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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Best Practices in Service-learning: A Model for Effective Design and Implementation of Service-learning in Higher Education

Regan Harwell Schaffer.

The purpose of this study was to develop a working definition of service-learning, identify the best practices of service-learning in the private college context and based upon that information develop a model that could be replicated at similar colleges and universities. To address the research questions, the researcher performed a descriptive study which incorporated the following: (a) examination of the findings of unpublished data from a survey on service-learning at 90 U.S. private colleges and universities; (b) conducting a thorough review of the literature on service-learning and the mission and purpose of higher education; and (c) interviewing practitioners from seven private colleges or universities that met prescribed criteria for best practices in service-learning. A content analysis was performed with the use of an inter-rater that resulted in a comprehensive definition of service-learning, key elements of best practices in service-learning and a model which incorporates eight guidelines for private colleges and universities to use in developing a service-learning program.

The comprehensive definition incorporated characteristics from previous definitions, but included an added component of institutional support for service-learning. The best practices in service-learning in higher education corroborate this finding and included the following key elements: Institutional Support, Mission, Definitions and Guidelines, Academic Validity, Values and Learning Tool. The model for designing a service-learning program at a private college builds further upon the definition and best practices and includes eight guidelines: (a) examine the mission, (b) enlist others, (c) establish a definition, (d) educate and train, (e) develop community partnerships, (f) pilot test, (g) reflect and evaluate, and (h) gain institutional support. The guidelines, which make up the model, are meant to address both the philosophical and practical implications in designing an effective service-learning course and program in a college or university. The data from this study strongly suggest that private colleges and universities should be using service-learning as a means of furthering their mission through the curriculum.


Regan Harwell Schaffer  (United States)
Assistant Professor of Management
Business Administration Division
Pepperdine University

Regan Schaffer is an Assistant Professor of Management in the undergraduate business school at Pepperdine University. She is also the Director of the Service Leadership program which is a capstone course where students serve as consultants to non-profit organizations experiencing business problems. This course was designed to integrate service-learning as a tool for increased understanding and application of knowledge. Dr. Schaffer has also published on the effectiveness of service-learning as a pedagogical tool and conducts numerous workshops on the topic.

  • Service-learning
  • Higher education
  • Pedagogy

(30 min Conference Paper, English)