Center for Instructional
Innovation and Assessment


Deborah Currier
Angie Harwood
Carol Janson
Tara Perry
Theme Contents
Academic Service-Learning
Lisa Moulds
Center for Service-Learning
Western Washington University

What is Academic Service-Learning?

Service-learning is an academically rigorous pedagogy that links academic study and community-based work so that each strengthens the other. It focuses on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility.

How Effective is Service-Learning?

Research indicates that when academic community-based service-learning is well-integrated into a course it can have a positive impact on students’ academic learning, improve students’ ability to apply what they learned in the classroom to the “real world,” and have a positive effect on students’ sense of social responsibility and development of citizenship skills. Many faculty report satisfaction with the quality of student learning that ensues when integrating community-based learning into a course (Giles and Eyler, 2000).

What Criteria are Necessary for Academic Service-Learning?

There are three important criteria of academic service-learning including enhanced academic learning, relevant and meaningful work with the community, and purposeful civic learning.

Enhanced Academic Learning

Academic Service-Learning can enhance student learning by providing students with relevant community-based experiences that relate to course content. For example, a group of sociology students examining domestic violence from various sociological perspectives may gain a deeper understanding of these perspectives while working at a local shelter for victims of domestic violence. In Deborah Currier’s Children’s Theater course, WWU students learn about children’s theater by not only examining various children’s theater works, but also by creating children’s theater and performing it to children through the local schools and community art festivals.

Relevant and Meaningful Work with the Community

The community in which the University is situated is richly endowed with excellent learning experiences and expertise and offers a plethora of opportunities for students to examine complex social issues. Academic service-learning links course content with work in the community that directly relates to the course AND addresses important and meaningful issues in the community. Tara Perry’s Professional Communication students work with local non-profits to design and implement professional communication workshops with topics ranging from diversity and the workplace, conflict resolution and how to create a professional presentation. Non-profits that address issues such as poverty, disaster relief, sexual violence and advocacy for people with disabilities benefit from excellent professional development opportunities for their staff and volunteers while students gain a much more realistic “hands-on” experience about professionalism in various non-profit organizational settings.

Purposeful Civic Learning

Civic learning is defined by the University of Michigan Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service-Learning as “any learning that contributes to student preparation for community or public involvement in a diverse democratic society.” These criteria include a wide range of knowledge, skills and values including encouraging students’ sense of social responsibility, preparing students for active citizenship, or introducing students to social justice and social change issues. For example, in Carol Janson’s Art Theory and Exhibition, students examine exhibition theories while developing public art exhibits. At the same time, they are developing skills and a clearer understanding of the ways in which art plays a role in and influences a community (or many communities within a broader community).

The WWU Center for Service-Learning

The Western Washington University Center for Service-Learning exists to facilitate high quality educational experiences with faculty, students and community partners through community-based academic service-learning. For more information about service-learning and the services provided by the Center for Service-Learning, contact Lisa Moulds at 650-6515 or view our website at: http://www.wwu.edu/depts/csl/


Ehrlich, Thomas. 2000. Civic Responsibility and Higher Education. Phoenix: The Oryx Press.

Giles, D. and Eyler, J. 1999. Where’s the Learning in Service-Learning? (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass).

Larson-Keagy, ed. 2002. Through Whose Eyes: Service-Learning and Civic Engagement from Culturally Diverse Perspectives. Mesa, Arizona: Campus Compact.

Mann, Sheilah, and John J. Patrick. 2000. Education for Civic Engagement in Democracy. Bloomington: Eric.

Putnam, Robert D. 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Howard, J. 2001. Principles of Good Practice for Service-Learning Pedagogy in the Service-Leanring Course Design Workbook. University of Michigan Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service-Learning. Michigan: OCSL Press.