The Globe published an article about service-learning in their January 12th edition (“Service-Learning: How they feel now”) that caught the attention of many and sparked a flood of responses. In response, the Thayne Center for Service & Learning posted an open letter on our blog, encouraging a dialogue about the article. That open letter is also published below:
The Globe article highlights the negative experience that a single student had with service-learning. We suggest that had the reporter interviewed more than one student, any service-learning faculty, and/or any Thayne Center staff members, as well as researched the pedagogy of service-learning, she would have then had the basic building blocks of a more responsible article. Furthermore, the article was published on the front page as though it were objective news. It is better suited to the opinion/editorial section of the paper. Students obviously have every right to their opinions and to express those opinions. The Thayne Center works very hard every day to empower students, facilitating their growth and their voice in our community; however, in this specific case of The Globe, journalism standards provide appropriate avenues for those opinions to be presented into our communal, civil discourse. That opportunity was missed in this situation.
There are thousands of articles, research briefs, conference papers, and other resources generated in the service-learning field over decades of time that I could outline here to make the case for service-learning as a viable pedagogy (refer to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse website). I will instead outline four of the most recent and salient pieces that speak directly to the lack of research and the specific criticisms laid forth in the article in The Globe.
First, a definition: Service-learning combines community service with academic instruction, focusing on critical reflective thinking, and personal and civic responsibility. Service-learning programs involve students in activities that address community-identified needs, while developing their academic skills and commitment to their community (American Association of Community Colleges).
Improving Student Learning Outcomes with Service Learning (Prentice and Robinson 2010)
This national research study found that, “enhancement of [course] learning [objectives] was detected in the community college students who participated in service learning, either as a course option or a requirement. Additionally, the voices of community college faculty and students in this study validate the benefits of the service learning pedagogy as an active, engaged method of learning skills and knowledge that will be important beyond graduation” (14).
Linking Civic Engagement and Service Learning in College Students (Prentice and Robinson 2007)
This national research study found that, “Service learning can also be the educational spark that sets fire to the commitment of students to claim their role as active community members. […] The voices of community college students represented here appear to validate community college educators’ use of service learning as the spark that students can use to light the fire of engaged citizenship” (11).
Transcending Disciplines, Reinforcing Curricula: Why Faculty Teach with Service Learning (Garcia and Robinson 2005)
This national research study found that 40.7% of faculty respondents cited student learning of core competencies as the number one outcome that motivates them to teach with service-learning. Close behind are the outcomes of student participation to affect social change and student understanding of social problems, at 20.6% and 19.6% respectively.
This extensive bibliography represents a near comprehensive literature review of research in the service-learning field, outlined and annotated thematically.
Members of the SLCC community are clearly welcome to respond to The Globe article in any way they see fit. As for a unified Thayne Center response, I feel we can achieve maximum impact by focusing on the positive aspects of service-learning, the growth we’ve witnessed in our students, the benefits to our community partners, the passion of our engaged faculty members, the achievement of learning outcomes, etc. This letter is posted on our blog and the comment section is open. I encourage you to go online and post responses of any length. Together we will create an archive of support, evidence, anecdotes, and voices of our students and faculty who have found service-learning to be a powerful pedagogy. There are also links on our Thayne Center Facebook page and we invite further comments there.
NOTE: Since the open letter was published on our blog, we received a response from The Globe’s Supervising Editor. A follow-up post has been shared on the blog, in which we all frankly acknowledge the learning opportunity this situation created. It’s not only a learning opportunity for student journalists; it’s also a moment of reflection for Thayne Center staff and service-learning faculty. Visit our blog and/or Facebook page to read these comments.
Thayne Center for Service & Learning
Salt Lake Community College