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Service Learning and Community Engagement: What is Service Learning?

This research guide provides resources and tools for service learning and community engagement.

What is Service Learning?

Service learning: Service-Learning is teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.  A community engagement pedagogy or teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. 

Service-learning class: A course-based educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity and reflect on the experience in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of personal values and civic responsibility. 

Service learning pedagogy includes four elements: 

  • Collaboration between students and community members (Reciprocity).
  • Practicing skills in the real world.
  • Developing a sense of social responsibility (Civil Education). 
  • Reflecting on the Experience (Reflection). 

Civic identity: When one sees themselves as an active participant in society with a strong commitment and responsibility to work with others towards public purposes.

Civic Identity: Organizations, movements, campaigns, a place or locus where people and/or living creatures inhabit, which may be defined by a locality (school, national park, non-profit organization, town, state, nation) or defined by shared identity (i.e., African-Americans, North Carolinians, Americans, the Republican or Democratic Party, refugees, etc.). In addition, contexts for civic engagement may be defined by a variety of approaches intended to benefit a person, group, or community, including community service or volunteer work and academic work.

Community engagement: Community engagement seeks to better engage the community to achieve long-term and sustainable outcomes, processes, relationships, discourses, decision making, or implementation. 

Volunteerism: Volunteerism refers to the act of performing service without pay — usually with charitable institutions or community agencies.  (NYLC) 

Civic engagement: Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes. (NYTimes)

Community-based learning: Students engage in actively addressing mutually defined community needs as a collaboration between community partners, faculty, and students as a vehicle for achieving academic goals and course objectives. 

Terms adapted from: 

Reprinted with permission from "VALUE: Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education."  Copyright 2018 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

NYTimes Archives.

NYLC-National Youth Leadership Council- Service Learning Glossary



Readings on Service Learning

 Note: You may need to login with your NYIT credentials to access some of these readings. 

Assessing Service-Learning - Center for Community Engagement at SSU. Accessed 21 June 2018.
Boru, Nese. “The Effects of Service Learning and Volunteerism Activities on University Students in Turkey.” Journal of Education and Training Studies, vol. 5, no. 6, June 2017, pp. 146–66. ERIC,
Cairney, Kristen, and Andrea V. Breen. “Listening to Their Lives: Learning through Narrative in an Undergraduate Practicum Course.” Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, vol. 8, no. 3, June 2017. ERIC,
Celio, Christine I., et al. “A Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Service-Learning on Students.” Journal of Experiential Education, vol. 34, no. 2, Nov. 2011, pp. 164–81. EBSCOhost,
Christ, Tanya, and Sue Sharma. “Searching for Mirrors: Preservice Teachers’ Journey Toward More Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.” Reading Horizons, vol. 57, no. 1, Mar. 2018,
Currie-Mueller, Jenna L., and Robert S. Littlefield. “Embracing Service-Learning Opportunities: Student Perceptions of Service-Learning as an Aid to Effectively Learn Course Material.” Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, vol. 18, no. 1, Jan. 2018, pp. 25–42. EBSCOhost, doi:10.14434/josotl.v18i1.21356.
García-Gutierrez, Juan, et al. “Developing Civic Engagement in Distance Higher Education: A Case Study of Virtual Service-Learning (vSL) Programme in Spain.” Open Praxis, vol. 9, no. 2, 2017, pp. 235–44. ERIC,
Grange, Christina, and Antoinette Miller. “Teaching Introduction to Psychology: Promoting Student Learning Using Digital Storytelling and Community Engagement.” International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, vol. 30, no. 1, Jan. 2018, pp. 172–83. International Society for Exploring Teaching and Learning. Website:, EBSCOhost,
Guthrie, Kathy L., and Holly McCracken. “Making a Difference Online: Facilitating Service-Learning through Distance Education.” The Internet and Higher Education, vol. 13, no. 3, June 2010, pp. 153–57. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2010.02.006.
Lancor, Rachael, and Amy Schiebel. “Science and Community Engagement: Connecting Science Students With the Community.” Journal of College Science Teaching, vol. 47, no. 4, Apr. 2018, pp. 36–41. EBSCOhost,
Mann, Sheilah, and John J. Patrick. Education for Civic Engagement in Democracy: Service Learning and Other Promising Practices. ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, 2805 East Tenth Street, Suite 120, Bloomington, IN 47408-2698; Tel: 800-266-3815 (toll free); Tel: 812-855-3838; Fax: 812-855-0455; E-mail: (ericso@indiana, 2000. ERIC
Palpacuer-Lee, Christelle, and Jessie Hutchison Curtis. “‘Into the Realm of the Politically Incorrect’: Intercultural Encounters in a Service-Learning Program.” International Journal of Multicultural Education, vol. 19, no. 2, June 2017, pp. 163–81. EBSCOhost,
Ricke, Audrey. “Finding the Right Fit: Helping Students Apply Theory to Service-Learning Contexts.” Journal of Experiential Education, vol. 41, no. 1, Mar. 2018, pp. 8–22. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/1053825917750407.
Oates, Karen K., and Lynn H. Leavitt. Service-Learning and Learning Communities: Tools for Integration and Assessment. Association of American Colleges and Universities, 1818 R Street NW, Washington, DC 20009-1604, 2003. ERIC,

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