Most students who take service learning classes end up with a rich learning experience, but many are often shocked by the increased workload.
Service learning is a relatively new teaching method that blends traditional instruction with relevant community service, and it’s been catching fire among college professors across the United States. These classes present students with a number of opportunities that go beyond what a traditional class offers. When partnering with a community organization, students apply theory to real-world situations.
“You could do everything from create a website for a non-profit, which happened this past semester with a group that I worked with. Another group of students, as part of their leadership class, organized a benefit for the YWCA,” Lisa Walz, the Service Learning Coordinator at Salt Lake Community College’s Thayne Center for Service and Learning said. “But when it gets right down to it, the main purpose is two-fold: provide a service to the community, and to help students to help further ingrain those concepts that the students are learning.”
All of this comes with a price. With the addition of mandatory community service, those who choose these classes are required to invest more of their time than students in a traditional class are. This can be problematic for a busy student with a full workload.
SLCC student Scott Hadley unknowingly registered for a service-learning English class last winter. He remembers being surprised by the additional work requirements.
“When I was registering for class, I wasn’t sure exactly what it entailed. I was a little bit concerned that I wouldn’t have the time or the commitment factor, but I decided to give it a shot,” he said.
At SLCC, it’s common for new students to end up in one of these classes without knowing the implications. Walz admitted that service learning classes aren’t always tagged properly in SLCC’s online class registration system.
“There is a column there that is reserved for comments. In every designated service learning class, there is supposed to be an S.L.,” she said. “It’s up to the [department] administrators to go into the system and tag those classes. For some reason, there seems to be a communication lapse, and that hasn’t been happening.”
In Hadley’s case, he regards the experience positively. He worked with Student Life and Leadership here at SLCC to promote voting awareness among students. For his service work, he handed out voter registration forms and designed a poster to bring attention to the 2010 election.
“We had some difficulty; some communication issues, but overall, it was very beneficial,” he said.
The Thayne Center is working with the departments to ensure that classes are properly marked in the future. Until then, Walz invites students who are nervous after ending up in a service-learning class to stick it out.
“Most instructors here at SLCC require 15-20ish hours. In their head, students have this concept that they’re signing their life away. It’s all about perception.”
For those who wish to stick with more traditional classes, she offers another piece of advice.
“If you’re unsure if a class is service-learning, e-mail the instructor. They don’t mind.”