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Service to or Service with

Posted on Sunday, April 17th, 2011

I've been meaning to write for some time about an interesting discussion I took part in about a month ago in the service learning faculty learning community. A panel of service learning veterans came to share their experiences with us. One of the conversations that evolved stressed the importance of the difference between serving "to" or serving "with" community partners. As one develops service learning pedagogy and curriculum, it's important for us to be mindful of this distinction. We shouldn't say "Here's what I think you need, so here's what my class will do for you." It should be more of a conversation and negotiation between faculty and the community partner to be sure that the project benefits your students and the community equally. The conversation may or may not include the Service Learning Office...If you're new to service learning, you should probably include your campus SL Office; if you're a veteran, that may not be necessary.

Using my course as an example, I could negotiate with my community partner by asking for at least 3 ideas for research topics my students could tackle. That way I have some choices to be sure that my students will be successful in finding research, and that the topic meets the community partner's needs.

Suggested reading about community partnerships:

  • Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (2002). Campus–Community partnerships: The terms of engagement. Journal of Social Issues, 58(3), 503-516. doi:10.1111/1540-4560.00273