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October 13, 2011

View From Outside the Classroom

SA LogoThe University’s academic programs are the foundation of our efforts to educate students, but our concept of education focuses on the total experience of students as they earn their degrees, which is referred to as education of the whole student. The campus environment, the student culture, programs and services provided for students, as well as experiential learning opportunities outside the classroom, contribute to each student’s education and development.

This philosophy is not unique to Pitt; it has taken hold throughout higher education since the adoption of the student development theory as the foundation for out-of-class experiences.

In 2008 Pitt’s undergraduate schools and colleges participated in a University-wide initiative to create the Outside of the Classroom (OCC) program to support the experiential learning and personal development impact of participation in out-of-the-classroom activities.

OCC is designed to educate the whole student through the completion of a series of programs, activities and experiences that complement each student’s academic studies. OCC helps students to meet progressive standards of accomplishment in 10 areas of outside-the-classroom learning: leadership development; sense of self; career preparation; Pitt pride; initiative and drive; communication skills; global and cultural awareness; wellness; service to others, and appreciation of the arts.

Pitt’s schools and colleges also utilize experiential education pedagogy through internships, cooperative education, practica, field experiences and undergraduate research.

One method of experiential education that transcends academic and out-of-the-classroom initiatives is service-learning. Service to others, an OCC learning outcome, focuses on community service and features activities that serve a community need.

Service-learning changes the traditional class delivery model by incorporating a service component and a revised pedagogy. Service-learning integrates academic study with the service activity, features student leadership roles in designing the service project with the community, has intentional learning outcomes and strategies, enhances learning through individual and group reflection and discussion, fosters expansion of learning about the service project to include learning about the social issue being encountered, and frames the experience as a cooperative engagement with the community to solve real problems versus performing tasks and services needed in the community.

The experiential component of service-learning enhances students’ academic learning through application-related experience. It adds a new dimension and delivery system that contributes to the institution’s accomplishment of its public service mission and enhances community relations by engaging the community in the cooperative efforts to solve real community problems.

For students, service-learning has a positive impact on their beliefs, attitudes, values and social consciousness and instills in them what it means to be a responsible citizen.  It enhances student motivation to fully engage in the combined classroom and experiential dimensions of the project.

The experiential component makes the classroom learning more relevant and meaningful, instills a sense of purpose and ownership in the combined learning experience, provides tangible outcomes, demonstrates the usefulness of what is being learned in class and provides a sense of real- life accomplishment along with the grade for the class. Service-learning is a win-win-win–win situation for the faculty member, the students, the institution and the community. What more can you ask for?

Service-learning has become an important pedagogy throughout higher education. For faculty who want to develop a service-learning class, there are many resources available.

• Pitt’s Office of Student Volunteer Outreach ( provides wonderful opportunities for experiential learning.

• The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse at refers to itself as “America’s most comprehensive service-learning resource.”

• The Division of Student Affairs at the University of Michigan, which is one of Pitt’s “aspiration” institutions, has the renowned Ginsberg Center for learning through service. The site,, features research and faculty resources. Its journal, the Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning, is highly respected.

Terrence Milani is associate director of the Office of Student Life in the Division of Student Affairs.

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