Community Service Learning: the Connection between Student and Society

If you want your students to leave their ivory tower and contribute to society, then you may want to include Community Service Learning (CSL) in your course unit. 

What is Community Service Learning? 

Community Service Learning (CSL) is a type of education in which students apply the theory during an intra- or extramural commitment, for example, Engineering Technology students developing a tool for someone with a functional impairment. This service is part of the course unit. 

This way, students get in touch with the real needs within society. Moreover, they are encouraged to reflect critically on their social contribution and their own learning process. For example, which social competencies did I acquire during my contact with the client with a functional impairment? 

Why Include CSL in Your Course Unit? 

It is a university's duty to prepare students for their (future) role in society. A recognised social commitment as part of a course unit contributes to this. In addition, it strengthens the social profiling of the UGent and the social relevance of its education. CSL demonstrates how the university can address certain problems in (local) communities and/or target groups. 

How to Integrate CSL into Your Course Unit? 

Ghent University aims to encourage new CSL initiatives. For that reason, there is a CSL tool (in Dutch), which provides lecturers with a guide to implement CSL in new or existing course units. In the tool you will find: 

  • the definition and characteristics, 
  • five steps to implement CSL in a course unit, 
  • practical tools, 
  • and useful practical examples. 

Visit the CSL tool via this link (in Dutch)

E-Service Learning

The current Covidcrisis has posed unexpected challenges to lecturers and staff responsible for CSL course units. Based on our first experiences, there are a number of lessons to be learnt:  

  • Listen to your students, make grateful use of their creativity and knowledge as digital natives. Experience has taught us that students often prefer digital alternatives. 
  • Use active teaching methods. Stimulate interaction on 3 levels: between student and content, students amongst each other, between student and lecturer. Combine different teaching methods: e.g. knowledge clips, background texts, online portfolios, online intervisions, 1-on-1 coaching.
  • Build in (more) feedback when using online teaching methods. After all, students are less able to deduce signals from their immediate surroundings when online as opposed to a normal on-campus setting.
  • start with what you have already and think of "simple things". For instance: Social Work and Social Welfare students support organisations to recruit volunteers. They made a video presentation of their project and sent out that video together with a Google form in order to gather questions and ideas. A sort of online brainstorm, if you will. That way they received a lot of reactions and ideas.  

In Chapter 4 of this publication 'Practical Guide on e-Service-Learning in Response to COVID-19' you will find a number of practical tips for online (aspects of) service learning projects (pp 38-47).

The same publication contains a number of digital tools (pp 31-34). Please note that Wooclap can replace Padlet, Edpuzzle, Kahoot and Slido, and is supported by Ghent University.

You can also watch the recording of the online study day "Mogelijkheden en uitdagingen van online Service Learning" (10 september 2020, in Dutch). Interesting real-life examples are discussed from 57'02 onwards; the Ghent University course unit 'Coaching and Diversity' from 1h22'40 onwards.

Want to Know More? 

CSL is a specific and effective didactic method to facilitate an impact on society through education. Are you curious for more? Be sure to read the Education Tip on Social Impact: Integrating Social Impact Issues into the Study Programma.

Contact the staff member responsible for Social Impact at the Quality Assurance Office: 

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Last modified Oct. 15, 2020, 7:21 p.m.