Spotlight on Service-Learning: New online exhibit explores fifty years of service-learning’s history and evolution in higher education

July 30, 2019
Josh Schneider
Service Learning exhibit homepage

The following is a guest post by Seth Pollack (Director, Service Learning Institute, California State University, Monterey Bay) and Tim Stanton (Senior Engaged Scholar, Ravensong Associates; Director Emeritus, Bing Overseas Studies Program, Cape Town, Stanford University).

How should colleges and universities relate to social challenges? What role should civic learning play in the education of college students? Should higher education study, theorize and conceptualize; or, should it also act and engage with communities to foster social change?

These are some of the questions that service-learning educators have been wrestling with over the past fifty years. In 1995, thirty-three early adopters of service-learning came together at the Wingspread Conference Center to discuss their roots, their aspirations, their concerns and the challenges they faced as service-learning emerged as a viable educational practice in the 1960s (Wingspread 1995).
 Opening Plenary Timeline Activity, Wingspread 1995, Racine, WI.
Then in 2017, a second meeting occurred, bringing together not only early pioneers who continue to work in the field, but also younger service-learning practitioners, researchers and advocates in the US and internationally (Gathering 2017). The purpose of this gathering was to engage in critical, cross-generational review and reflection, to identify and address the field’s current challenges, and to deepen understanding of how incorporating community service into the life blood of academic institutions improves instruction, empowers communities and enhances the civic life and skills of young people.

Opening Plenary Timeline Activity, The Gathering, 2017, Golden, CO.

Now, documentation of these two seminal meetings is accessible in a new Spotlight at Stanford exhibit: The Service-Learning History Project Archive. This archive contains audio and video recordings of these two meetings, documenting service-learning practitioners’ reflection on their practice and the state of the field. Together, they explore the field’s emergence and ongoing institutionalization over the past fifty years --from its beginnings during the social upheaval of the 1960s, to its current efforts to enhance higher education civic engagement. The archive also contains other items (documents, videos, etc.) collected over the years that further shed light on the emergence and institutionalization of service-learning in higher education. As efforts to extend and expand the archive are ongoing, the curators welcome additional historical contributions.

We gratefully acknowledge the encouragement and support of the following sponsor organizations, without which this project could not have been established, undertaken and archived: Campus CompactCalifornia Campus CompactCampus Compact of the Mountain WestEinhorn Family Charitable TrustStanford University Haas Center for Public Service, and The Talloires Network.

We are also grateful to Stanford Libraries, and the staff of Stanford University Archives & Special Collections, for partnering in the creation of this exhibit, including the creation of metadata, and instruction in the use of the Spotlight at Stanford exhibit software. We would also like to thank the current and former staff of the Stanford Media Preservation Laboratory, including Michael Angeletti, Nathan Coy, and Geoff Willard, for their tireless work to digitize the hundreds of hours of content now accessible worldwide through this site.

In addition we thank all the individuals appearing in this exhibit for their thoughtful contributions to this project and willingness to be included. Most of all we thank them for their substantial contributions to our field, which for many of them have taken place over several decades.