About Service Learning
What is Service-Learning?
Service learning is a project- and practice-oriented teaching-learning method that first emerged in the USA and has established itself there as an integral part of university teaching since the 1980s. The concept goes back largely to the American educator John Dewey, who believed that sustainable learning arises only through concrete experience in real contexts.
Service-Learning supplements interdisciplinary university teaching by testing curricular and extracurricular teaching content in practice and linking it to social needs.
This enables students to combine civic engagement with their studies. They apply their knowledge in local practical projects. They are given the opportunity to actively participate in shaping civil society contexts and thus acquire important skills for their later professional life, such as developing solutions independently. Using concrete examples, they learn to assume social responsibility. The overarching educational goals of service learning include getting to know other living environments, confronting social issues, reflecting on the importance of volunteering and the idea of integration.
An important part of the concept is the reflection on the experience, which is moderated and structured by the teachers in accompanying seminars. Reflection is the link between practical experience, “service”, and “learning” as the understanding and nternalizeion of what has been learned. It is only through reflection, i.e. the thoughtful processing of one’s own experience of action, that the process of action becomes an educational experience (Sliwka 2009: 85).
Added value for the university
Universities can make a valuable contribution to civil society. They lay the foundation for students as future employees, leaders and opinion makers. They strengthen and promote individual judgement, a sense of responsibility, leadership and social competences. Service learning is a didactic teaching-learning method that understands the acquisition of competences ith a view to sustainable development. The dialogue between university and society is intensified in the sense of a Campus Community Partnership for mutual benefit.
Service learning supports the development of civil society and the formation of social capital. The term social capital describes the ability of a society to nternal and maintain its social cohesion.
Added value for the students
Students who are involved in service learning develop their personal skills (such as empathy, sensitivity, tolerance, responsibility, perseverance, resilience, flexibility and initiative) as well as their social skills (e.g., communication and cooperation skills, behavioural security, teamwork and conflict skills). The students nternal their way through an insight into new fields of action in practice transfer and change of perspective. Learning is combined with the assumption of responsibility.
In reflecting on their individual experiences, students learn to integrate them into larger contexts. Reflective thinking thus promotes the development of metacognitive skills that are important for self-directed learning and problem solving (Sliwka 2009: 85).
Service learning increases the motivation and willingness of participants to perform, which can sharpen their personal and professional profile. The additional qualifications acquired through service learning can also have a positive effect on their curriculum vitae and professional practice.
Different Approaches to Service-Learning
In the meantime, two different forms of Service-Learning projects have emerged at universities: the subject-specific and the interdisciplinary variant. “If the focus is on promoting the personality and soft skills of the students, then an interdisciplinary approach is obvious […] If it is a question of broadening the perspective in a subject also with regard to the later professional requirements, a subject-specific approach is recommended” (“Do it! Learn it! Spread it! Service Learning for Students”, practical guide of the Agentur mehrwert gGmbH, 2009).
- The subject-specific Service-Learning approach
In subject-specific service learning, students apply the knowledge acquired in their subject studies in practice. Business administration students design e.g., a marketing plan for a youth welfare institution; architecture students design a conversion plan for a facility for people with dementia.
According to Kreikebaum (2009), subject-specific Service-Learning seminars primarily check the practicability of research and teaching at universities. Because by applying the methods taught at the university to real existing, practical issues and problems, it quickly becomes clear which discrepancy between theory and practice has to be overcome and that theoretical models are always only simplified representations of reality, which reach limits in their applicability with regard to the complexity of reality. This is an enormously significant experience for students, on the one hand to protect them from the “practical shock” in later professional life and, on the other hand, to fill the knowledge they have learned with life and to better illustrate and nternalize it. (“Do it! Learn it! Spread it! Service Learning for Students”, practical guide of the Agentur mehrwert gGmbH, 2009).
- The interdisciplinary Service-Learning approach
In the case of interdisciplinary approaches, there does not necessarily have to be a direct subject-related link between the content of the study and volunteering. The interdisciplinary approach is primarily about students gaining experiences in a world that is unfamiliar to them and that these experiences enable them to fundamentally change their values and behaviour.
Sources and further reading:
Bartsch, Gabriele: Service Learning im Kontext von Zivilgesellschaft, in: Altenschmidt, Karsten, Miller, Jörg, Stark, Wolfgang (Hrsg.): Raus aus dem Elfenbeinturm? Entwicklungen in Service Learning und bürgerschaftlichem Engagement an deutschen Hochschulen. Weinheim: Beltz 2009.
Sliwka, Anne: Reflexion: das Bindeglied zwischen Service und Lernen, in: Altenschmidt, Karsten, Miller, Jörg, Stark, Wolfgang (Hrsg.): Raus aus dem Elfenbeinturm? Entwicklungen in Service Learning und bürgerschaftlichem Engagement an deutschen Hochschulen. Weinheim: Beltz 2009.
Agentur mehrwert gGmbH: Do it! Learn it! Spread it! Service Learning for Students, practical guide. Stuttgart 2009.