiential learning, affords a unique and valuable opportunity for student value exploration and development. Students participating in community-service experiences encounter ethical dilemmas that challenge their own value systems and the ideals of an American democracy. By grappling with such dilemmas, formulating and acting upon a method of resolution, and then reflecting upon the consequences of a chosen course of action, students achieve the value clarification and civic engagement goals of a liberal education. Through active involvement in this process, the same end may be achieved for faculty and administrators. In this way, American institutions of higher education play a role in cultivating citizens committed to the public good and of benefit to their communities.

Again, research has supported these hypotheses. Service-learning does increase commitment to civic responsibility (Astin & Sax, 1998; Giles & Eyler, 1994; Kendrick, 1996; Myers-Lipton, 1996), tolerance toward and understanding of diverse others (Bringle & Kremer, 1993; Eyler, Giles, & Braxton, 1997; Juhn et al., 1999; Osborne et al., 1998), prosocial behaviors (Batchelder & Root, 1994; Markus et al., 1993), and moral development (Boss, 1994; Gorman, Duffy, & Heffernan, 1994). However, the question of how all of this happens remains unanswered, as stated below:

While many colleges and universities make explicit statements about the goal of civic engagement, few have fully incorporated the development of a student's civic character into curricular programs, despite the research that demonstrates the benefits of linking theory and practice to an individual's intellectual growth. Additionally, an overwhelming number of colleges and universities have within their mission statements reference to civic responsibility, without describing how this happens. (Oates & Leavitt, 2003, p.5)

In order for students to achieve the goal of greater civic engagement through service-learning experiences, best practices of service-learning (Honnet & Poulson, 1989) suggest the following is required: 1) adequate preparation for service-learning experiences; 2) demonstration of how such experiences relate to the learning objectives (e.g., tools to engage in value development); 3) an active and instrumental role in the service-learning project; and, most important, 4) an opportunity to reflect upon these experiences and place them in the context of the learning objectives and the larger mission of civic engagement. Leming (2001) found that high school students who had ethical decision-making material integrated with their service-learning were significantly more systematic in their ethical reasoning and more likely to use an ethical viewpoint than those who participated in service-learning without this curriculum. Similar results with college students were found by Gorman, Duffy, and Heffernan (1994).

However, without clear guidelines about ethical decision-making practices, the process seems haphazard at best.


Higher education currently professes a significant commitment to a mission of civic engagement. Academe as a whole has embraced many avenues by which to connect to and benefit its surrounding community and beyond. Service-learning is ideal for this commitment to the community because it relies heavily on the proven pedagogical method of active learning. Yet it often has been assumed that by simply partaking in service-learning experiences, civic engagement will be an inevitable result for the institution, faculty, and students.

We call for the recognition and examination of the ethical challenges one faces in service-learning experiences. In order for such ethical challenges to affect service-learning practitioners in a way that fosters democratic ideals, a set of pedagogical tools is required. These tools include guidelines, or what is more commonly called a code of ethics, specific to the service-learning context. Individuals must carefully examine this code (through hypothetical applications, actively use the code when faced with actual service-learning dilemmas, and finally, reflect critically upon these experiences. That set of tools is what comprises the body of this book. We recognize that developing a code of ethics is only one of many steps that must be taken to better connect service-learning to the goals of higher education, but we believe it is a critical element without which other efforts may not be as productive.