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One of my courses involves a community project. Volunteering is valuable, but should it be worth college credit?

With more colleges engaging in community-spirited projects, questions arise regarding their impact and value to students. Shrinking public funds have resulted in community-based organizations turning to academic institutions for support. These collaborations benefit the local community and those participating equally. Its value as an educational course is greater than it seems.

Volunteering is generally described as donating your time and efforts towards a greater cause. Service learning on the other hand is mutually beneficial to both the community and the students taking part. Projects can be used to test theories on real-world situations, using classroom learning.

There are a number of different models and approaches to service learning. Direct-service activities involve personal contact with members of the community, as students will be working towards the needs of the public. This offers the most rewarding experience with immediate feedback from people you help. An alternative is indirect service which focuses on a problem rather than on the people affected.

Larger groups such as a whole class can get involved in project-based service learning. This approach is used to tackle larger issues that require more resources. Often colleges form partnerships with community organizations to work on projects together. Teamwork and organizational skills are developed by working on this type of project.

Community-based research combines the efforts of students, faculty and independent organizations to work on pressing concerns and social problems. Researching real issues rather than theoretical ones provides experience that can be carried forward to the workplace.

Working with shelters for the homeless, providing food, and organizing charity events are all methods of helping the community. Students can also help non-profit organizations raise awareness for causes by working on their marketing, websites and social media presence.

Service learning does not always involve working with communities. There are many other ways to give something back such as working on environmental issues. Preservation and conservation projects can help restore natural habitats, and wildlife rehabilitation can impact local species. Trekking to natural areas to work on pollution problems are all part of service learning. Community partnerships also involve town or urban planning projects, agricultural projects or solving irrigation and cultivation problems.

Storm and flood damage is becoming a greater problem for many states. Colleges in collaboration with aid organizations can help the people affected. Visiting homes to repair water damage and remove debris benefits both the victims and those taking part. Management, team working, and social skills are all developed and put to use, with academic credits an additional bonus.

Some universities have become internationally recognized for their community project work. Service learning goes beyond volunteering, as it is a mutually beneficial way of helping communities and gaining vital skills and experience.

Research has shown that people who volunteer often live longer… Klein.

Written by Martin J. Young, former correspondent of Asia Times.


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