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Service Learning & Civic Engagement. Leah Sweetman , Ph.D. Saint Louis University Center for Service & Community Engagement Phone: 977-4105 Website: Email address: This Morning’s Plan. Purpose of Higher Education

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service learning civic engagement

Service Learning & Civic Engagement

Leah Sweetman, Ph.D.

Saint Louis University

Center for Service & Community Engagement

Phone: 977-4105


Email address:

this morning s plan
This Morning’s Plan
  • Purpose of Higher Education
    • Service and democratic engagement
  • Service Learning to the Rescue
    • Benefits, practices, models
  • Critical Reflection: Linking to Civic Learning and More…
  • Activities and interaction throughout!
what is the purpose of higher education
What is the purpose of Higher Education?
  • To generate new knowledge: develop human intellect
  • To drive research and industry: train specialists
  • To serve society: promote active citizenship

Benjamin Franklin’s Democratic Vision of the “American University”: …nothing is of more importance to the public wealth, than to form and train up youth in wisdom and truth. Wise and good [people] are, in my opinion the strength of a state: much more so than riches or arms, which under the management of ignorance and wickedness, often draw on destruction…


Democracy can survive only as strong democracy, secured not by great leaders but by competent, responsible citizens… And citizens are certainly not born, but made as a consequence of civic education and political engagement in a free polity.

Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age (1984)

american college students our compassion boom
American College Students: Our “Compassion” Boom
  • From 1991 to 2009, the percentage of entering college students who say there is “a very good chance” they will do volunteer work has nearly doubled, from 16.9% to 30.8% (Higher Education Research Institute, 2010)
  • In 2009, over 85% of entering college freshman reported they performed volunteer work “frequently” or “occasionally” in high school (Higher Education Research Institute, 2010)
  • From 2002 to 2005, the growth rate of college student volunteers more than doubled the growth rate of adult volunteers in the US; approximately 20% versus just 9% (Corporation for National and Community Service, 2006)
but does community service also mean civic engagement
But does “Community Service” also mean “Civic Engagement”?

How do we go from helping hands to voting hands?

a service civic engagement disconnect
A Service/Civic Engagement “Disconnect”
  • From 1940 to 1990, political knowledge among Americans remained the same despite college attendance doubling (DelliCarpini & Keeter, 1996)
  • Of 14,000 college seniors surveyed in 2006 & 2007, the average civic literacy proficiency score was just over 50%, an “F” (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2007)
  • Among 172 world democracies investigated in 2007, the US ranked only 139th in voter participation (McCormick Tribune Foundation, 2007)
  • Half the states no longer require civics education for high school graduation (O’Connor, 2010)
  • Less than one-half of 12th graders reported studying international topics as part of civics education (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2010)
a civic recession
A Civic Recession?
  • Only one-third of college students strongly agreed that their education resulted in increased civic capacities (Dey et al., 2009)
  • Students show increasing dissatisfaction with campus efforts to promote civic engagement as they approach graduation (AAC&U, 2012)

Percentage of students who strongly agree that contributing to community “should be” a major focus of college and “is” a major focus of college, by year in school.

Source: Deyet. al. (2009)


If there is a crisis in education in the United States today, it is less that test scores have declined than it is that we have failed to provide the education for citizenship that is still the most significant responsibility of the nation’s schools and colleges.

Frank Newman, Higher Education and the American Resurgence, 1985


We cannot foster democratic habits and dispositions among our students unless we model democratic behavior in our partnering with the community, in the workings of our deliberative bodies (the student government and the faculty senate), in the way we research, teach, and learn.

Harkavy & Hartley, 2008, p. 17

Democracy Needs You!

Higher Education Needs You!


A Framework for 21st Century Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement


Familiarity with key democratic

texts and universal democratic principles, and with selected debates—in US and other societies—concerning their applications

Historical and sociological understanding of several democratic movements, both

US and abroad

Understanding one’s sources of identity and their influence on civic values, assumptions, and responsibilities to a wider public

Knowledge of the diverse cultures, histories, values, and contestations that have shaped US and other world societies

Exposure to multiple religious traditions and to alternative views about the relation between religion and government

Knowledge of the political systems that frame constitutional democracies and of political levers for influencing change


Respect for freedom and human dignity






Ethical integrity

Responsibility to a larger good

Collective Action

Integration of knowledge, skills,

and examined values to inform

actions taken in concert with other people

Moral discernment and behavior

Navigation of political systems

and processes, both formal

and informal

Public problem solving with

diverse partners

Compromise, civility, and

mutual respect


Critical inquiry, analysis, and


Quantitative reasoning

Gathering and evaluating

multiple sources of evidence

Seeking, engaging, and being

informed by multiple perspectives

Written, oral, and multi-media


Deliberation and bridge building

across differences

Collaborative decision making

Ability to communicate in multiple languages

From AAC&U

A Crucible Moment, 2011

  • How does your discipline promote the knowledge, skills, and/or values of democratic engagement and responsible citizenship?
service learning
Service Learning
  • Educating for civic and democratic engagement is not mutually exclusive with specific, disciplinary content
  • Anne Colby (2008): “Many educators acknowledge the importance of preparation for thoughtful, effective citizenship but don’t believe they can afford to make it high priority….Fortunately, high-quality teaching for political understanding and engagement contributes to other aspects of academic learning in college, so these goals need not be traded off against each other” (p. 7).
bridging academic content with communities service learning
Bridging Academic Content with Communities: Service Learning
  • Service Learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.

The distinctive element of service learning is that it enhances the community through the service provided, but it also has powerful learning consequences for the students or others participating in providing a service.

a service learning typology
A Service-Learning Typology

Service-LEARNING Learning goals primarily;

service outcome secondary

SERVICE-learning Service outcomes primary;

learning goals secondary

Service learning Service and learning goals

completely separate

SERVICE-LEARNING Service and learning goals of equal

weight and each enhances the other

for all participants

(Sigmon, 1994)

models of service learning
Models of Service Learning

Two common service-learning course models:

Project-Based Service-Learning Model

Students will draw from their knowledge to make recommendations to the community or develop a solution to a problem.

Discipline-Based Service-Learning Model

Students have an ongoing presence in the community and reflect on their experiences on a regular basis using the course content as the basis for their analysis.

service learning benefits to the student
Service Learning: Benefits to the Student
  • Engages students in active learning that demonstrates the relevance and importance of academic work
  • Enhances academic achievement, critical thinking, acceptance of diversity, and civic responsibility
  • Increases awareness of current social issues as they relate to academic interests, resulting in “active and effective citizenship”
benefits to the faculty and the university
Benefits to the Faculty and the University
  • Enriches and enlivens teaching as students are active participants in learning
  • Creates new areas for faculty research and scholarship
  • Demonstrates the civic mission of higher education to local communities and reinforces the value of the scholarship of engagement
benefits to the community
Benefits to the Community
  • Provides substantial human resources to address needs of local agencies and communities
  • Involves community partners as co-educators in providing rich learning experiences for students
  • Fosters an ethic of service and civic participation in students who will be tomorrow's volunteers and civic leaders
critical reflection civic learning and more
Critical Reflection: Civic Learning and more…
  • Reflection serves as a bridge between course objective and the experience in the community
  • Carefully guided reflection is a process designed to generate, deepen, and document learning
  • The more rigorous the reflection in service learning, the better the learning outcomes.
  • Challenging reflection activities help push the students to think in new ways
integrating service learning experiences during class time
Integrating Service-Learning Experiences during Class Time
  • Lectures
  • Guest speakers, including members of the community, community partners, local experts on the issue
  • Small group activities (role playing, case studies, reflective discussions)
  • Class discussion

Activity: What types of service experiences would be relevant to a course that you teach or plan to teach?

Using language specific to your discipline, design critical reflection questions and activities that will help you assess the Academic Enhancement, Civic Learning, and Personal Growth of your students.

service learning resources
Service Learning Resources
  • Campus Compact
  • Community-Campus Partnerships for Health
  • Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U)
  • National Service-Learning Clearinghouse
  • Corporation for National and Community Service
  • Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning
questions for discussion
Questions for discussion
  • What is service?
  • Is service limited to opportunities with the non-profit community?
  • What makes for a good service experience?
  • How do we prepare students to work in the community?
  • How can institutions help faculty integrate meaningful service-learning opportunities into their courses?
  • What about service in a non-American context?