There's been a lot of talk in NUI Galway over the last couple of years about "service learning." Now the word is spreading with a forthcoming Service Learning Academy being organised for March in Athlone, with staff from Galway, DIT and NUI Maynooth. Last summer we held a highly successful conference on the theme with participants from a wide range of countries attending keynote presentations and workshops and a new book on Civic Engagement and Higher Education is forthcoming (from Ashgate publishers).
Service Learning is an attempt to help students develop a greater appreciation for wider society by actively engaging with not-for-profit organisations, NGOs, community groups or charities as part of their studies. Academic credit is awarded for the learning which takes place during such placements (usually via an essay, report, presentation or other academic products). The focus is on developing critical reflection and sowing the seeds for future participation as an active citizen.
Sometimes, though, an example helps put things in proper perspective and cuts through the jargon. A while back, Lorraine McIlrath (who's coordinating Service Learning in Galway) spoke with Dympna Casey about a module she runs called Nursing in the Developed and Developing World, in which students travel abroad to get first hand experience of healthcare in developing countries. You can listen to this discussion at http://www.nuigalway.ie/celt/newsite/documents/sln.mp3
Feel free to download it to your MP3 player of choice or just listen on your computer.