Service Learning - Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University

Service Learning

growing theaterWhat is service-learning?

Do you want students to experience working on interesting, real-world problems? Or perhaps have opportunities to apply their disciplinary knowledge in new situations where they can help others? If so, then consider how you might use service-learning – which combines traditional educational outcomes for students with “service” opportunities in the community – to meet your learning objectives. Sometimes called community-based instruction, service-learning places equal emphasis on the service component of the experience and the learning outcomes for the student. The term is generally hyphenated to indicate this balance.

Service-learning is a potentially rich educational experience, but without careful planning, students can wind up learning far less than we hope or internalizing exactly the opposite lessons we intend. For instance, if roles and expectations are not made clear, students may end up performing menial tasks, without achieving the learning goals for the course. Or they may have a bad experience and conclude, for example, that working in groups is difficult, public schools are dysfunctional, and that non-profit organizations can be chaotic places to work. In order to be successful, service-learning requires significant advance preparation and consideration of a number of special issues. But with thoughtful planning and deliberate execution, service-learning can foster positive relationships between the university and the larger community and provide meaningful educational experiences to students.

In this section, you can:

Discover what service-learning looks like at Carnegie Mellon

Explore the learning objectives that service-learning can address

Consider the appropriateness of service-learning for your course

Examine issues unique to designing and teaching a service-learning course

View a timeline for planning the logistics of your course

Identify common pitfalls as well as possible strategies

Locate Resources, Examples, and References