Skip to main content

The service learning pedagogy is an integral part of what makes the IB DP unique. Applied across disciplines to enhance cognitive development, problem-solving skills, learning transfer, and global immersion experiences, service learning is a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs. Structured by the Five Stages of the process and, as always, informed by the Seven Learning Outcomes, the CAS framework aims to provide integrated service learning opportunities designed to promote student learning and development. 

As we have continually seen through our work at CAS Trips, experiential learning allows students to apply theory and concepts learned in the classroom in a hands-on environment in order to develop a deeper understanding of intended outcomes. Besides the benefit it provides to the student, though, we must maintain an ongoing awareness of how those being served are affected. Truly valuable service learning includes a responsibility for measuring the impact on the community and community partners to improve and maintain the experience and the relationships. Here are some questions that can help evaluate a project’s impact following implementation. 

Is there evidence of reciprocal benefits for all involved? 

Although each type of service learning will be realized uniquely, it will always involve interaction with individuals or groups in the community. As a result, it is critical that during all stages of the service experience, this contact takes place in a way that aligns with their rights and dignity.

Students are usually encouraged to pursue a locally conducted service learning project. Acting in an environment they are already familiar with and feel comfortable in, students can develop relationships more quickly, observe and participate in sustained change, and better respond to challenges through collaboration with local partners. 

It can be tough to appreciate the reciprocal benefits if an action is taking place far away. That does not mean that students are not encouraged to extend their thinking and knowledge to understanding global issues, but as new inductees to the service learning approach, students must first learn to identify the correlation between themselves, their academics, and their communities. This framework allows greater relevance and purpose throughout application and lets students see how their skills, expertise, and knowledge can benefit those around them. 

Were students able to articulate and verify a need? 

This is a fundamental component of service learning that sounds simple enough but can be surprisingly challenging to enact. There is no doubt that there are many individuals, groups, and communities in need of help or support, but understanding the complexities of poverty, illiteracy, aging, isolation, health, or environmental sustainability underlying an identified need is not an easy task. 

Students tend to be guided by their interests and what sparks an emotional response. This typically leads to a quick attempt to assess the need and devise a planned response. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but it is essential that students return to what they outlined as the initial need later, provide greater context, and are encouraged to investigate the issue further to better understand its underlying causes. With increased knowledge, students may realize they want to commit to ongoing assistance and get involved in more long-term initiatives. 

Have new and ongoing relationships been formed? 

The most beneficial variety of service learning projects are ongoing. Two of the primary characteristics that students should cultivate through their service learning are perseverance and commitment. In taking a more long-term approach to their project, students can observe how their ideas and actions build on others’ contributions and how they are part of a larger ecosystem that affects change. When provided the opportunity to engage over a more extended period, student reflections tend to show deeper awareness and knowledge of societal issues.

It is not to say that single incidents of engagement with individuals cannot provide a valid service learning opportunity. Still, to truly maximize depth and meaning, interactions involving people best occur with a regularity that builds and sustains relationships for the enhanced mutual benefit of all. 

What change is apparent from student action?

Students may implement their service learning plan through direct service, indirect service, advocacy, research, or a combination of one or more of these types of service. They may work individually, with partners, or in groups. The number one thing common to all forms of valuable service is that students can demonstrate an outcome. Students should be able to make explicit what and how they learned, in addition to what they have accomplished. Through demonstration and communication, students not only confirm for themselves that their actions benefited a community, building the characteristics of effective social entrepreneurship, but they have the chance to further solidify their understanding of what took place and evoke and engage with responses from others.

Photo credit: