» Service-Learning

Although there are multiple definitions of service-learning, Chapman University approaches service-learning as an academic experience in which students learn from active involvement with community projects and organizations. They contribute skills and knowledge to community needs while integrating the experiential knowledge they gain with their academic studies. Service-learning helps students transcend classroom boundaries and traditional forms of learning, resulting in the development of mutually rewarding civic ties and enhanced social understanding.

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Distinguishing Service-Learning

Service-learning differs from other forms of community-based work in balancing both student learning and community needs/outcomes. Furco's (1996) model helps to illustrate the unique features of related community-based experiences:

diagram explaining the differences between volunteerism, community service, field education, internships, and service learning. explains that the focus is on reciprocity between the recipient and provider.

Volunteerism and community service emphasize the benefits to the individual, organization, or community being served through such experiences. Volunteer activities often occur on a one-time or episodic basis and place little emphasis on learning and reflection. Community service experiences are designed and facilitated in a more structured manner to involve some degree of learning.

Internships and field education emphasize student learning. Internships allow students to gain practical experience in a potential career field while field education is often associated with experiential requirements in one of the professions (e.g. teaching or social services). In each, the focus is on enhancing students learning primarily and neither inherently involves learning about the historical, sociological, or political contexts that underlie the community and human needs associated with students' work.

Service-learning intends to find a balance and assumes that learning does not necessarily stem from experience, but is facilitated as a result of reflection designed to achieve relevant learning outcomes. Another key element of service-learning is reciprocity, the understanding that such experiences are approached with a spirit of partnership between all who are involved, specifically the institution and community.  As such, the service component in a service-learning experience cannot be presented as an "add-on" or supplement, but instead must be presented as an integral element.

In 2011, the Office of the Provost and Civic Engagement Initiatives developed the following definitions for Chapman University to guide relevant curricular and co-curricular efforts: 

Volunteerism - In volunteerism, students donate their time through providing assistance to activities or events that benefit a cause, institution, or organization, whether on- or off-campus. In volunteerism, the primary emphasis is on the assistance being provided.

Community Service - In community service, students donate their time (usually through participation in intentionally-designed experiences) to provide assistance to an off-campus community need or non-profit/public service organization/agency that directly serves an area/population of the community. In community service, the primary emphasis is on enabling students to provide either direct or indirect assistance to the community, through short or long-term involvement, while enhancing their awareness of community needs and sense of community engagement.

Service Learning - In service-learning, students learn from active involvement with community projects and organizations. They contribute skills and knowledge to community needs while integrating the experiential knowledge they gain with their academic studies. Service-learning helps students transcend classroom boundaries and traditional forms of learning, resulting in the development of mutually rewarding civic ties and enhanced social understanding.

Six-Models of Service-Learning

Heffernan (2001) offers six models to consider when designing a service-learning course.  Whether creating a new course or reconstructing an existing course to incorporate service-learning pedagogy, choosing an appropriate model will help to ensure the purposes and goals of service-learning are attained:

"Pure" Service-Learning courses adopt as their intellectual core the idea of service and community engagement.  Such courses are not content-specific to a particular academic discipline, but prepare students with the knowledge, skills, and competencies necessary for community engagement.

Discipline-Based Service-Learning courses engage students in reflection on their service experience regularly using discipline-based course content as a basis for their analysis and understanding.

Problem-Based Service-Learning courses engage students in service with community members to understand a particular problem or need and prepare students with the knowledge necessary to make recommendations to the community.

Capstone Courses ask students to draw upon knowledge developed throughout their course work and combine it with relevant service with the community.

Service Internships generally engage students in a more intensive time requirement and require students to produce a body of work that is of value to the community or site.  Unlike traditional internships, service internships incorporate ongoing reflection using discipline-based theories in small groups or one-on-one meeting with faculty advisors.

Community-Based Action Research engages the researcher(s) in working side by side with the community to co-construct research questions and methods, collaboratively implement the research design, and adopt shared responsibility for the application of research findings.

  • Getting Started: Step 1
  • Step 2
  • Step 3
  • Step 4
  • Step 5
  • Design a service-learning course. 

    Visit any of the resources below to learn more about research on best practices for service-learning and community-campus partnerships. This information may be useful to share with the community partner(s) you identify in step 2.

  • Identify a community partner.  

    Feel free to browse this list of community partners that meet University liability and risk requirements. If you would like to partner with a different community agency, you will need to ensure the organization provides the University with a Certificate of Insurance that names Chapman University as an additional insured and Certificate Holder. This will need to be provided to Risk Management and should be renewed each year. Contact the organization to learn more about their mission, current plans and programs, and whether their needs will match yours to ensure a mutually beneficial partnership.

  • Arrange a meeting.  

    Arrange a meeting with your community partner to further discuss the learning objectives of your course and identify appropriate service opportunities for students. This is a good time to discuss times for service that would work best for students, public transportation options, accessibility for students with disabilities, and the role of partners as co-educators. If your partner requires an agreement with the University, please be mindful of first having that reviewed through the University contract process.

  • Ensure safety.  

    It is important to ensure that all partners are aware of risks associated with the intended service experience. After learning more about these risks through conversations with your partner and/or visits to the service site, you will need to develop and ensure all students complete a University waiver of liability. If you intend for Chapman students to work with minors, either on-campus or in a local community, you will need to follow University protocol for working with minors. This will include adding your course to a registry of programs working with minors, ensuring students complete an online training for preventing sexual misconduct with minors, and requiring students to complete a background check (usually coordinated by your community partner).  Please note different requirements for working with youth on- and off-campus.

  • Check in regularly and plan for evaluation. 

    Once your students begin their service, check in regularly with your partner to identify any areas of development and/or follow up that might help students be more effective in their service and connect their experience to your course learning outcomes. You might also want to develop an evaluation plan with your partner to review the partnership at the end of the semester and plan for the future of the partnership.

Contact Us

Nina LeNoir, Ph.D.
Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education

Anat Herzog, Ph.D
Liaison for Academic Service-Learning