Service-Learning in Economics

Service-learning activity usually falls into two categories:

Type 1: Teaching/tutoring/sharing knowledge from the class.
Example: Economics students at Occidental College in Los Angeles took part in a service-learning project that was part of the Economics of Race and Gender class. Their community partner was a local high school located in a low-income neighborhood. Part of the project “consisted of preparing a 55-minute interactive lesson on one of the topics listed on the syllabus and then teaching the lesson to students…” The university students had to apply the theories that they were learning in class and put it into context for high school students. They had many goals, among them increasing economic literacy, teaching topics related to race and gender, and getting the high school students to “understand that there is more to economics than the Federal Reserve Board, interest rates, money, and consumption.” One student reflected, “I learned that I can actually teach well. I always thought I would be horrible and that I would hate it, but neither was the case.” 2

Type 2: Using information from the class to do something with/for a community organization.
Example: Students at the University of Richmond in Virginia, took part in a service-learning project as part of their Women and Gender issues in Economics course. “It is designed to point out differences in economic circumstances between men and women. Various theories are provided in order to explain these differences, and students are expected to understand as well as contrast neoclassical, Marxist, institutionalist, and feminist perspectives on each topic covered.” One example of a community partner served was an emergency shelter. The students spent time “identifying resources, such as employment and educational opportunities and long-term child care, for particular shelter occupants.” They then linked their work at the organization with economic theory and reflected on their experiences. One student noted, “Many of the women in the shelter are not lazy, but have had bad luck and have been in abusive relationships.” They realize that poverty and homelessness is not an easy cycle to break and that it takes a caring community to make a difference. An exit survey concluded that the community organizations were “very satisfied 88% of the time, and every organization expressed interest in continuing the program with future classes.” 1

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1McGoldrick, Kim Marie. “Service-Learning in Economics: A Detailed Application.” Journal of Economic Education (Fall 1998): 365-376. Print.

2 Lopez, M. “Incorporating Service-Learning into the Economics Curriculum.” Rev Black Polit Econ (2009) 36: 137-149. Web.