What We Do

What Is Service Learning?

Service Learning in the Liberal Studies Division:

An Introduction 

“I have this growing conviction that what is needed [for higher education] is not just more programs, but a larger purpose, a larger sense of mission, a larger clarity of direction in the nation’s life.” (Ernest Boyer)

There is a history in education of theorists and practitioners alike who have promoted the idea that education should be active, and should honor both the teacher and the student , promoting and expecting active participation in the learning experience.

Others have connected education to individual and communal transformation – to the real possibility of changing the way that our societies function. It has been termed variously “experiential learning” and “service learning.” The key is that it links academic learning with experiences and action in the community.

Image courtesy of http://www.servicelearningcourse.org/sessions.asp, Cailfornia Stae University.

Action and Reflection are important components of service learning. In Principles of Good Practice for Combining Service and Learning: A Wingspread Special Report, the author cites the provision of an “effective program [that] provides structured activities for people to reflect critically on their service experience” (1). As a result, one of the richest components of the class is the service journaling which encourages student reflection on the service that they are performing at their placements, which leads to discussion about what is happening back in the classroom.

Here are some vital motivations and objectives for service learning:

• Service Learning reinforces an active vs. passive learning model for students

• Students and teachers are confronted with the idea that learning is “transformational” rather than merely “transactional.”

New learning interacts with what students already know to transform and deepen understanding of course materials and community work. When students apply what they know, they develop a more authentic connection with the material and a richer understanding of how academic principles can be put to practical purposes.

Students and the college develop a presence in a larger community than just that of school – both students and their school become a more visible and dynamic part of the communities that they inhabit. As such, students are exploring a much more vital model for citizenship and leadership.

• Service Learning provides authentic preparation for assuming the responsibilities of citizenship; students develop civic literacy through this form of education.

MIAD and Service Learning

Our program is unique in that we are taking the lead developing curricular service learning curriculum in an art and design educational context. Other unique features are:

The number of service hours exceeds national averages – at the various conferences I have attended from the Collaboration to Campus Compact meetings, to Higher Learning Commission conferences, the average is somewhere between 15 and 25 hours. At 35, we exceed those averages and organizations who have to train volunteers appreciate the commitment of time our students make.

The service is a required institutional commitment, not an elective. As such, it enacts MIAD’s value for creating responsible and prepared citizens who will take a role as artists or designers in the cultural life of the city.

Students may utilize their art and design talents at their placements which causes them to think more deeply about the role that their art and design skills could play in community change and development. While any request for students to provide art or design-related service is vetted to prevent exploitation of their talents, students often perform art or design-related activities on sites that provide beneficial service to the community partners being served. One example was a series of mural projects completed by service learning students at a transition shelter for families run by the Salvation Army. That experience was further enhanced by partnering MIAD students with juvenile offenders who were serving community time to produce the mural. They learned about each other, performed a task collaboratively and benefited the residents of the shelter with an improved environment.

Consequences of Service Learning

Increased visibility of our students and academic programming around the city Job offers, continued volunteer opportunities, internships.

Professional Development. Due to Service Learning experiences, students have ehanced prospects for graduate school and job applications – a number have had positive responses to graduate school applications and job applications; hiring and admissions committees cited the service learning experience as a distinction.

Service Learning benefits faculty as well. Faculty have cited feeling re-vitalized about the role of education; they are provided with the opportunity to craft and teach an upper-level social sciences elective, and they also build their relationship with community partners. Further, they are tapped into a network of like-minded educators who see the possibilities for challenging our students to take a more active role in learning (and to challenge ourselves in that direction as well).

Institutional Change. The integration of Service Learning into the curriculum has contributed to an institutional transformation that has featured a growing focus on civic engagement, issues of environmental literacy, sustainability, tolerance education and green design. There has been a consequent rise in student involvement on campus and off through campus activities and volunteerism. Service Learning plays a pivotal role in anchoring different parts of the curriculum throughout divisions and for providing a fulcrum for student experiences.

By MIAD Professor Barbara McLaughlin

 *Above right image courtesy of http://www.servicelearningcourse.org/sessions.asp, California State University, East Bay.