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The multifaceted nature of service-learning ideally suits it as a teaching pedagogy at Duquesne University.  Its educational origins align closely with an experiential model of learning.  Its historic development arises from scholars who sought to impact society and make a difference in student learning.  Its similarities to the Spiritan mission of Duquesne situate it as a relevant way for faculty and students to experience the University’s mission.  Service-learning at Duquesne University is conceived in terms of community-engaged teaching and research. To learn more, please visit the Center for Community-Engaged Teaching and Research (CETR).

Multifaceted Nature of Service-Learning

According to Dan Butin (2007), Service-learning offers “a range of approaches to engage students in the issues deemed most valuable by each faculty member.”  Butin suggests that four models of service-learning exist.  While the models overlap and intermix, they allow us to see the various foci and possibilities that might motivate a faculty member’s use of community engagement.


Key Focus


Technical Service-Learning Content Knowledge Cognitive progress through real-world links
Cultural Service-Learning Civic and Cultural Competency Expanded understanding of the self as embedded in a local and global community
Political Service-Learning Social & Political Activism Fostering a more equitable and socially just environment for individuals and groups
Anti-foundational Service-Learning Cognitive Dissonance Expanded epistemological possibilities through questioning of a priori truth

Butin describes what each model might look like for individual courses:
“These typologies do not presuppose some teleological great chain of being. It is just as legitimate to incorporate a community-engagement component to teach mathematical principles or biology as it is to develop cultural competency in future teachers. Additionally, any practice can have aspects from each typology. The semester-long tutoring of under-performing high-school students in math can help college students understand how youths make systematic conceptual errors (a technical perspective). The students can also gain insight into young people who come from a different socioeconomic and/or ethnic background (a cultural perspective). They can explicitly link the tutoring with preparing underrepresented youth for college (a political perspective). And they can be “pulled up short” in realizing that some youths don’t share their basic assumptions and values—for example not caring at all about earning good grades to get into college or ‘getting ahead’ in general (an anti-foundational perspective). It all depends on the instructor, the course, and the curricular goals” (Butin 2007).

Pedagogical Roots of Service-Learning

Service-learning is an experiential teaching strategy with conceptual roots in the thought of John Dewey and David Kolb.  Dewey, of course, stressed the value of integrating experience into education:  "There is a tendency to connect material of the schoolroom simply with the material of prior school lessons, instead of linking it to what the pupil has acquired in his out-of-school experience.  The teacher says, 'Do you not remember what we learned from the book last week?' – instead of saying, 'Do you not recall such and such a thing that you have seen or heard?'  As a result, there are built up detached and independent systems of school knowledge that inertly overlay the ordinary systems of experience instead of reacting to enlarge and refine them.  Pupils are taught to live in two separate worlds, one world of out-of-school experience, the other the world of books and lessons" (Dewey, 1910).

David Kolb’s learning cycle further develops the role of experience in learning.  Kolb argues that learning occurs through a cycle of concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation.  While learning entails the whole cycle, most learners tend to gravitate toward a quadrant of the cycle as their preferred learning style.

Diagram of Kolb's Learning Cycle

Kolb says, “Overall learning effectiveness is improved when individuals are highly skilled in engaging all four modes of the learning cycle” (Kolb and Kolb, 2009).  Service-learning affords concrete experiences to students that relates their academic learning to meaningful community-based service.

Historical Rise of Service-Learning

Stanton and Cruz (1999) describe the historical development of service learning in the following way:  "The 1960s and 1970s were times of turbulent upheaval and change in communities and on college campuses.  Urban uprisings and the War on Poverty brought attention and resources to the nation’s social problems.  Loosely coupled student activists and 'alternate,' 'humanistic' educators began chipping away at what they perceived as a monolithic, teacher-centered, alienating, and irrelevant education system that failed to involve and serve an increasingly diverse population of learners.  Within these community- and campus-based movements was a small number of individuals concerned with connecting elements in both movements.  They were community activists and educators who found themselves drawn to the idea that action in communities and structured learning could be combined to provide stronger service and leadership in the communities and deeper, more relevant education for students . . . Their labors laid the foundation and sowed the seeds for what we now call service-learning.  Practitioners of service-learning are scholars who seek to impact society and make a difference in student learning."

Spiritan Parallels to Service-Learning

Two qualities of the Spiritan tradition apropos to service-learning are the Spiritan’s emphasis on service and their insistence on reciprocity.  Service-learning at Duquesne reflects the example of the Spiritan tradition.  Francis Libermann’s focus “to work for the poorest, the most despised and the most neglected souls” (Koren, 1958) echoes in Duquesne’s commitment of service.  Service-learning affords students the opportunity to serve community needs.  However, the Spiritans also showed a profound concern for reciprocity.  In their service throughout the world, the Spiritans realized that authentic service requires a genuine appreciation of and partnership with those served. Libermann reflects his appreciation for reciprocity when he advises Spiritans on their way to Africa:

You are not going to Africa in order to establish there Italy or France or any such country.  Dispense with Europe, its customs and spirit.  Make yourself Africans with the Africans.  Then you will understand them as they must be understood. (Adapted from Sundkler and Steed, 2000)

Service-learning requires a similar form of reciprocity.  Students are not simply supplying a service for the community; they are also receiving from the community the opportunity to learn and recognize their connection with the whole human family.  Service-learning allows faculty to bridge academic study with meaningful service in a way that benefits both the students’ learning and development as whole human beings and the community’s genuine needs.

For more information, visit the Center for Community-Engaged Teaching and Research (CETR).  


Butin, Dan. (2007). “Focusing Our Aim: Strengthening Faculty Commitment to Community Engagement.” Change 39, pp. 34-39.

Dewey, John. (1910). How We Think. Boston: D.C. Heath & Co. Publishers.

Kolb, Alice Y.  and  Kolb, David A.  (2009).  “The Learning Way: Meta-cognitive Aspects of Experiential Learning.” Simulation Gaming 40, pp. 297- 327.

Koren, Henry J. (1958). The Spiritans: The History of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Sundkler, Bengt & Steed, Christopher. (2000) A History of the Church in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.