UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Community Service-Learning in Canadian Higher Education Taylor, Alison, 1959-; Butterwick, Shauna J.; Raykov, Milosh; Glick, Stephanie; Peikazadi, Nasim; Mehrabi, Shadi


Curricular community service-learning (CSL) integrates learning through service in the community with intentional course-based learning activities. While CSL programs have been part of higher education in the US since the early 1970s, most of the growth in Canadian programs has taken place since the 1990s. Like the US, CSL programs in Canada have diverse aims and approaches. They tend to include a mix of experiential education, action research, critical theory, progressive education, adult education, social justice education, constructivism, community-based research, multicultural education, and undergraduate research. How can service learning enhance student engagement and outcomes? The literature discusses elements to consider in designing CSL activities, including the quantity and quality of reflective activities, duration and intensity of service, diversity of service, meaningful integration of classroom and community learning, involvement of community partners in designing student activities/projects, and preparation of students for these projects. But importantly, CSL design is related to aims of programs, which vary from “technical” goals to more “transformative” goals. Therefore, clarity about aims as well as about differences in the learning theories underpinning particular approaches to CSL is important. Further, developing reciprocal relationships between university and community means responding to community priorities too. How does CSL contribute to new ways of learning? Writers tend to agree that CSL initiatives can promote critical thinking and civic responsibility if they are carefully organized, have clarity of purpose, are relevant to students’ professional futures, address the emotional dimensions of students’ learning, and provide guided reflection. The complexity of university-community partnerships must also be acknowledged. Innovative approaches discussed in studies include establishing interdisciplinary student teams, using art and poetry to promote learning, promoting dialogical relationships with community, and adopting asset-based approaches in community. What are promising practices to addressing student diversity through CSL? Existing literature suggests that CSL instructors need to recognize student diversity, particularly the positions of students in relation to community members. Acknowledging diversity can help educators engage students from various backgrounds and circulate healthy, safe dialogues that bridge classroom theory with CSL praxis. What institutional structures and supports are necessary for CSL to flourish? CSL requires visionary leadership at all levels, resources, and coordination. It is important for those involved to consider how organizational structures impact the ability of service learning to meet educational goals; and how the work of CSL is to be organized and implemented. Our review of the literature suggests more Canadian research on CSL in higher education is needed to inform the design of CSL programs and activities.

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