Service-Learning in the Gerontological Curriculum at St. Cloud State University

Rona J. Karasik, Ph.D.
Professor, Gerontology
Director, Gerontology Program

Service Learning


While the value of real-life experience has long been recognized as an important component of gerontological curriculum, the challenges of creating appropriate and effective means of integrating the classroom with community are on-going. The current project involves offering service-learning components in several Gerontology classes offered through The School of Health and Human Services at St. Cloud State University.

Goals and Learning Objectives for Participating Students

From the student perspective, specific goals and objectives for service-learning include:

  1. Providing students with face to face interaction with older persons in order to familiarize students with a realistic, personalized and diverse experience of being older.
  2. Providing students opportunities to interact with agencies that serve older adults so that students can become familiar with the structure, personnel and specific services provided by community agencies.
  3. Providing students with the opportunity to develop civic responsibility/ citizen participation skills in order to increase students' sense of personal efficacy ("I can make a difference") and their commitment to lifelong community/public service.

Goals and Objectives for Community Participants

From the community perspective, specific goals and objectives of this service-learning project include:

  1. Expanding and enhancing contact with local service agencies to develop a broader network of service agencies to be served
  2. Working with agencies to identify specific needs that could be met by students
  3. Developing and implementing a strategy for meeting the needs identified

What is Service-Learning?

Service-learning is increasingly becoming an avenue used to provide students with "real-life"experience by linking students with local communities and community service providers. Definitions of service-learning vary and the term is often mistakenly used interchangeably for volunteerism and community service. Jacoby (1996) offers the following definition:

"Service-learning is a form of experiential learning in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development. Reflection and reciprocity are key concepts of service-learning...The hyphen in service-learning is critical in that it symbolizes the symbiotic relationship between service and learning. "(p.5)

Elements of Service-Learning
Weigert (1998) suggests that there are several important elements that, taken together, help to distinguish service-learning:

  1. Students provide some meaningful service (work).
  2. The service provided meets a need or goal.
  3. The need or goal is defined by a community (or some of its members).
  4. The service provided by students flows from and into course objectives.
  5. The service is integrated into the course by means of assignments that require some form of reflection on the service in light of the course objectives.
  6. The assignment is assessed and evaluated accordingly.

Service-Learning from a Classroom Perspective
Howard (1993) offers the following principles of good practice for integrating community service-learning into the classroom:

  1. Academic credit is for learning, not for service.
  2. Do not compromise academic rigor.
  3. Set learning goals for students.
  4. Establish criteria for the selection of community service placements.
  5. Provide educationally-sound mechanisms to harvest the community learning.
  6. Provide supports for students to learn how to harvest the community learning.
  7. Minimize the distinction between the student's community learning role and the classroom learning role.
  8. Re-think the faculty instructional role.
  9. Be prepared for uncertainty and variation in student learning outcomes.
  10. Maximize the community responsibility orientation of the course.

Howard, J. (Ed) (1993). A Faculty Casebook on community Service Learning . Ann Arbor , MI: OCSL, Press.

Jacoby, B. (1996). Service-learning in today's higher education. In B. Jacoby and associates (Eds.), Service-learning in higher education: Concepts and practices (pp. 3-25). San Francisco : Jossey-Bass.

Weigert, K. (1998). Academic Service Learning: Its Meaning and Relevance. In Rhoads, R. A. & Howard, J. (eds.) (pp. 3-10). Academic Service Learning: A Pedagogy of Action and Reflection . San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Community Engagement Celebrations

Service Learning Service Learning

“In doing we learn.”

George Herbert, Poet

Service Learners

Some Helpful Service-Learning Links

SCSU Campus Involvement

Campus Compact

MN Campus Compact

National Service-Learning Clearinghouse

Corporation for National and Community Service


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