Dr. Jewrell Rivers is a Professor of Sociology, Marriage and Family, and Criminal Justice at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, specializing in family relations.
Service-learning is a pedagogy that integrates academically relevant service activities that address human and community needs into a course. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, educators are being challenged to move out of their comfort zones of traditional teaching methods. During this time, service-learning has served as an effective alternative to a traditional teaching pedagogy, promoting engagement and critical thinking.
How It Works
Service-learning helps students connect classroom learning with real-world experience by combining service with reflection in a structured learning environment. This pedagogy prompts educators to reflect on the interconnections between students, faculty, social agencies and community organizations.
According to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, there are four types of service-learning. Direct service-learning is face-to-face and directly affects individuals (stocking community fridges, cleaning up a park, etc.). Indirect focuses on issues that are beneficial to the broader community (fundraising, organizing a food drive, etc.). Research-based centers around gathering and presenting information (translating legal documents, researching history, etc.). Finally, advocacy-based involves planning initiatives to address needs in community (working with elected officials, leading public forums, etc.).
The Benefits of Service-Learning
Through service-learning, students discover more about their relationship with their communities, their capacity for serving others, their career-related skills and what it means to be a responsible citizen. Students who participate are more deeply engaged in their local communities, helping them grow into more engaged citizens. Facilitating this community engagement can also empower educators.
Service-learning projects also strengthen the “Town and Gown” relationship between colleges and local communities by fostering interconnectivity between students, faculty, social agencies and community organizations.
Service Outside of the Classroom
Although service-learning has traditionally been considered a form of teaching pedagogy, it doesn’t have to be a strictly academic endeavor. As a teaching pedagogy, it provides students with meaningful connections between theory and practice. However, I also propose a different model based on student collaboration.
The United Way Adopt-An-Agency program is based on this student collaboration model. Rather than leveraging service-learning to fulfill a class requirement, student organizations can collaborate directly with social agencies and community organizations to enhance the “Town and Gown” relationship. With this model, students better understand volunteerism, civic engagement, moral responsibility and cultural diversity. Meanwhile, social agencies and community organizations gain valuable educational and human resources, potential employees, student insights and enhanced integration with academic disciplines.
How does this work at an institutional level? Take a look at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, GA. ABAC is currently working to implement a service-learning model based on student collaboration. Student organizations, including the Criminal Justice Club, Enactus, Cultural Latina and more, will join a United Way Student Chapter to partner with local social agencies and community organizations.
To learn more about service-learning, watch Dr. Rivers’ Empowered Educator series webinar, “Strengthening Town & Gown: Service-Learning in Pedagogy.”