How to create a good Service Learning experience?

Service Learning is not a recent methodology, it arises from two well-known models: experience-based learning and service to the community. [1] For this reason it is known in some countries as Community Service and is considered an excellent space for linking the student population and the communities they serve.


The objectives of the service learning projects are:

Improve the theoretical understanding of the reality in which they work, acquire new skills that make students better people and better professionals, develop a more acute sense of the civic, political and human value of their intervention and, finally, achieve a a source of reflected personal experience that projects young people towards a future of new questions that mobilizes and makes them creative. [2]

These without taking into account the objectives of the subject, for example, raising awareness about an environmental problem, contributing to the care of a disadvantaged community or strengthening a local institution.


Some of the main advantages of service learning are: improving participation, mutual knowledge between the actors, communication, preparation for professional activity, among others. [1] But it is also important to include reflection on the experience and the topics addressed in order to strengthen student learning. In other words, neither part of the term (1) learning and (2) service can be neglected to achieve a successful and meaningful result.




In Service Learning, students grow and communities grow. Drawing by the author.

Along the same lines, students who participate in these initiatives have shown improvements in skills such as critical thinking, understanding about issues of inequality and discrimination, leadership, and interpersonal relationships. [3] But these results are closely linked to the interest that students have about the project, the community, the proposed objectives, etc. [3] In other words, the results of the experience are associated with the possibilities offered to the students to participate in the design of the service learning project. Being involved will allow you to promote your relationship and build a scenario in which you feel motivated.


The procedure for creating a service learning experience changes depending on the source consulted. Next, three different references are compared based on getting a clearer idea of the possibilities.


Jeanie Phillips, [4] high school educator in Vermont-USA, developed a proposal to build Service Learning programs in five steps (link to original source):


  1. Research: Where possible themes, communities are explored and possible projects are chosen.

  2. Planning and preparation: The what, how and why of the proposed initiative are studied, and the necessary materials are collected.

  3. Implementation: The proposed project is carried out while keeping an eye out for unforeseen events that may arise.

  4. Reflection: The results of the process are discussed between teachers and students.

  5. Celebration: Present the results to the educational institution and the communities.


A very important source on this topic is Roser Batlle, [5] specialist in service learning methodologies, who already in 1996 proposed the following structure:


  1. Phase 1: outline of the idea.

  2. Phase 2: establishment of alliances in the environment.

  3. Phase 3: project planning.

  4. Phase 4: preparation of the project with the group.

  5. Phase 5: execution of the project.

  6. Phase 6: closing the project with the group.

  7. Phase 7: multifocal evaluation.


Twenty years later, in association with the ProFuturo [6] organization of Fundación Telefónica and Fundación “la Caixa” dedicated to reducing the educational gap in the world, Roser Batlle advances on his original proposal to propose the following stages:


STAGE I. Outline the Project.

  • Define where to start.

  • Analyze how the group and each member are doing.

  • Determine a socially necessary service.

  • Establish learning related to service.

STAGE II. Establish relationship with social entities.

  • Identify the social entities to collaborate.

  • Raise the claim and reach an agreement.

STAGE III. Plan the Project.

  • Define the pedagogical aspects.

  • Define management and organization.

  • Define the stages of work with the group.

STAGE IV. Prepare the project with the group.

  • Motivate the group.

  • Diagnose the problem and define the Project.

  • Organize the work to be done.

  • Reflect on learning from planning.

STAGE V. Execute the project with the group.

  • Run the service.

  • Relate to the environment.

  • Register, communicate and disseminate the Project.

  • Reflect on the learnings of the execution.

STAGE VI. Finish the project with the group.

  • Evaluate the results of the service.

  • Evaluate the set of learning acquired.

  • Project future prospects.

  • Celebrate the shared experience.

STAGE VII. Multifocal evaluation.

  • Evaluate the group and each boy / girl.

  • Evaluate the experience as a Service Learning project.


As can be seen in these three examples, although the specific steps vary, the essence is always the same. It is necessary to bear in mind that none of these methodologies should be taken at face value, they are a base to start with. It is important to adjust them to the context depending on factors such as the level of training of the students, the experience of the teachers, the time available, etc. In other words, it is necessary that each educator or teams of educators and students take the time to analyze proposals like these and develop a plan according to what they want to achieve.

References


[1] R. Batlle, “¿De qué hablamos cuando hablamos de aprendizaje-servicio?,” Crítica, no. 972, pp. 49–54, 2011.

[2] M. Páez Sánchez and J. Puig Rovira, “La reflexión en el aprendizaje-servicio,” Rev. Int. Educ. para la Justicia Soc., vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 13–32, 2013.

[3] A. W. Astin, L. J. Vogelgesang, E. K. Ikeda, and J. A. Yee, “How Service Learning Affects Students,” High. Educ., no. Paper 144, 2000.

[4] J. Phillips, “Innovative Education in VT,” 2018. [Online]. Available: https://tiie.w3.uvm.edu/blog/how-to-plan-a-service-learning-project/#.X3BMYhTiuUk. [Accessed: 27-Sep-2020].

[5] R. Batlle, “Guía práctica de aprendizaje-servicio,” in Proyecto Social, Barcelona: Santillana Educación S.L., 1996, pp. 4–34.

[6] ProFuturo, “¿Cómo crear un proyecto de Aprendizaje- Servicio?,” 2014. [Online]. Available: https://profuturo.education/topics/como-crear-un-proyecto-de-aprendizaje-servicio/. [Accessed: 25-Sep-2020].

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