Service Learning FAQ

Center for Service Learning

What is the definition of service learning at Denison?

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.

What forms does service learning take at Denison?

At Denison, Service Learning is categorized as extracurricular community service, co-curricular service learning, and curricular service learning.

While sharing the word “service,” these models of student involvement in the community are distinguished by their learning agenda. Extracurricular community service may involve an intentional learning agenda, although this must be intentionally sought out. Extracurricular activities include the many student-run service projects and programs involving a large proportion of the student body, and organized by the Denison Community Association (DCA) as well as by many student groups and organizations (e.g., athletic teams, Greek organizations).

In contrast, both forms of service learning — co-curricular and curricular — make intentional efforts to engage students in planned and purposeful learning related to the service experiences.

  • Co-curricular service learning, illustrated by many alternative spring break programs, is concerned with using experiences to increase students’ awareness of various important issues. Examples of co-curricular activities include service and reflection projects associated with the Denison Service Orientation trip and Service Projects for first year students, Breakaway trips, and service associated with our MLK Day celebration.
  • Curricular service learning, illustrated by student community service integrated into an academic course, utilizes the service experience as a course “text” for both academic learning and civic learning. Curricular service-learning is designed by the professor to be part of the course learning experience. Curricular service learning always involves opportunities for student reflection, and may involve integration into writing assignments or class projects.

How many faculty are involved with curricular service learning at Denison?

Each semester the number of courses vary, as well as those who teach them, typically 10-15 courses are taught each semester by instructors who have taught for years using service-learning, and some who are fairly new to it. Additionally, there are also approximately 20+ staff members at DU who have attended meetings and functions who wish to support the work of the Alford Center for Service Learning at Denison.

What does the Center for Service Learning do?

The mission of the Center is to promote a wide variety of forms of service learning at Denison and to support the initiatives and efforts of students, faculty, and staff engaged in service learning. As it relates to curricular service learning, this means that we help faculty work out placements that will fit the course and the faculty member’s learning objectives for it. The staff is comprised of:  Director Gina Dow, Associate Directors Susie Kalinoski and Michele Doran, and Elizabeth Mayberry, the administrative assistant. The center provides logistical support and assistance in identifying and maintaining community service placement.

The Center has a library containing current service learning books, journals, and other material, a growing file of syllabi from Denison faculty in all disciplines, many links to discipline-specific ideas for curricular service learning opportunities, and many contacts in surrounding community. If you would like to explore the possibilities of service learning for your class please contact Michele Doran at 740-587-8557 (doranm@denison.edu) or Gina Dow at 740-587-6562 (dow@denison.edu).

What are the criteria for for the selection of curricular service learning placement or activities?

Four essential criteria exist in all service learning courses. First, the range of acceptable service placements must relate to the content of the course. Second, the duration of service must be sufficient to enable the fulfillment of learning goals. Third, specific service activities and service contexts must have the potential to stimulate course-relevant learning. Fourth, community projects must meet real need in the community (as determined by the community).

I want to try curricular service learning, but it seems like a big commitment!

How to do can vary a lot both in how many students in a course participate, and in the amount of time required.

  • All students in a course can participate in the activity or projects; however, a relatively low-commitment way to try out a curricular service project or experience is to offer the project or experience to students as a “+1” — that is, offer an additional credit hour for interested students; typically only a few students will opt for this opportunity. The credit is not for the activity per se, but for the learning associated with the project, as assessed by the faculty member (for example, a student in a class on community health may do a project that partially involves substantive work in a local free clinic). Please see the Registrar section for more information and relevant forms.
  • The amount of time devoted to the project or experience can vary as well. In some cases the curricular service learning project is built into the course as a one-day event with prior preparation (for example, students in an advanced Biology lab might prepare a lab experience for local seniors. Students prepare posters and interactive lab exhibits on the life cycle, and engage in debate / discussion on issues raised by the information.) In other cases students participate weekly for 25 - 30 hours of service over the course of the semester (for example, students in an advanced Psychology course participate as class aides in a preschool for children with special needs, 2.5/3 hours per week).