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From the alternative spring break to the practical service

We are close to the season when spring break takes place on our university campuses. A survey conducted by an online travel service estimated that more than 55% of students will travel for pleasure during their one-week break. However, an increasing number of students will choose to participate in volunteering during this period. Often referred to as "alternative spring breaks," these trips generally involve voluntary, community or global service projects. Websites that try to attract college students for these alternative spring break trips promote the benefits of this option as an opportunity to give back, make a difference and gain cultural awareness in the process.

When alternative spring break trips take the form of service learning projects, the benefits and potential outcomes change substantially. Unlike one-time voluntary projects, the learning service is an experiential learning tool that has been shown to foster civic engagement, stimulate cultural understanding and develop ethical awareness among college students. The learning service is not an interruption or "interruption" of the learning that takes place during the regular academic calendar. It is an extension that moves learning beyond the physical classroom to active learning within the external environment. The learning service can provide a meaningful context for the theories, concepts and models that are taught in the classroom. It also changes the learning of a unidirectional dialogue between student and instructor to an interactive effort in which students not only learn but also change agents.

While it is easy to see the positive benefits of alternative spring break trips, the limitation is when these trips are conducted in isolation from the wider learning that takes place in the classroom. Alternative travel experiences, in which students are left in poor or disadvantaged communities as a "break" from the university and participate in one-time voluntary projects, can create a temporary experience of feeling good, but often they do not arrive to provide lasting change in the communities they visit. If spring break is the only time students are confronted with the realities of their external world, concepts such as ethics, social justice, equality, sustainability, civic engagement and corporate social responsibility can continue to be only theories and abstract concepts in the pages of their pages. textbooks

The most important distinction between volunteering as a "rest" of the university and the integrated experiences of service-learning is that the latter is reciprocal. Students are not merely exposed to people or communities who are disadvantaged and who in turn serve from their privileged or privileged position. Meaningful learning through service has to do with the co-creation of value by the student and the community or stakeholder, both as students and as contributors. The project is not simply about finding solutions, but also about creating the opportunity for all parties to learn, benefit and transform. The meaningful service of learning is not unidirectional. It's reciprocal. Creates new knowledge and new approaches that stimulate social innovation.

Although the idea of ​​reciprocity is attractive, it can be a challenge to achieve it. Moving students' perspectives from benefactor to beneficiary often means pushing students away from their own comfort zones, cultural assumptions and integrated biases. It also challenges faculty members to design and provide learning experiences through the service that can drive their own pedagogical, cultural and unconscious biases. For the faculty, it can also expose the limitations of our theories, models and paradigms in a way that compels us to admit to students that we just do not have all the answers.

At Pitt Business, through the David Berg Ethics and Leadership Center, we have used service learning for more than 12 years as part of our effort to develop and challenge the notions of ethical leadership and corporate social responsibility. . Our local and global service and learning projects deliberately ask students to embrace diversity as a tool to create positive change. It also challenges them to see companies not only as a means to increase profits and add value to shareholders, but also as a tool to boost social innovation. The service of learning is not a break from education. It is an extension of the traditional classroom to a learning environment that provides evidence of what education, knowledge and effective collaboration can produce. The fruits of these efforts can be exhibited in just one week through a service-learning trip that takes place during spring break.

Service learning trips, even those that last only a week, are a way to make those connections and leave lasting impressions on both the student and the community.

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