Service-Learning is a “teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful service* to the community with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities” (Seifer & Connors, 2007, p. 5).  

This approach to education rests on the following assumptions:  

  • The community, in all of its diverse forms, is at the center of learning and engagement  
  • Partnerships are mutually-beneficial, in which all persons involved contribute knowledge, skills, and experience to address community priorities  
  • Intellectual accountability through critical reflection is essential at every phase of the experience   
  • Positive outcomes for the larger community, student learning, and student civic engagement are fundamental  

Service-Learning (S-L) and community engagement (CE) are often used together (S-LCE) or interchangeably to describe the wide range and various types of curricular and co-curricular efforts at JMU. However, we consider S-L to be a distinct subset of CE. JMU defines CE as fostering mutually beneficial and reciprocal partnerships, ranging from local to global, that connect learning to practice, address critical societal problems, and improve quality of life. The Carnegie Foundation adds that CE is a “collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources” (Public Purpose Institute, 2021, para. 13). While S-L and CE have many common characteristics and shared goals, CE is not necessarily integrated into the curriculum and may or may not include the critical practice of reflection. 

*The term service has potentially problematic connotations for CS-L's approach to co-creating more just and equitable communities. Pompa (2002) articulates our reservations: “If I ‘do for’ you, ‘serve’ you, ‘give to’ you—that creates a connection in which I have the resources, the abilities, the power, and you are on the receiving end. It can be—while benign in intent—ironically disempowering to the receiver, granting further power to the giver. Without meaning to, this...replicates the ‘have-have not’ paradigm that underlies many social problems” (p. 68). CS-L actively works to counter this us-them dichotomy with Mitchell’s (2008) critical approach to S-L that “is unapologetic in its claim to dismantle structures of injustice...[by] working to redistribute power amongst all participants in the S-L relationship, developing authentic relationships in the classroom and in the community, and working from a social change perspective” (p. 50). 

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