Contributed by blog editor Tania Smith, Assistant Professor of Communications Studies at the University of Calgary.
Normally “service-learning” involves partnership with a community-based organization, NGO, or civil society organization whose central mission is to serve civil society and to educate the public about particular issues, people, cultures or activities.
Service and learning may also be effectively combined when supported by, led, or hosted by organizations other than community organizations. Service-learning may be an initiative within a “Corporate Social Responsibility” framework.
Service-learning very often depends on the funding and collaborative involvement of corporate and government partners in order to maintain operational sustainability and adaptability of complex partnerships and programs that are vulnerable to staff turnover, budget cuts, and social change.
Service-learning may also involve employees in learning new skills and building valuable partnerships, and it may involve welcoming students to serve the corporate or government organization in a small way. Many businesses find it valuable to invite young citizens and potential future employees to become more aware of the business or public service sector and see how it adds value to society.
Despite these benefits to corporate and government partners, true “community service-learning” is not primarily about providing direct services to the private sector, but about building collaborative cross-sector partnerships for mutual service and learning. In Canada, we use the term “community” in front of service-learning to remind ourselves that service-learning should have the aim of broader social benefit and community development. Therefore,
- Services involved in service-learning never delegate to novice, unpaid, temporary learners what ought to be done by regular employees or paid expert contractors. Services provided are often not major, key services provided by the organizational partner, but rather involve an element of exploration, provide room for creativity, can accommodate failure, and yet still have the potential to build real value for the hosting and leading organization(s).
- Learning goals of service-learning also go beyond the professional development and business knowledge and skill of the students, just as they go beyond the traditional goals and outcomes of academic learning. All participants, including the hosts and educators, should view themselves as learners. Service-learning has holistic, deep learning goals such as interdisciplinary academic knowledge, cross-institutional community insight, critical thinking, personal growth, and relational and collaborative ways of knowing.
- Partnerships and local service-learning programs should be sustainable over the long term so as not to exploit the community for the short-term gain of students, educators, or organizations. This does not mean that services must be repeatedly offered and sustained, but partnerships should aim to survive beyond the first attempt and initiatives should be flexible to adapt to changes in the social and organizational environment.We encourage innovations in service-learning that do not compromise on this mission to serve the broader public and community and welcome all participants into lifelong learning and sustainable community development initiatives.
Corporate and government partners, if this vision of service-learning inspires you, please explore the CACSL blog and website to discover paths for your involvement. Consider commenting and contributing to the blog, and/or donating to CACSL or becoming a CACSL member to support the movement.