By Christine Darby, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, VA Maryland Healthcare System
Community service has always played an integral role in my life. I have found meaning, fulfillment, and even my husband by donating my time and resources to helping those in need. My belief in voluntary work is so great that, when relevant and appropriate, I think that every educator should consider integrating it into his or her course.
So, how do you create a great service-learning experience? Whether service-learning is intended to supplement a course or its the entire goal of course, there are a series of steps that you can take to make it most successful. A great service-learning experience can lead to positive outcomes, leaving students feeling that they positively and directly influenced people.
What is service-learning?
Service-learning is a “form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development.”1 The hyphen between “service” and “learning” indicates the importance of reflection and assures that learning is integrated with the service activities.2 Service-learning is not equivalent to volunteering, in which the recipient of the service is the primary beneficiary. Service-learning benefits both the server and the served.3
In pharmacy education, the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) defines specific criteria that service-learning must meet. Many criteria are listed, including the opportunities for inter-professional interaction and the extension of student learning into the community.4
Steps to designing a service-learning course
Keeping in mind the definition of service-learning, you first need to decide whether service-learning is right for your course. There are a series of steps that Barbara Jacoby, Ph.D. recommends you do:
1. Consider how it will help your students achieve your learning outcomes.
2. If service-learning is a good fit, determine what service and educational content will enable your students to achieve your outcomes.
3. Form community partnerships.
4. Establish standards to assess and evaluate students.
5. Create the syllabus.
6. Prepare to manage the course.
Outcomes of service-learning
By thoughtfully and systematically planning your service-learning experience you will greatly enhance the likelihood that students will have a positive learning outcomes. There are many examples in the literature of positive outcomes from service-learning. In a study assessing first-year pharmacy student, service-learning was shown to positively impact knowledge. Knowledge regarding cultural differences and their impact on health improved was significant higher among student who participated in a service-learning course when compared to a control group of students who did not participate in service learning activities.8
In another study, a majority of students who participated in a service-learning course felt a high level of personal responsibility toward their community and a greater interest in participating in local community organizations after course completion. The service-learning activities helped students to see the connections between class discussions and real world, which enhanced learning in both settings.9
Service-learning helps students develop caring attitudes toward people, rather than relying strictly on clinical skills during their interactions with patients.10 John W. Gardner describes the development of values and citizenship skills that are fostered through service-learning as follows:
Young people do not assimilate the values of their group by learning the words (truth, justice, etc.) and their definitions...they learn these through intensely personal interactions with their immediate family or associates...they do not learn ethical principles; they emulate ethical (or unethical) people. They do not analyze or list the attributes they wish to develop; they identify with people who seem to have these attributes. That is why young people need models, both in their imaginative life and in their environment, models of what—at their best—they can be.11
In this way, by being true champions of patients and active members of the community, not only do students thrive, but so too society. Service-learning goes beyond “merely” service and beyond “just” learning.
1. Jacoby B and Associates. Service-learning in today’s higher education. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers; 1996. 416 p.
2. Eyler J and Giles DE. Where’s the learning in service-learning?. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers; 1999. 352 p.
3. Stanton TK, Giles DE and Cruz NI. Service-Learning: a movement’s pioneers reflect on its origins, practice, and future. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers; 1999. 304 p.
4. Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. Accreditation standards and guidelines for the professional program in pharmacy leading to the Doctor of Pharmacy degree [Internet]. Chicago: Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education; 2011 Jan 23 [cited 2013 Nov 3].
5. Bart M. Six steps to designing effective service-learning courses [Internet]. Madison (WI): Magna Publications, Inc.; 21 April 2010 [cited 2013 Nov 2].
6. Howard J, editor. Michigan journal of community service learning. Ann Arbor (MI): OSCL PRESS; 2001. 82 p.
7. Kelly R. Service-learning course development [Internet]. Madison (WI): Magna Publications, Inc.; 12 June 2012 [cited 2013 Nov 3].
8. Kearney KR. Impact of a service-learning course on first-year pharmacy students’ learning outcomes. Am J Pharm Educ. 2013; 77: Article 34.
9. Nickman N. (Re-)learning to care: use of service-learning as an early professionalization experience. Am J Pharm Educ. 1998;62:380-387.
10. AACP Commission to Implement Change in Pharmaceutical Education. Maintaining our commitment to change [Internet]. Alexandria (VA): American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy; 1996 [cited 2013 Nov 3].
11. Gardner JW. Self-renewal: the individual and the innovative society. New York: Norton & Company; 1981. 176 pp.