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Types of Service Projects

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Course-Based Service Activities

One way to think about service projects is to describe ways in which service-learning experiences have been organized in the classroom:

(Excerpted from Heffernan, Kerrissa. Fundamentals of Service-Learning Course Construction. RI: Campus Compact, 2001, pp. 2-7, 9)
  • Problem-Based Service-Learning: According to this model, students (or teams of students) relate to the community much as "consultants" working for a "client."
    Students work with community members to understand a particular community problem or need. This model presumes that the students will have some knowledge they can draw upon to make recommendations to the community or develop a solution to the problem: architecture students might design a park; business students might develop a website; or botany students might identify non-native plants and suggest eradication methods.

  • Discipline-Based Service-Learning: In this model, students are expected to have a presence in the community throughout the semester and reflect on their experiences on a regular basis throughout the semester using course content as a basis for their analysis and understanding.
  • Capstone Courses: These courses are generally designed for majors and minors in a given discipline and are offered almost exclusively to students in their final year.
    Capstone courses ask students to draw upon the knowledge they have obtained throughout their coursework and combine it with relevant service work in the community. The goal of capstone courses is usually either to explore a new topic or to synthesize students' understanding of their discipline. These courses offer an excellent way to help students make the transition from the world of theory to the world of practice by helping them establish professional contacts and gather personal experience.

  • Undergraduate Community-Based Action Research: A relatively new approach that is gaining popularity, community-based action research is similar to an independent study option for the rare student who is highly experienced in community work.
    Community-based action research can also be effective with small classes or groups of students. In this model, students work closely with faculty members to learn research methodology while serving as advocates for communities.

  • Service Internships: Like traditional internships, these experiences are more intense than typical service-learning courses, with students working as many as 10 to 20 hours a week in a community setting.
    As in traditional internships, students are generally charged with producing a body of work that is of value to the community or site. However, unlike traditional internships, service internships have regular and on-going reflective opportunities that help students analyze their new experiences using discipline-based theories. These reflective opportunities can be done with small groups of peers, with one-on-one meetings with faculty advisors, or even electronically with a faculty member providing feedback. Service internships are further distinguished from traditional internships by their focus on reciprocity: the idea that the community and the student benefit equally from the experience.

  • "Pure" Service-Learning: These are courses that send students out into the community to serve. These courses have as their intellectual core the idea of service to communities by students, volunteers, or engaged citizens. They are not typically lodged in any one discipline.

Categories of Service Activity

While service project experiences can be as varied as their designers, it is often helpful to think of the service projects as one of three basic categories: direct service, indirect service, and research and advocacy.

  • Direct service involves student action which addresses the immediate needs of the community.
    Students are placed in community agencies where they are assigned specific tasks by on-site supervisors. Students learn from the experience of observing the work of the community agency and through their interaction with community members (clients) and community partners. Common examples include student-based instruction (students teach/tutor community members), and meeting material needs of community members (working at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or other service delivery site). Students might also provide direct service to community partners on a community project such as assisting with the administration of community survey or other project work.

  • Indirect service address community needs through research, organizing, and/or community action.
    Students work with community partners to identify a community need or problem. Common examples include student research of a community problem which culminates in recommendations for agency consideration. Students also might help create and develop community assets when they develop curricula, manuals, websites, and brochures for their community partner.

  • Research and Advocacy involves student efforts to bring about change in social, political or environmental conditions that contribute to community needs.
    Students work with a variety of community members to identify needed changes.They may help document community conditions, draft position papers to local governing authorities, or develop needed materials for public education.