What is service-learning?

Service-learning is a teaching and learning method that achieves course learning outcomes through community service and reflection.  There are numerous definitions, but this one from the American Psychological Association provides a very comprehensive explanation:
“A course-based, credit-bearing educational experience that allows students to (a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and (b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility" (Bringle & Hatcher, 1995, p. 112).

Hallmarks of quality service-learning include:

  1. Directly linking the service project to the academic curriculum
  2. Matching students’ skills to real community needs
  3. Providing structured individual and group reflection time, whether written or oral
  4. Assessing academic credit for the learning, not theservice itself
  5. Preparing students for serving in the community
  6. Recognizing the service work (through oral reports, website articles, presentations in the community, etc.)

Service-learning at Durham Tech

At Durham Tech, service-learning is offered by curriculum course instructors as an option to another assignment.  Students in good academic standing may elect to participate in the service-learning option or to complete the traditional assignment.  Programs with selective admissions requirements beyond Durham Tech’s general admissions requirements, such as Occupational Therapy Assistant or Spanish Medical Translation Facilitator programs, may require service-learning for specific courses.

At Durham Tech, service-learning requires the following:

  • At least 10 hours of service,
  • A student orientation,
  • Completion of service-learning paperwork, and
  • A reflection assignment.

Students who complete the 10 hours, pass the service-learning assignment, pass the course, and complete the required paperwork will receive a transcript distinction similar to the Honors Program transcript notation.

Students may not count any work for which they were financially compensated as service. Qualifying service must take place with a nonprofit organization unless prior approval has been obtained from the Service-Learning director.

Student eligibility for service-learning

  • Students must be in good academic standing to participate in service-learning (minimum 2.0 GPA; completing 67 percentof courses attempted).
  • Students may participate in only two service-learning projects per semester.
  • Students who have not enrolled in or tested out of DRE 098 may only participate in the Semester of Service option.  

What if I don’t want to commit to the full 10 hours for my course?

Service-learning is only one type of curricular service experience. It’s the preferred method because the structure of service-learning (education, action, reflection) has been studied and shown to have significant positive effects on students’ learning and understanding of community. However, other curricular service opportunities may be more appropriate, depending on instructors’ academic goals for the project. Other examples of curricular service include:

  • Extra credit: ACA classes may offer extra credit to students who participate in a Durham Tech volunteer event and write up a brief reflection on their experience.
  • Class field trips to volunteer and learn: a botany class spends class time volunteering at the nearby community garden for a chance to apply their knowledge and learn first-hand.
  • Opportunities requiring less than 10 hours: students in a DRE class that has focused reading and writing assignments on hunger may volunteer four hours at the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina as part of their final assignment.

All of these experiences are valuable but not service-learning because the emphasis is more on the learning than on the service. In service-learning, there is equal emphasis on achieving course outcomes and meeting a community need. And a longer commitment of service (10 hours) allows students more experience with real-world applications of their classroom learning, providing for richer and deeper examinations of the topics. Please keep in mind that these other curricular service experiences may require a Volunteer Waiver. Contact the Service-Learning director to discuss which community-based service project might be best for your learning objectives.

Benefits of service-learning

What are the benefits of service-learning?

For students

  • Learn how to apply academic learning to authentic, real-life situations.
  • Engage in hands-on, experiential learning that interests and motivates them.
  • Learn through their preferred learning style(s).
  • Learn about and connect with their community.
  • Go beyond their comfort zone to realize societal and cultural complexities.
  • Learn firsthand the value of civic engagement.
  • Build confidence and sense of self-worth.
  • Network with professionals in their fields that may lead to career advancement.
  • Connect to the college.
  • Connect with the community.
  • Develop cultural competency.
  • Develop personal experience, allowing them to make more connections and contextualize the course’s content.
  • Retain learning: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
  • Develop more autonomy and responsibility for their learning.
  • Persist and improve retention rates.
  • Develop 21st century skills: leadership, communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork.
  • Learn more about the daily responsibilities of jobs in their field.
  • Test out a field before fully committing to a program and/or job.
  • Learn how to adapt and remain flexible.
  • Discover a community service that may benefit them.

For faculty

  • “Practice” their fields, which can be invigorating.
  • Use the opportunity to learn themselves and to keep their teaching fresh.
  • Connect to the community, which can enhance overall instruction, provide important program connections, expose faculty to trends and emerging concerns in the field, and connect them to potential employers for students.
  • Get to know students in a deeper, less hierarchical way.
  • Teach students who are more engaged in their learning and are interacting more deeply with the content.
  • Connect to new avenues for research and publication.
  • Potentially boost course enrollment by engaging motivated students.

For community partners

  • Access reliable volunteers to achieve organizational goals.
  • Expand their ability to serve populations and address unmet community needs.
  • Learn about emerging generations of students—the organization’s future support.
  • Connect to other resources available at the college.
  • Forge a relationship with a potential long-term volunteer.
  • Grow the organization’s volunteer pool: service-learning students will share their experiences with friends and classmates.
  • Inject new energy, enthusiasm, and perspectives into the organization's work.
  • Increase public awareness of key issues and clarify misperceptions.
  • Network with colleagues in other organizations and agencies.

For Durham Tech

  • Improve its image in the community.
  • React more quickly to emerging needs and trends in the community.
  • Improve student retention and persistence rates.
  • Increase partnerships and collaborations with non-profit agencies and other colleges.
  • Continue the service focus of K-12 schools .
  • Prepare transfer students for service focus of four-year colleges and universities.
  • Increase its fundraising abilities as an agent of change in the community.
  • Demonstrate that students are trained to meet the needs of the community.