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Glossary of Terms and Definitions


Below is a list of some common terms connected to community service-learning(CSL) courses and programs. This page will begin with a definition of community service-learning(also sometimes referred to as service-learning, service learning, community-based education) and then list other terms alphabetically. (some of the following are excerpts with permission from the (U.S.) National Service-Learning Clearinghouse)

Terms and Definitions

Community Service-Learning

Community Service-Learning (CSL) is a powerful vehicle for experiential education that has clear objectives for both the learning that occurs by the involved students and the service being provided in the community organization setting. There is a strong emphasis on inclusive partnerships with non-profit agencies through their direct involvement as co-educators, providing community expertise in all phases of the learning process from planning through to the experiential and evaluation. CSL programs are most effective when including key elements drawn from experiential education theory, especially developing critical thinking skills and implementing intentional reflection components.


The process of gathering information in order to make an evaluation. An evaluation is a decision or judgment about whether an effort is successful and to what extent that effort has or has not met a goal. Assessment may be descriptive or evaluative; involve conventional Likert-type items or narrative reports; and should be directed toward the following stakeholders:

Please also see Community Needs Assessment.

Civic Responsibility
The commitment of a citizen to his or her community to take responsibility for the well-being of the community. Service-learning and community engagement are often cited as developing students' civic responsibility.

Signifies a campus program where students learn and develop through service, although it is not explicitly connected to an academic course for credit.

Community can be used in a number of ways to apply to almost any group of individuals. It is often used to describe a geographic group whose members engage in some face-to-face interaction. The term community can also be used in a more meaningful sense to emphasize the common bonds and beliefs that hold people together.

Community Development
Community members working together to achieve long-term benefits for the community and an overall stronger sense of community. Effective development has four important characteristics:

Community Needs Assessment
A process of  involving citizens in both problem-solving and the development of  local goals. This process is important because it not only allows people to learn more about the current state of their community, but, also, to feel like they have a voice in shaping its future.

The source of the above definition is:

Community Partner in CSL Initiatives
The non-profit agency that joins in partnership with campus faculty, staff and students in order to exchange resources, knowledge and expertise.

Engaged Campus
A college or university which emphasizes community engagement through its activities and its definition of scholarship. The engaged campus is involved in community relationships, community development, community empowerment, community discourse, and educational change.

Experiential Education
Engaged learning in which the learner experiences a visceral connection to the subject matter. Good experiential learning combines direct experience that is meaningful to the student with guided reflection and analysis. It is a challenging, active, student-centered process that impels students toward opportunities for taking initiative, responsibility, and decision making.

The study of the teaching and learning process; service-learning provides a method that that informs and enhances the teaching/learning process.

Reciprocity in CSL Initiatives
A central component in community service-learning and community engagement that suggests that every individual, organization, and entity involved in service-learning functions as both a teacher and a learner.

The critical component of successful service-learning programs is "reflection". Reflection describes the process of deriving meaning and knowledge from experience and occurs before, during and after a service-learning project. Effective reflection engages both teachers and students in a thoughtful and thought-provoking process that consciously connects learning with experience. It is the use of critical thinking skills to prepare for and learn from service experiences.

The performance of formal service to benefit others or one's community without receiving any external rewards; such programs may or may not involve structured training and reflection. Effective community service-learning experiences are not considered to be the same as volunteerism.