Service learning is a pedagogical tool used by faculty to help students apply theoretical knowledge to a real-world problem with the goal of building a better understanding of the theory while simultaneously solving the engaged problem.
Service Learning is not Volunteerism
The community engagement aspect of the course is a requirement of the course in the same way that faculty require students to read textbooks or perform experiments in a lab. Faculty do not typically grade students on the actual community service performed, but on the student's critical reflection on the intersection between theory and practice that takes the form of writing or presentations.
This unique educational opportunity is important because it offers schools the ability to form a symbiotic relationship with their community. Those communities with which Stetson University faculty have partnered include Spring Hill, Pierson and DeLand. Through this relationship, the community gains much needed help, and students receive academic credit for critical reflection, the development of civic responsibility, and personal and intellectual growth.
In recent years there has been a great deal of research completed on the effects of service learning at institutions of higher education. Work done by Alexander W. Astin and Linda J. Sax (1995), for example, reveals that "participation in volunteer service during the undergraduate years [enhances a] student's academic development, civic responsibility, and life skills."
Other noted benefits include:
- Deepens understanding of course content
- Student improvement in grade point averages (GPA)
- Enhancement of leadership ability
- Stronger interpersonal skills
- A greater understand of problems facing a community
St. Lawrence University has conducted research in recent years, exploring a connection between alcohol consumption and participation in a community-based service-learning experience, and notes that "the average number of drinks consumed per week...declined among students living in the center and participating in the course on community and citizenship but increased for students in our comparison group." In the same study, some evidence was also found for a decrease in depression and binge drinking among service-learning students.