You have to do the work for a grade anyway, and by engaging in service-learning, you get some added benefits.
Benefits of participating in a service-learning project:
- It gives you a line on your resume.
- It gives you experience working with real projects.
- It gives you experience working with real clients.
- You may become more aware of issues in the community.
- You can make a difference in the lives of others.
Thomas Deans, one of the leading scholars in the field of service-learning, points to three ways to engage in service-learning: writing about the community, writing for the community, and writing with the community. The approach I prefer to use is writing with the community. Any community partner I engage to work with my students understands that the needs of the students come first. These activities are meant to provide a learning environment for the students, and the community partners act as mentors in the learning process. The service-learning engagement is never set up to require that a student is responsible for producing some type of deliverable to the community partner. It is often the case, however, that community partners do benefit, and on occasion, come away from the partnership with a finished product they can put right to use.
A word of caution: If you have not engaged in this type of activity, especially within the context of the classroom environment, it is a little more open-ended than the typical student assignment that is laid out perfectly at the start with every requirement clearly laid out. The main assessment measures of this type of project comes through an evaluation of audience/purpose rhetorical contexts. While you will be given specifics for how to complete the project, you will be involved in making some of the decisions that may often be made for you within the context of a more "traditional" type of classroom exercise. Try not to be afraid of the decision making aspect, as that is part of what you are learning to do. The goal is not to make a perfect decision for every issue that arises, but however, to practice problem solving as you seek to find answers to these issues. And both I and your community partners will be there along the way to give you guidance in how to make the hard/rough decisions. Things may get messy at times, and you may feel that you are struggling at times, but those are normal things to expect when you work at this level of engagement. So try to enjoy the ride, and trust me that you will be very happy with the end product. And you'll probably realize at the end that you have learned a lot, but you will also realize how much more there is to learn.
What's most important is the engagement itself, learning about how to engage in this type of activity, gaining a better sense of real world audiences, perhaps experiencing some raising of critical consciousness, and practicing rhetorical and technical decision making.