In the past ten years, community service learning (CSL) programs have mushroomed across Canada. During the 2102-2013 academic year so far, over 1600 University of Ottawa students volunteered with community partners as part of their classroom learning. The theory behind CSL is that collaboration between universities and community partners—such as non-profit organisations, social enterprises, and government agencies—can be mutually beneficial. Community partners benefit from additional resources to provide services and achieve goals, while students get an opportunity to apply their learning in the real world and gain opportunities for personal and professional development.
How does CSL work, in practice? Do students and community partners actually benefit from CSL? Between 2007 and 2011, annual surveys of University of Ottawa students, professors, and community partners were conducted to assess the impacts of CSL. As part of an ongoing evaluation process, the Centre for Global and Community Engagement tested a new survey tool during the 2012-2013 academic year to assess what students learn through their CSL experiences.
The survey results confirm that students found the University of Ottawa CSL program worthwhile. On a scale of 1 to 10, 78% of students rated their satisfaction with their CSL experience as 7 or higher. Moreover, 65% of survey participants reported that their CSL experiences would have a lasting effect on their lives. What benefits did students derive from CSL? Students perceived that their CSL experiences had a significant impact on their academic and career development, on their self-awareness, and on their ability to engage in their communities. Here are a few highlights from the recent survey:
- 65% of respondents reported that their CSL experiences had led them to develop new personal and/or professional relationships.
- At least 60% reported that their volunteering increased their awareness of their personal strengths and shortcomings.
- 65% agreed that they had improved their communication skills.
- 71% of the students agreed that their experience had increased their awareness of people with characteristics different from their own.
The next step for the Centre for Global and Community Engagement will be to review the survey results to identify possible improvements to the CSL program processes. We will also develop an annual survey questionnaire for faculty members and community partners. In the meantime, we would love to hear from you! If you have a story on how CSL has affected you, please email us at email@example.com.
 Canadian Alliance for Community Service Learning (n.d.) Community Service-Learning Overview Sheet. Canadian Alliance for Community Service-Learning website. Retrieved 19 March 2013. From http://www.communityservicelearning.ca/en/documents/CSLOverviewSheet.pdf
 Survey conducted in February 2012. 138 students responded to the online survey sent to 643 students who either participated in the CSL program or registered for extracurricular volunteering activities located outside the campus between September and December 2012.