Learning through Engagement - Service Learning
What is service learning?
Service learning is a method of teaching and learning that combines service to the community with the acquisition of academic, methodological, and social skills (learning). In service learning projects, students perform work that benefits the community. They learn how to draw connections between relevant theoretical content and what they learn in their practical work. The students are guided along this learning experience and have the opportunity to reflect upon it in a structured manner. One of the key criteria is that the projects should yield added value for the (partner) organizations involved, the participating students, academic teaching, and the community (cf. Bartsch 2009, Berthold et al. 2010). In this way, service learning combines academic learning and social responsibility (cf. Küppers 2009).
The initiatives presented below stimulate students’ personal development and the development of their social skills, and they also give students the opportunity to carry out their own projects in a goal-oriented manner under academic supervision. In addition to the social aspects of these programs, many of them also place great emphasis on sustainability.
Berthold, C., Meyer-Guckel, V. & Rohe, W. (2010): Mission Gesellschaft. Engagement und Selbstverständnis der Hochschulen: Ziele, Konzepte, internationale Praxis. Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, Essen.
Bartsch, G.; Reiß, K. (2009): Do it! Learn it! Spread it! Service Learning für Studierende. Mehrwert-Agentur für soziales Lernen gGmbH. Stuttgart.
Küppers, H. (2009): Warum soziale Verantwortung lehren. In: Raus aus dem Elfenbeinturm? Entwicklungen in Service Learning und bürgerschaftlichem Engagement an deutschen Hochschulen. Weinheim und Basel, Beltz Verlag.
Service learning at WU – an overview
WU’s range of service learning activities reflects the inherently holistic nature of higher education. The curricula include activities like project seminars and cooperation programs that facilitate knowledge transfer between the students and partners from the fields of public management, the nonprofit sector, and the business community. These activities are complemented for instance by extracurricular initiatives intended to strengthen social inclusion, such as the “Volunteering@WU – Lernen macht Schule” project.
Social skills, interdisciplinary knowledge, and team spirit know no borders: The SDG Internship Programme gives WU students the opportunity to put their theoretical skills into practice during an international internship where they work to promote and develop sustainable projects in the field of development cooperation.
Cooperation programs with other Austrian universities like the Sustainability Challenge open up new ways of tapping the potential of synergy effects across different universities.
WU’s portfolio of service learning activities ranges from purely WU-focused projects and group work to national and international programs.
Service learning – Examples of activities from WU curricula
Project seminars in the Specialization in Entrepreneurship and InnovationSpecialization in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (Bachelor’s Program in Business, Economics and Social Sciences, Bachelor’s Program in Business Law)
The cooperative project seminars included in the Specialization in Entrepreneurship and Innovation are a perfect choice for WU students with strong initiative, creativity, entrepreneurial minds, and plenty of motivation who want to develop their potential further. The students have the opportunity to work on professional consulting projects that allow them to deepen and apply their theoretical skills and establish contacts to project partners from the business community. The students experience a diverse range of project environments, including the strategic and operational activities of organizations like start-ups, SMEs, major corporations, etc.
Practical project in Course V of the Specialization in Diversity ManagementSpecialization in Diversity Management (Bachelor’s Program in Business, Economics and Social Sciences, Bachelor’s Program in Business Law)
As part of this course (Course V of the Specialization in Diversity Management), students work on a real-life case study in cooperation with corporate partners. The partner companies present key diversity-related issues they are dealing with to the students, who then work on these questions and present their results during a final event at the end of the semester. During the classes, students receive targeted academic input to guide them in their work on the case study, and their group work is supervised on a continual basis.
Project seminar (Course III) in the Specialization in Public and Nonprofit ManagementSpecialization in Public and Nonprofit Management (Bachelor’s Program in Business, Economics and Social Sciences, Bachelor’s Program in Business Law)
The focus of this course (Course III of the Specialization in Public and Nonprofit Management) is to combine theoretical knowledge and practice-oriented questions and issues from the field of public and nonprofit management. The students analyze questions and issues presented by the project partner and, based on their findings, develop specific recommendations and scenarios. The primary goal of this approach is to coach and support the students in their team work, project management activities, and cooperation with project partners from the field of public and nonprofit management.
Service Learning I + II (Courses in the Master’s Program in Socio-Ecological Economics and Policy)Master’s Program in Socio-Ecological Economics and Policy
The Competence Center for Sustainability Transformation and Responsibility (STaR) gives students of the WU Master’s Program in Socio-Ecological Economics and Policy (SEEP) the opportunity to develop and implement their own service learning concepts. Course I provides the theoretical basis and allows the students to develop their service learning ideas. In Course II, students get to implement their concepts. These two courses allow students to gain service learning experience in a regional context. The goal of the courses is to explore the relationship between theoretical research and practical applications and the related issues and questions.
Service learning – examples of extracurricular activities available at WU
Changemaker Program / Skills Academy
Entrepreneurial spirits also need a strong grounding in solid business skills. The Changemaker Program and the Skills Academy offer training and educational activities to provide just that. These programs include introductory and advanced workshops and panel discussions, complemented by special tracks focusing on specific topics. The available places are primarily intended for WU students, but in principle, admission to the programs is open to everyone on a first-come, first-served basis. Participants who complete the program can obtain a Skills Academy Certificate.
„Lernen macht Schule“ (Volunteering@WU)
In 2010, WU, Caritas Vienna, and the REWE Group launched the “Lernen macht Schule” initiative. The goal of this program is to promote learning and social inclusion by stimulating contact and exchange between students and young people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Students who volunteer to participate in the initiative (in the Learning Buddy and Music Buddy programs or summer camp) receive special training during several days of preparatory seminars. They also receive supervision and coaching during their work. WU issues written certificates to confirm students’ volunteer work, and the volunteering activities are also eligible for credit transfer towards a WU degree program in the form of a free elective (3 ECTS credits per semester).
In this program, WU students act as educational role models and work with children and teens from institutions run by Caritas Vienna (shelters for asylum seekers, shelters for mothers and children, support centers, etc.) and the Lernhaus tutoring center run by the Austrian Red Cross. Over the course of a semester – and sometimes even longer – the students meet with the children or teens on a weekly basis, help them with their schoolwork, and occasionally enjoy recreational activities together.
As part of this project, students lead a choir of children, under competent musical supervision. The students and children meet every week to rehearse, and they participate in several performances over the course of the semester. This project allows the students and the children to develop key skills in a playful way (“learning with all the senses”).
During the annual athletics-oriented summer camps, students act as camp counselors (sport buddies) and look after the participating children. The goal of the one-week summer camp is to show the kids that exercise and healthy food can be fun and to let them experience positive relationships in the group.
Course catalog, LPIS, specializations? – What feels like a foreign language for newcomers is everyday jargon for experienced WU students
As part of the Mentoring@WU program, advanced bachelor’s students provide advice and guidance to first-year students and help them organize their studies, study efficiently, find their way around campus, and much more. Students who have earned at least 50 ECTS credits in their bachelor’s program can volunteer to become student mentors, and everyone enrolled in a German-taught WU bachelor’s program can apply for a mentor. The mentors meet with groups of 10 to 15 new students on a regular basis during the semester to discuss topics related to studying at WU and answer the new students’ questions. Various social events round off the new students’ introduction to campus life at WU.
SDG Internship Programme (Volunteering@WU)
A different kind of international internship: This program is aimed at students who have completed at least 100 ECTS credits in their bachelor’s program and are interested in working in the field of development cooperation. The SDG Internship Programme offers three-month volunteer internships around the world, where students work on projects that contribute to the fulfillment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This includes for example initiatives for combating poverty, improving health care, and strengthening high-quality education.
When they return home after their internship, program participants become SDG ambassadors and share the experience and the knowledge they have gained.
The Sustainability Challenge provides a platform for master’s students and particularly dedicated bachelor’s students to implement their own sustainable start-up ideas. In the Service Learning Track, students can develop practical skills for solving specific business problems. The units are taught in the form of courses with continuous assessment of student performance (PI courses). In addition, the program also includes coaching sessions and project presentations.
The Sustainability Challenge is a cross-university initiative organized jointly by the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU), TU Wien, the University of Vienna, and WU Vienna. The program duration is two semesters, and students can start the program every winter semester.