The Role of Social Entities in the Service-Learning Experiences
Social Entities and Service-Learning
Service learning offers students a different approach to learning and personal development. An important building block of the service learning approach is that students actually are confronted with whole and real life cases instead of cleaned up cases on paper, situations performed by actors or other imitations of real life. These real life cases often take the form of social organizations in the direct community of the organization (or hopefully more often in the future, also in other communities). The involvement of these community social organizations can be an enrichment for service learning in many ways; for the students and of course for the community (organizations).
Students will have increased understanding of the topic of the course and gain hands-on experience. It helps them explore potential professions, or at least the type of organizations they might want to work for (as the intervention is not always close to the job they want to do later). Furthermore, students will learn more about social issues and the different communities surrounding their university. University students do after all, most of the time, come from different, probably more affluent, communities than these organizations operate in. With the hands-on experience also come new skills and the building of a professional network.
When done well, the value goes beyond the students’ and will also reach the community (organizations). First, community partners gain ‘hands’. Students in service learning courses can be seen as additional (professional) volunteers for the organization that help with either the daily operations (e.g. taking care of children, organizing events) or a specific task (e.g. answering a consultancy question, helping with a legal issue). These extra hands will hopefully also come with new energy and enthusiasm. Moreover, the students will probably have a different worldview and might bring different perspectives helpful to the work of the organization. Furthermore, this is a unique opportunity for community organization to increase awareness of important issues and to educate students (and faculty) about common misconceptions. Lastly, like the value for students, it helps organizations grow their network.
Social entities are the backbone of the tradition of service learning. Without real cases, there would be no ‘service’ and the ‘learning’ would be very different. It is important for all of us to understand that the value lies with both our students and the organizations. We should be aware, however, of negative value as well – especially when vulnerable people are involved. When monitored well, service learning can add tremendous value to all partners involved and social entities play a big role in this.
By Lucas Meijs and Philine van Overbeeke,