Six Models for Service-Learning

The following is from Heffernan, Kerrissa. Fundamentals of Service-Learning Course Construction. RI: Campus Compact, 2001, pp. 2-7, 9.


1. “Pure” Service-Learning

These are courses that send students out into the community to serve. These courses have as their intellectual core the idea of service to communities by students, volunteers or engaged citizens. They are not typically lodged in any one discipline.

2. Discipline-Based Service-Learning

In this model, students are expected to have a presence in the community throughout the semester and reflect on their experiences on a regular basis throughout the semester using course content as a basis for their analysis and understanding.

3. Problem-Based Service-Learning (PBSL)

According to this model, students (or teams of students) relate to the community much as “consultants” working for a “client.” Students work with community members to understand a particular community problem or need. This model presumes that the students will have some knowledge they can draw upon to make recommendations to the community or develop a solution to the problem: architecture students might design a park; business students might develop a website; or botany students might identify non-native plants and suggest eradication methods.

4. Capstone Courses

These courses are generally designed for majors and minors in a given discipline and are offered almost exclusively to students in their final year. Capstone courses ask students to draw upon the knowledge they have obtained throughout their coursework and combine it with relevant service work in the community. The goal of capstone courses is usually either to explore a new topic or to synthesize students’ understanding of their discipline. These courses offer an excellent way to help students make the transition from the world of theory to the world of practice by helping them establish professional contacts and gather personal experience.

5. Service Internships

Like traditional internships, these experiences are more intense than typical service-learning courses, with students working as many as 10 to 20 hours a week in a community setting. As in traditional internships, students are generally charged with producing a body of work that is of value to the community or site. However, unlike traditional internships, service internships have regular and on-going reflective opportunities that help students analyze their new experiences using discipline-based theories. These reflective opportunities can be done with small groups of peers, with one-on-one meetings with faculty advisors, or even electronically with a faculty member providing feedback. Service internships are further distinguished from traditional internships by their focus on reciprocity: the idea that the community and the student benefit equally from the experience.

6. Undergraduate Community-Based Action Research

A relatively new approach that is gaining popularity, community-based action research is similar to an independent study option for the rare student who is highly experienced in community work. Community-based action research can also be effective with small classes or groups of students. In this model, students work closely with faculty members to learn research methodology while serving as advocates for communities.

Exemplary Service-Learning syllabi should:
  • Include service as an expressed goal
  • Clearly describe how the service experience will be measured and what will be measured
  • Describe the nature of the service placement and/or project
  • Specify the roles and responsibilities of students in the placement and/or service project, (e.g., transportation, time requirements, community contacts, etc.)
  • Define the need(s) the service placement meets
  • Specify how students will be expected to demonstrate what they have learned in the placement/project (journal, papers, presentations)
  • Present course assignments that link the service placement and the course content
  • Include a description of the reflective process
  • Include a description of the expectations for the public dissemination of students’ work