Service Learning

What is service learning?

The Carnegie Foundation describes service learning as “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.”  Service learning, then, is a pedagogy that promotes the formation of collaborative, sustainable partnerships between the university and the community.

Why teach with service learning?

Service learning develops students as active learners who become stakeholders in their own education. The integration of course content, community work, and reflection fosters an active learning environment that strengthens students' social, moral, professional, and civic development.  It connects disciplines to help solve multidimensional issues that our society faces in mutual collaboration with our communities. It enables faculty to be creative and innovative with their research questions pertaining to community needs and allows students to be part of that reciprocal process.

How does service learning work?

Faculty members and students work together with community partners to identify solutions to society's most pressing issues:  food justice, social equality, health disparities, homelessness, economic and small business development, education, climate change, transportation systems, and clean, sustainable energy and air systems.

Service learning represents a balance in which students and the community partner benefit equally. As described by Furco, volunteerism and community service represent an imbalance in which the community benefits more from the service than the students, while field education and internships represent the other end of the spectrum as the student reaps greater benefit from the service. (Furco 1996)

UConn encourages a critical approach to community service learning (Mitchell 2008):

Service learning projects are developed by connecting student learning objectives and community need.  As such, the resulting partnership is mutually beneficial for all parties.  The project activities and deliverables can vary widely, as service learning can take on many forms.  Regardless of its form, however, service learning projects should include a great deal of student reflection before, during, and after the service:

Where do I start?

Designing a course that includes service learning—or adding a service learning component to an existing course—can be daunting.  At UConn, the Office of Public Engagement supports academic- and program-focused service learning.  Visit the service learning website for information on developing your service learning course or project, obtaining service learning designation for your course, and other information, most of which is compiled in the Faculty Guide to the Pedagogy of Service Learning.  The Office also sponsors an intensive Service Learning Faculty Fellows program aimed at providing detailed training and support to faculty members committed to including service learning in their teaching.


  • Service learning should be an integral component of course development, not an “add on” to a course.
  • Service learning is not simply “community service”; service learning projects should be mutually beneficial for both students learning and community partners.
  • Service learning is distinguished from volunteerism or community service by incorporation of learning outcomes. These learning outcomes should complement and extend material learned in the classroom.
  • Courses that include service learning should provide numerous and varied opportunities for students to reflect on their service work.

Additional Resources