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SERVICE LEARNING: ACTIVE LEARNING WITHIN OUR COMMUNITIES


by Betty Habershon, Service Learning Program Liaison

As faculty members, we are continuously concerned with the development of our students. How can we get them actively engaged in their learning? How can we encourage their motivation to learn? How can we get them to apply their knowledge, and therefore improve their retention of knowledge?

Service learning is a teaching methodology that studies have shown to be effective in accomplishing these goals (Eyler et al, 2001). Service learning has a positive impact on students’ academic learning and improves their ability to apply what they have learned in the "real world." Students not only gain benefit in the academic area, but service learning also has a positive effect on students’ personal development, interpersonal development, the ability to work well with others, leadership, and communication skills. Our students develop these skills by practicing them within their service activities.

The American Association of Community Colleges defines service learning as "combining service with academic instruction, focusing on critical, reflective thinking, and personal and civic responsibility." These key elements must be present in a service learning experience, and their combined presence makes service learning different from community service, coop-education, or internships.

Service learning is more than just having students do "good work" in the community. The students volunteer to perform services that address unmet community needs, are directly related to their academic objectives, and include a reflection component.

Benefits of Service Learning

Service learning benefits our students. Students not only gain the satisfaction of making a difference in their communities, but they develop needed leadership skills–speaking, writing, organizational, and analytical skills. They enhance their academic development by participating in real world applications. Through their service activities, they gain understanding of the needs of the community and recognize that they can make a difference. Studies have shown that students can sustain this sense of citizenship after their participation in the service learning experience.

Furthermore, service learning supports our faculty by encouraging the development of engaged, motivated, and focused students with an interest in applying their academic knowledge. To accomplish this development, faculty would integrate service learning within the instructional activities of the course.

In addition, service-learning programs enhance community relations. Our students’ participation provides an opportunity to "keep the community" within our college. The community gains a better understanding of the academic programs of the college; the college develops a better understanding of the needs of the community.

As the college reexamines our cultural diversity program, it should consider that the studies show service learning to have a positive effect on reducing stereotypes, and on facilitating cultural and racial understanding (Eyler et al). What better way can our students learn to appreciate diversity than to immerse themselves within environments that differ from their own background and then to reflect upon the experience?

As we grapple with solutions to encourage the social development of our student body, we should consider that service learning does have a positive effect on students’ sense of social responsibility and citizenship skills (Eyler et al).

Service Learning Program Development

A Future Issues Group, consisting of faculty and staff, initially visualized our Service Learning Program in 2001. The administration supported the group’s plan, which culminated in the formation of a Service Learning Office. Randy Poole serves as the Program Coordinator, and Betty Habershon serves as Program Liaison. The purpose of the Service Learning Office will be to develop, support, and administer the Service Learning Program.

Prince George’s Community College has been selected from a national competition as one of eight community colleges to participate in the Horizon Project under the auspices of the American Association of Community Colleges. As part of the Horizon Project, the Service Learning Office will work to develop strategies that will institutionalize and sustain our Service Learning Program, and it will share these strategies with other academic institutions on a national level.

During spring 2004, our Service Learning Office will implement a variety of workshops, forums, and activities to support awareness, development, implementation, and administration of service learning among students, faculty, staff, and the community.

One of the first formal service learning activities of the new Service Learning Office involves partnering with Drew Freeman Middle School in Suitland, Maryland. The partnership involves two projects–The Patent Replication Project and The Immigration Project. Both projects are multidisciplinary and require support in a variety of academic areas–business, accounting, computers, engineering, speech, history, geography, and writing. If you are interested in possibly supporting these projects or developing future projects, please contact Randy Poole, coordinator (301-322-0135), or Betty Habershon, Program Liaison (301-322-0713).


Eyler, J. S., Giles d.E., Jr., Stenson, C.M., & Gray, C.J. At a glance: What We Know about the Effects of
       Service-Learning on College Students, Faculty , Institutions and Communities, 1993-2000. Nashville:
        Vanderbilt University, 2001. Retrieved from http://www.compact.org/resource/aag.pdf

 

The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 19, No. 2

Spring 2004