“What is service learning and is it right for you?” On maroon, gold, and white background with service learning logo

What is Service-Learning and is it Right for You?

By Rachael Gerron
Web Content Contributor

Texas State’s Service-Learning Program offers students an engaging, hands-on way to learn about a subject while contributing to the San Marcos community. Our campus has 45 service-learning classes and over 1,000 students in the program.

As opposed to most college courses, students enrolled in service-learning classes work with community partners to gain real-world experience; this greatly benefits the students and the local community.

Every year, the program contributes about 2.8 million dollars to the San Marcos community through projects completed throughout the semester in these classes.

According to Texas State’s website, “Service-Learning is different from community service, internships, or field study experiences because the service activity is connected to the course(s) learning objectives through reflection and critical analysis, balancing benefits to the student with benefits to the community partners.”

I interviewed professor Dale Blasingame from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication about his service-learning courses. He teaches classes in the Digital Media Innovation sequences, such as Advanced Social Media and Analytics, Web Design and Publishing and Fundamentals of Digital and Online Media.

Rachael Gerron: What is the service-learning program and how have you used it in your classes?

Dale Blasingame: I teach two Service Learning classes: Advanced Social Media and Analytics and then my Mobile Storytelling in the Parks course, which is part of Study in America. In the social class, we work with a real-world client all semester. The students produce content and analytics reports for the client.

The parks class takes students to state and national parks, where they produce video and social media content. We then turn that content over to a client, which is usually a “friends” group of the park – a nonprofit that raises money for it. The client also provides resources during our trip – like guided hikes, talks, workshops, etc.

RG: What makes service-learning different from standard learning?

DB: It’s hands-on and experiential. Instead of just talking about something, we actually do it in these classes.

RG: How do service-learning classes benefit the community and encourage civic engagement?

DB: Many of the clients we utilize in these classes cannot afford to pay for social media marketing or data analysis. So, they’re getting a major return for the time they invest in the class and the students. It truly is a win-win.

RG: In what ways has the coronavirus impacted the structure of the service-learning element of your course?

DB: My Study in America program was canceled in 2020, and the 2021 version has already been canceled, as well, so we’ll get back at it in 2022. For the social class, it hasn’t impacted it much.

I’ve had to have closer communication with the client regarding the assignments and content the students produce. We have to make sure the assignments can be done safely and anywhere. In the past, we had students doing lots of interviews of other students, etc. We don’t do that right now.

RG: How have your students reacted to this learning structure?

DB: It pushes students to be creative and work together to get the best ideas possible in front of the client. These new assignments are a bit more opaque than just going and finding a fellow student to talk with, for example. So the students seem to enjoy the challenge and flexing those creative muscles.

RG: What would you say to a student considering taking a service-learning class?

DB: Do it. These Service Learning classes, when done well, are essentially internships or things to put on your resume. We always work out a resume line that the client approves for students.

So you’re getting course credit, real-world experience and helping a client or the community – all at the same time. Why would you not want to be part of something like that?

Find Out More

See if there are service-learning courses for your major here! You can also read more about the service-learning program on their website and keep up with their contributions to the community by following them on Instagram.

Featured image by Rachael Gerron.

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