New ‘community service-learning’ initiative promoted
The many benefits of ‘community service-learning’ (CSL) are becoming widely accepted by universities across North America, and they are rapidly adopting the practice, the head of the newly formed Canadian Association for Community Service-Learning told a campus forum Sept. 29.
In her keynote speech to a two-day symposium on CSL hosted by the U of S Integrated Planning Office and Student & Enrolment Services Division, Cheryl Rose said this “experiential” form of education is positive for students, faculty, the university and community groups.
She told an audience of 50 people in Convocation Hall that CSL is experiential education where the student learns more deeply by applying what they are learning to community problems and reflect on the experience.
“Community Service-Learning helps students connect any program with its application in society, and helps them realize why knowing this stuff [at university] matters in the world,” Rose said.
In opening the symposium, U of S President Peter MacKinnon noted this University is in the midst of rethinking its community-related activities, and he said “service-learning has emerged as a top priority in the discussions of outreach and engagement at the University of Saskatchewan.”
The draft Foundational Document on Outreach and Engagement currently being debated includes service-learning as the first of five priorities to be built into the University’s teaching and research programs. It states: “There is every possibility that the University of Saskatchewan can be a national leader in this emerging field.”
Cheryl Rose applauded the initiative, saying, “There is a shift around the world to connect education more to the community, and you are right on the wave of that.”
Rose said community service-learning activities fit along a continuum between the extremes of professional practicums, where the point is much more the individual’s learning experience than any community service, and purely voluntary service, where the point is community service and the individual’s learning is incidental.
“The best CSL is a balance between service and learning,” Rose said.
She said CSL “is not an episodic volunteer program, an add-on to an existing curriculum, or merely logging community-service hours”. It’s an integrated combination of service and learning, ideally developed jointly by the university and the community groups involved.
It helps student improve academic performance, develop values, identify career choices and it helps faculty develop renewed and more active teaching and offers areas for research.
Rose said CSL is growing rapidly in higher education across Canada. Programs now exist at UBC, Guelph, Trent, St. Francis Xavier, University of Northern B.C., Brock, Queen’s, and Wilfrid Laurier.
The audience heard that a survey has recently been completed which lists a number of CSL-type programs already going on across the U of S – including a Service & Justice program at St. Thomas More College, a Student Wellness Initiative Towards Community Health (SWITCH), and the Leadership Advantage program.