Service learning is generally defined as an instructional methodology integrating community service with academic instruction as it focuses on critical, reflective thing and civic responsibility. Three factors characterize the project as San Jose City College:
- The role of the local community in shaping and accomplishing the mission of the college;
- The extensive participation of faculty members; and,
- The role of students as learners, not volunteers.
Through service learning experiences, students are actively learning and directly engaged in course-related issues. Service learning provides a more direct way of meeting course objectives. In fact, service learning is an attractive approach to learning for those students who learn best by doing. Students experience community health issues, ethical issues, and societal issues first hand, in the workplace. Service learning also provides an arena for further development of critical thinking and interpersonal skills. Finally, service learning may also help students clarify their career objectives by providing them with motivation and direction.
While we use experiential education to develop skills and abilities, we also use service learning to foster a paradigm shift in the minds of the students, the result of which is significantly altered world views. Our purpose is to provide students with personal experiences, so that their perceptions of the world will expand and become more accurate. Furthermore, because of the richness of the diversity at San Jose City College, service learning provides its own student population with a deeper appreciation of its own college community as well as the community they live in.
In many respect, experiential education resembles community service. We send students out into the community to work in schools and with agencies serving often neglected people. However, we hope that students will wrestle with questions that are not necessarily within the purview of the volunteer. Rigorous analysis and investigation into what causes and supports bigotry, inequities, and other ills that affect our society are the appropriate domain of the student. Students are challenged to intellectually evaluate the structures of our society to see how well they respond to the needs of all humankind. This is why San Jose City College sends students into the community and throughout the campus. This is what makes service learning an intellectual enterprise. And this is why service learning belongs in the academic arena.