Framing Service Learning in Social Work: An Interdisciplinary Elective Course Embedded within a University–Community Partnership

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Service Learning, Social Work Education, Community–university Partnerships, Interdisciplinary, Community Engagement, Pedagogy


While academic service learning has grown in popularity across disciplines and universities, the pedagogical strategies for service learning courses vary greatly, especially for courses focused on development in underserved communities. Ideally, service learning pedagogy should place equal importance on student and community benefits, build reciprocal relationships with community partners, and engage students in deep reflection about social cultural and economic issues. In designing a new service learning elective course to engage students in a rural town revitalization project, we intentionally framed the course to meet the aforementioned goals. We used a three-component service learning pedagogy model that: (1) embedded the course in an existing university–community partnership; (2) mobilized interdisciplinary teams of students for community-identified projects; and (3) promoted reflection on complex economic and social justice issues by integrating students' processing through blog, faculty–student–community discussions, and community feedback. Benefits to students and community based on two qualitative studies are discussed, as are implications for social work education and research.