What Is Service-Learning?

Service-learning is a pedagogy that utilizes community service projects within the context of an academic course. Academic service-learning distinguishes itself from internships and other credit-bearing community experiences in several ways. First, the community experience is a component of an academic course, used as a "text" for student learning. Second, service-learning projects are designed in partnership with community to meet an expressed community need. Third, a structured reflection activity is utilized to help students understand how their community experiences link with the academic and civic learning objectives of the course.

Courses at Sonoma State University that seek to bear a service-learning designation should adhere to the following guidelines, as approved by the SSU Academic Senate in 2005:

  • The service shall be connected to and support the academic learning objectives of the course.
  • The service shall address a need identified or developed in partnership with the greater community.
  • Participation in community service is a core component of the course.
  • Service-learning activities and requirements are described in the course syllabus or independent study contract.
  • Faculty shall provide structured activities for critical reflection linking the service and academic study.
  • Service sites are evaluated and approved by the course instructor. Students shall be appropriately supervised and supported by faculty or staff, in collaboration with site personnel.
  • The opportunity shall be distinct from an internship, field experience, practicum or volunteer activity, unless these experiences meet the above criteria.

In the spirit of service-learning best practice, faculty are strongly encouraged to:

  • Design the service-learning component to address an off-campus community need, except when intentionally addressing sustainability, peer education, campus activism, etc...
  • Evaluate students on their ability to draw connections between the community service and course content, not just on completion of service.
  • Visit service sites to assess their appropriateness to learning outcomes.

For more in depth information about what faculty should consider in using service learning, please consider the following:

Developing Service-Learning Courses with OPERA.mp4