Engaging Students

essential elements | defining features | getting involved

What is service learning?

Sac state student and girl writing together while sitting at a desk

Service learning is defined as "A teaching method that promotes student learning through active participation in meaningful and planned service experiences in the community that are directly related to course content. Through reflective activities, students enhance their understanding of course content, general knowledge, sense of civic responsibility, self-awareness, and commitment to the community." The CSU Office of the Chancellor, Center for Community Engagement

Service learning courses include four essential elements


  1. enable students to enhance learning while engaging in hands-on service;
  2. provide service that benefits the community partner and the student;
  3. engage students in reflection and critical inquiry that link learning from service to learning in the classroom; and,
  4. have the potential to promote community and civic engagement by relating service experiences to issues of public concern.

Other defining features of service learning (SL)

  • SL requires student, faculty, and community partner adherence to University risk management and liability procedures. Sac state students in group meeting listening to Hart Senior Center residents
  • SL may be performed at a community placement site or on campus. For example, on campus service has been provided to the University Student Health Center and for the Associated Students, Inc. Children’s Center.
  • SL may involve indirect or direct client services. Direct service is generally performed at a community placement site and involves directly working with others—person to person, face to face. Indirect service generally address larger community needs and issues without direct interaction with community partners and their clientele. Direct services have included facilitating health education programs; assisting with theraputic and inclusive recreation; tutoring and mentoring at afterschool and community programs; photojurnalism and conducting interviews; and, creating improve theatre with shelter residents. Indirect services have included such activities as designing or upgrading a web site; conducting telephone surveys or on-line research; analyzing data; and, designing informational or promotional materials.
  • SL requires that students engage in service on a consistent basis, usually 20-60 hours of students’ time per semester.
  • Academic credit is given for learning, not for service; completing a specific number of service hours is not an academic activity and does not earn academic credit. Credit is earned through connecting the service experience with academic material through the reflection/inquiry process.
  • SL differs from community service or volunteering in that SL experiences connect to learning goals of an academic course and must be intellectually challenging.
  • SL differs from internships in that service learning is typically unpaid.

Getting involved

If you would like to find out how you can get involved in service learning, please email Community Engagement Center at cec@csus.edu.