Service Learning: Contributing to the Community in Which We Live by Applying the Knowledge We Have

Although well-established and with a long tradition in different countries worldwide, service learning is a completely unknown practice in Republic of Macedonia.This is the reason why the author attempted to make a theoretical overview of the concept of service learning based on her extensive expirience gathered as a visting scholar at George Washington University under the Junior Faculty Development Program. Service learning is an interactive process of both teaching and learning in which the students apply their academic skills and knowledge when trying to help the community solve its crucial problems.At the same time, it promotes learning through active participation in service experiences; provides structured time for students to reflect by thinking, discussing and/or writing about their service experience; provides an opportunity for students to use skills and knowledge in real-life situations; extends learning beyond the classroom and into the community and fosters a sense of caring for others.The effective program for service learning is characterized by: • Engagement of people in responsible and challenging actions for the common good; • Provision of structured opportunities for people to reflect critically on their service experience; • Articulation of clear service and learning goals for everyone involved; • Definition of the needs by those who have the needs; • Clarification of the responsibilities of each person and organization involved; • A match between the service providers and service needs through a process that recognizes changing circumstances; • Necessity of genuine, active, and sustained organizational commitment; • Inclusion of training, supervision, monitoring, support, recognition, and evaluation to meet service and learning goals; • Time commitment for service and learning that is flexible, appropriate, and in the best interests of all involved; • Commitment to program participation by and with diverse populations. It is both benefitial for the community and the students, so a country should have consistent and comprehensive programs for promoting and sustaining service learning.Key words: service learning, principles of a service learning program, community practice. Introduction This paper is based on the experience that the author gathered as a visiting scholar at George Washington University under the Junior Faculty Development Program. Its aim is to make a literature overview of the method of service learning – a concept that the author got acquinted with exactly during her study visit under the JFDP scholarship and that hasn’t been implemented in her native country. Service learning is a method of teaching, learning and reflecting through which students apply their academic skills and knowledge to address real-life needs in their own communities.Alternatively, the National Youth Leadership Council of the United States of America defines service learning as “a philosophy, pedagogy, and model for community development that is used as an instructional strategy to meet learning goals and/or content standards. ”[1] It combines academic classroom curriculum with meaningful service, frequently youth service, throughout the community i. e. it combines the service objectives with learning objectives with the intent that the activity change both the recipient and the provider of the service. This is accomplished by combining service tasks with structured opportunities that link the task to self-reflection, self-discovery, and the acquisition and comprehension of values, skills, and knowledge content. [2] As a teaching methodology, it falls under the philosophy of experiential education.More specifically, it integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, encourage lifelong civic engagement, and strengthen communities for the common good. Service learning is usually a coordinated effort among the elementary schools, secondary schools, institutions of higher education, or community service programs, and the community and helps foster civic responsibility. It is integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum of the students, or the educational components of the community service program in which the participants are enrolled and provides structured time for the students or participants to reflect on the service experience. [3] Service learning in a broader context Service learning is grounded in experiential education— learning by doing.It differs from “pure” experiential learning in two essential ways: • The goal of service learning is to direct the learners into practical settings where the primary motivation is service, and • Learning takes place in two ways— as students take part in the experience and as they reflect upon what happened during the experience and as a result of it. It is also democratic as it requires students to work together with their teachers in planning educational strategies for the students’ own learning. Service learning must not be thought of as interchangeable with “volunteerism. ” While both might occur either during school hours or after school, service learning, unlike volunteerism, includes reflection time as an integral part of its success. The rationale for service learning is that students learn best (1) by doing, (2) by serving, and (3) by reflecting on the experience.In the broader perspective of national education reform, service learning is a tool for school reform and it provides a framework to integrate educational and social reform recommendations. Student empowerment is an important element in all school reform movements. Students become the “doers” and take on more responsibility for their own learning. The teacher, rather than being a dispenser of knowledge, becomes the facilitator or “coach. ” The students, by becoming actively engaged in the needs of the community, bring back to the classroom content that becomes the basis for their “classroom learning. ” Academic excellence is not ignored, but enhanced as students realize the necessity of learning and establishing patterns for lifelong learning.One of the most appealing characteristics of service learning programs is that they provide a rare opportunity to make the curriculum relevant while meeting community needs. The key to a 21st century curriculum is to prepare students with decision-making skills to face social and science dilemmas in a future that they can only anticipate. As technology develops to solve many of the world’s problems, we are, in turn, entering a more uncharted realm of “should we” rather than “can we. ” Today’s students— tomorrow’s leaders— must be able to analyze the implications of knowledge on such issues as justice, equity, dignity of life, and individual rights. The responsibility for teaching students how to make ethical decisions is not reserved for philosophers or psychologists.Service learning outcomes are very much like the goals established by all successful schools. Service learning is simply a better way to do the things good schools have always done. The following goals, practiced by most effective schools, are also goals met by service learning programs: • Intellectual development (e. g. , problem solving); • Basic skills acquisition (e. g. , communication); • Moral and ethical development social and civic responsibility; • Career preparation; • Multicultural understanding; • Personal growth. [4] Principles of service learning When establishing a service learning program, one must always remember that it is more than just a program. It is a shift in thinking about how students learn.By applying the principles of service learning, communities are committing to the belief that young people are competent, capable, and quite able to make a contribution to their world. This belief does not, however, diminish the importance of an adult acting as coach, guide, mentor, and friend. The key to service learning is the mutual respect and involvement of all participants. When designing a service learning program, it is important to create or adopt guiding principles as a framework. These principles will make your beliefs visible and lead you to build your program on a foundation of “what we are all about. ” There are many sets of principles for service learning. One of the most encompassing sets is the result of a collaborative effort by more than 70 organizations interested in service and learning.Representatives from this collaboration, sponsored by the National Society for Internships and Experiential Education of the United States of America and funded by the Johnson Foundation, met in the spring of 1989 to produce Ten Principles of Good Practice in Combining Service and Learning. While it is not imperative to develop a service learning program on these principles, one should be aware that they reflect the grassroots experience and the thinking of thousands of people who have struggled through hundreds of service learning programs. According to these principles, an effective program for service learning: • Engages people in responsible and challenging actions for the common good; • Provides structured opportunities for people to reflect critically on their service experience; • Articulates clear service and learning goals for everyone involved; • Allows for those with needs to define those needs; Clarifies the responsibilities of each person and organization involved; • Matches service providers and service needs through a process that recognizes changing circumstances; • Expects genuine, active, and sustained organizational commitment; • Includes training, supervision, monitoring, support, recognition, and evaluation to meet service and learning goals; • Ensures that the time commitment for service and learning is flexible, appropriate, and in the best interests of all involved; • Is committed to program participation by and with diverse populations. [5] There is also another set of service learning principles. While not as comprehensive as those espoused by NSIEE, these principles appeal to many because of their succinctness: • Those being served control the service(s) provided. • Those being served become better able to serve and be served by their own actions. • Those who serve also are learners and have significant control over what is expected to be learned.There can be some slightly different approaches to the principles of a successful service learning program. According to one of them, organizers must place primary emphasis on the service to be performed because the participant will not benefit from a service that is not useful or thought to be useful by the participant. In his second principle, Eberly emphasizes that all young people must be included in the opportunity to serve. His third principle is similar to NSIEE’s first principle in that the work must be challenging, and his fourth principle, not addressed by NSIEE, is that academic credit should be based on the evidence of learning and not just awarded for time spent.Both sides of the partnership for service learning should establish a successful relationship that should be based on a shared vision or objectives for the project; clear and frequent communication and clear expectations and roles outlined. Basically the service learning experience should be a well planned and designed together project. Much like principles of effective teaching, good health, or even productive gardening, service learning principles will guide the process of planning the service learning venture. However, they are not etched in stone. They may be revised while planning the service learning experience, for one may discover new things. [6] Characteristics of service learning One could easily say for a fact that service learning: Promotes learning through active participation in service experiences; • Provides structured time for students to reflect by thinking, discussing and/or writing about their service experience; • Provides an opportunity for students to use skills and knowledge in real-life situations; • Extends learning beyond the classroom and into the community; • Fosters a sense of caring for others. It also: • Links to academic content and standards; • Involves young people in helping to determine and meet real, defined community needs; • Is reciprocal in nature, benefiting both the community and the service providers by combining a service experience with a earning experience; • Can be used in any subject area so long as it is appropriate to learning goal; • Works at all ages, even among young children. Service learning is not: • An episodic volunteer program; • An add-on to an existing school or college curriculum; • Logging a set number of community service hours in order to graduate; • Compensatory service assigned as a form of punishment by the courts or by school administrators; • Only for high school or college students; • One-sided: benefiting only students or only the community. |In the process, students link personal and social development with academic and cognitive development. And experience enhances | |understanding, understanding leads to more effective action. | | |In general, authentic service learning experiences have some common characteristics: | |They are positive, meaningful and real to the participants; | |They involve cooperative rather than competitive experiences and thus promote skills associated with teamwork and community involvement| |and citizenship; | |They address complex problems in complex settings rather than simplified problems in isolation; | |They offer opportunities to engage in problem solving by requiring participants to gain knowledge of the specific context of their | |service learning activity and community challenges, rather than only to draw upon generalized or abstract knowledge such as might come | |from a textbook. As a result, service learning offers powerful opportunities to acquire the habits of critical thinking; i. e. the | |ability to identify the most important questions or issues within a real-world situation; | |They promote deeper learning because the results are immediate and uncontrived.There are no “right answers” in the back of the book; | |As a consequence of this immediacy of experience, service learning is more likely to be personally meaningful to participants and to | |generate emotional consequences, to challenge values as well as ideas, and hence to support social, emotional and cognitive learning | |and development. [7] | The value of service learning Service learning provides a compelling reason to learn, teaches the skills of civic participation and develops an ethic of service and civic responsibility. Service learning increases motivation and retention of academic skills as specific learning goals are tied to community needs. By solving real problems and addressing real needs, students learn to apply classroom learning to a real world context. At the same time, students provide valuable services to schools and communities.According to some authors, in the humanities, service learning is a source of, and a stimulus to acquire, skills that would otherwise be postponed until the final stages of a student’s educational career (for example, workstudy programmes), since here, contrary to other disciplines, providing practice as a means of reinforcing and understanding theory is not seen as a primary goal. Research indicates that students who have participated in service learning show better learning performance, more interest in the subject-matter, better problem-solving abilities and greater satisfaction with their chosen educational programme. The strategic value of service learning is not just for university students who gain an opportunity to learn and to put to the test the skills they have acquired or can acquire. It is also for the other organisational actors involved in the educational process, namely both community and institutions.While for the community, the value of having committed young adults as a resource lies in society’s increased ability to help the disadvantaged or those who need assistance which is affordable, the institutions benefit from voluntarism’s intrinsic value, which is its value in educating for citizenship through experience of local area, organisation and workings, thereby enhancing an understanding of opportunities, constraints and limitations involved in dealing with public affairs. Thus, local and national institutions can promote service learning in all situations where a university acts as an information clearinghouse bringing young students into contact with the associations that provide answers to the open questions of civil society. This contact creates learning opportunities for students, voluntary organisations find resources with the kind of educational background they need and the local community witnesses increased sense of civic responsibility, which is the hallmark of democracy. 8] As for the partner in the service learning that represents the community, the benefits of the involvement in this venture are: • Achievement of the agency goals by utilizing students’ services, at no cost to the agency; • Provision of additional support and help for community–based organizations; • Assurance that students care about the well-being of the clients they serve; • Offer of a new perspective on projects and provision of alternative solutions; • “Recruitment” of life-long activist for the organization. • Increased awareness of the potential resources that schools/colleges have to offer. On the other side, the benefits for the students are: Realization that they can make a difference within the community; • Achievement of a greater understanding of course content by building a bridge between theory and it’s application in practice; • Gain of new skills and leadership experience that will prepare students for future careers; • Increased understanding of socials issues and create alternative solutions; • Understanding of the importance of cultural diversity, while developing social responsibility; • Acquisition of skills that promote cooperation while teaching and learning responsibility. Conclusion There are numerous community problems that could be solved with an active involvement of the community members, especially the young people.Students, whether in secondary or higher education, could be involved in interactive programs which aim at advancing their knowledge and its practical implementation in real-life situations. They gain an opportunity to learn and to put to the test the skills they have acquired or can acquire. For the community, the value of having committed young adults as a resource lies in the opportunities for improved quality of living in the community and structured contents of the social life. Since, there is no such a program in Macedonia, the educational institutions and the Ministry of education should seriously think about a reform of the educational system in the country in order to provide opportunities for service learning that would be beneficial for both the students and the society in which they live in.This reform would not just mean a change of the curriculum taught at high schools and universities, but a whole set of measures that go beyond the educational policy and fall under the umbrella of the social policy and some others policies, as well. References: • Boyer, E. , 1990, Service: Linking School to Life in Kendall J. C. and associates (editors), 1990, Combining Service and Learning: A Resource Book for Community and Public Service (Vol. 1), Raleigh, N. C. : National Society for Internships and Experiential Education. • Eyler, J. , & D. E. Giles, J. , 1999, Where’s the Learning in Service-Learning? , San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. • Hedin, D. , D.Conrad, 1990, The Impact of Experiential Education on Youth Development in Kendall J. C. and associates (editors), 1990, Combining Service and Learning: A Resource Book for Community and Public Service (Vol. 1), Raleigh, N. C. : National Society for Internships and Experiential Education. • Honnet, E. P. , and S. J. Poulson, 1990, Principles of Good Practice for Combining Service and Learning in Kendall J. C. and associates (editors), 1990, Combining Service and Learning: A Resource Book for Community and Public Service (Vol. 1), edited by. Raleigh, N. C. : National Society for Internships and Experiential Education. • http://www. servicelearning. org/what_is_service-learning/index. hp • Maran, Daniela Acquadro, Giorgio Soro, Alessandra Biancetti, Tania Zanotta, 2009, “Serving Others and Gaining Experience: A Study of University Students Participation in Service Learning”, Higher Education Quarterly, Volume 63, No. 1, January 2009, pp 46–63. • National Youth Leadership Council , 2008, K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice, National Youth Leadership Council. • Peirce, N. R. , 1992, Community Service for Students: Good for Them and the Neighbors, The Philadelphia Inquirer. • Sigmon, R. L. , 1990, Service-Learning: Three Principles in Kendall J. C. And associates, 1990, Combining Service and Learning: A Resource Book for Community and Public Service (Vol. 1), edited by. Raleigh, N. C. : National Society for Internships and Experiential Education. • USA National and Community Service Act of 1990, 42 U. S. Code 12511; • Witmer, Judith T. Carolyn Anderson, 1994, How to Establish a High School Service Learning Program, Alexandria, VA, USA: Association for Supervision ; Curriculum Development. ———————– [1] National Youth Leadership Council , 2008, K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice, National Youth Leadership Council. [2] For example, if school students collect trash out of an urban streambed, they are providing a service to the community as volunteers; a service that is highly valued and important. When school students collect trash from an urban streambed, then analyze what they found and possible sources so they can share the results with residents of the neighborhood along with suggestions for reducing pollution, they are engaging in service-learning.In the service learning example, the students are providing an important service to the community AND, at the same time, learning about water quality and laboratory analysis, developing an understanding of pollution issues, learning to interpret science issues to the public, and practicing communications skills by speaking to residents. They may also reflect on their personal and career interests in science, the environment, public policy or other related areas. Thus, we see that service learning combines service with learning in intentional ways. [3] USA National and Community Service Act of 1990, 42 U. S. Code 12511. [4] Witmer, Judith T. , Carolyn Anderson, 1994, How to Establish a High School Service Learning Program, Alexandria, VA, USA: Association for Supervision ; Curriculum Development, p 5 – 7. [5] Honnet, E. P. , S. J. Poulson. 1990, Principles of Good Practice for Combining Service and Learning in Kendall, J. C. nd associates (editors), 1990, Combining Service and Learning: A Resource Book for Community and Public Service (Vol. I), Raleigh, N. C. : National Society for Internships and Experiential Education. [6] Witmer, Judith T. , Carolyn Anderson, 1994, How to Establish a High School Service Learning Program, cit. , p. 9 – 11. [7] http://www. servicelearning. org/what_is_service-learning/index. php [8] Maran, Daniela Acquadro, Giorgio Soro, Alessandra Biancetti, Tania Zanotta, 2009, “Serving Others and Gaining Experience: A Study of University Students Participation in Service Learning”, Higher Education Quarterly, Volume 63, No. 1, January 2009, pp 47, 48.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

x

Hi!
I'm Heidi!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out