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Personal Experience: Service Learning

By Emily Lammers
English major, CLA 2013

A typical school day for many University students consists of sitting in a classroom and listening to a lecture. While there is value in this style of learning, my community service-learning class has taught me the value of learning not only from professors, but also from fellow classmates, partners in the community, and individuals at volunteer sites, regardless of their age or educational background. It has also taught me to be an active member of our society and to share the responsibility that goes along with that role—caring for the living conditions of others.

Service-learning classes require students to visit an off-campus site for a minimum number of hours per semester; each class has a different time requirement. Each service-learning class also has a special emphasis. My service-learning class, “Literacy and American Cultural Diversity,” focuses on the definition of literacy and how it affects and is defined by different cultures.

For my service-learning assignment, I chose to volunteer at the American Indian Cultural Center with the Ginew/Golden Eagle Program that works with 11- to 16-year-old students after school. On my third visit to the center, I ate dinner with a 16-year-old boy and asked him how his day had gone. He said he didn’t like his reading class, and I asked him why. He responded, “I read at a third-grade level.” I was shocked and didn’t know how to respond. After a minute of silence, he asked me if I knew about the Dakota War of 1862. I told him that I had just learned about it last semester in my Dakota history and culture class. He said he had to write a paper on it and asked if I could look over what he’d written so far. I was amazed; a sixteen16-year-old student was writing a paper about a piece of history I hadn’t even known existed until I was 22.

This discussion gave me a new perspective on the concept of literacy that we had been discussing in my service-learning class. I learned that when considering what literacy means, it’s important to consider not only an individual’s ability to read and write, but also his or her total cache of knowledge.

The experience I gain at my community site helps me to think critically about our in-class readings, and I am more engaged because I have fresh insight into our topics of discussion. I do not want to disregard the value of lectures, but the out-of-classroom component has helped me apply what I’m learning in the classroom to the real world.   

CLA student.

Service-Learning Courses

In a recent assessment of community service-learning opportunities, students were asked for feedback on their service-learning courses. The following percentages indicate responses for students who said they “agree” or “strongly agree” when comparing their service-learning course to a traditional classroom course:

  • 85.8% said their service-learning course “increased my ability to apply course material to new situations”
  • 89.0% “helped me place the concepts I was learning in a broader social context”
  • 86.9% “encouraged me to think critically about information I receive from different sources”
  • 91.1% “challenged me to identify and analyze social problems”
  • 89.8% “increased my motivation to be engaged in community issues”
  • 89.4% “deepened my knowledge of diverse communities