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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Service Learning


What is it?
The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse defines Service-Learning as “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. Service-learning is a structured learning experience that combines community service with preparation and reflection.  Service-learning provides college and university students with a “community context” to their education, allowing them to connect their academic coursework to their roles as citizens.”

Thus, Service-Learning is a pedagogical tool that deepens the impact of classroom-based instruction. It is an active learning strategy that promotes community engagement and builds citizenship. Service-learning is a reciprocal relationship that benefits both the student and the community partner.

Four traits that characterize service-learning are:

Commitment to community

Learning and academic rigor

Intentional reflective thinking

Practice of civic responsibility

(Duncan, D. & Kopperud, J., 2008).

Service-learning presents a holistic approach to learning and student (human) development and community engagement. It provides a rich opportunity to bridge academic affairs and student affairs. Through service-learning, students become better critical thinkers and problem-solvers. Participation in service-learning increases understanding which, in turn, leads to more effective action. This cyclical, active learning process is illustrated in David Kolb’s experiential learning theory (model). Service-learning promotes and develops an awareness of community needs, and helps students become empowered as potential change agents in the community, and by extension, the world.

Service-learning provides a hands-on, community-based experience that can demonstrate mastery of course content and learning objectives. Similar to the laboratory exercises in many physical sciences that demonstrate theories and principles, taking part in service-learning courses allows theories and content knowledge within a broad range of courses to come into a better focus for students.

As members of the larger community, colleges and universities have a responsibility to demonstrate commitment to the community that exists outside the halls of academe – to be good citizens of the community. Service-learning affords the university and faculty the opportunity to build close ties and partnerships with community agencies supporting the common good. Service-learning is a concrete way for colleges and universities to demonstrate commitment to community and even bridge “town-gown” divides (Stoecker, R. & Tryon, E. A., 2009).


Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (1996). Implementing service learning in higher education. Journal of Higher Education, 67(2).

Canada, M. & Speck, B. W. (Eds.). (2001). Developing and implementing service-learning programs. New Directions in Higher Education, No. 114, Summer 2001. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Duncan, D. & Kopperud, J. (2008). Service-learning companion. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

National Service-Learning Clearinghouse.

Service-Learning Syllabi. (2007). Providence, RI: Campus Compact. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from

Stoecker, R. & Tryon, E. A. (Eds.) (2009). The unheard voices: Community organizations and service learning. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Strait, J. R., & Lima M. (Eds.). (2009). The future of service-learning: New solutions for sustaining and improving practice. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Additional readings and resources are available.