Service-Learning (SL) is a specially designed model of experiential-learning which combines service at a community organization with intentional learning outcomes through critical, reflective thinking. At the University of Nevada, Reno, SL opportunities are available for credit through academics courses as well as through co-curricular programming with student groups and through the OSLCE.
In the SL model, equal emphasis is placed on both service and learning by engaging in a cyclical process of knowledge, action and reflection.
Through service-learning, students are able to learn from course content AND front-lines knowledge of community organizations. Students are encouraged to take this knowledge, apply it, and develop their understanding of course concepts (theory and facts), the community (social, economic, political and cultural dynamics), community organizations (history, mission, governance, clients, programming, etc.), their own life-long learning (values, pre-conceived notions, and future goals) and their skills (critical thinking, communication, networking, and professionalism). The community is seen as a valuable teacher in the students learning.
The action piece looks different for each course/program, and is developed collaboratively with community partners to address community-identified needs . In some cases, students will be completing service hours with a community organization over the term, and in others cases, students will contribute their time to multiple single-day events in the community.
The type of service may vary. In some cases students will be contributing to the regular programming of an organization that a typical volunteer would complete. In other cases, our office or faculty would have worked collaboratively with the community organization to establish a case study, needs or policy assessment, research question, fundraising event, social change project, etc. Even in cases where a project is established, we encourage student participation in some regular programming to gain a full picture of the organization. Often students will be presented with choices for their placement hours and have an opportunity to address needs that connect closely with their own passions.
Continuous reflection is the key component that differs SL from other forms of experiential-learning. In this model, intentional reflection needs to occur before, during and after student service hours. While experiential-learning already encourages students to learn from their experience, reflection takes their experience a few steps further. The reflection may vary based on your placement site and academic studies, however, it should connect with the students career, community need and the cultural context, civic engagement, and personal development. Students should be encouraged to challenge themselves - to learn, un-learn and re-learn, with multiple stakeholders views in mind.
Reflection can occur in a variety of forms. Students can be asked to complete journal entries, participate in class discussion or make entries in a blog or e-portfolio. Reflection assignments can be separate from typical course assignments or their experience can be incorporated into assignments such as literature reviews and essays.