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Decide how you will incorporate community service into your course. Course service options can range from a one-time special project, to a twenty (or more) hour commitment to an agency or public school throughout the course of the semester. You can offer the option as extra-credit, an alternative to a library research paper or other required project, or a requirement for course completion.

As Albert Einstein once said, "A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labours of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received"1.  It is time to exert yourself, as your Service-Learning experience can pave the way to profound change in your life and in the lives of others.

Consider Your Goals and Motives

With service sites or activities in mind, consider your goals and motives in using the application. What are you trying to accomplish for your students, yourself, and the community? Review your course objectives to determine those that can be linked to service. List two or three specific and measurable service and learning goals and objectives for your initiative.

Consider the Courses You Teach

Determine how community service might be helpful in enriching learning in your discipline. Service-Learning can be effectively used in every academic discipline. Some applications require a little more imagination than others, and often the best are not immediately obvious. Brainstorm about the application potential to your course. Think about how your course content connects with the community, and what kinds of volunteer opportunities might be available at that linkage point.

Visit the Center for Community & Civic Engagement

Discuss and identify community placements that offer experiences that are relevant to your course. With over 200 possible placements, you will be able to find ample sites appropriate for your course. There also may be faculty from your discipline with Service-Learning experience that can provide input and direction.

Okay - Now What?

Alter Your Course Description

Once you have chosen how Service-Learning will be incorporated, review and redesign the syllabus. To be successfully integrated, the service experience must be more than just an “add on.” Identify some readings that might tie the service to specific objectives. Allocate class time for discussion of the experience even if all students do not participate. By consciously committing to integrating service, up-front and in writing, you are on your way to a successful implementation.

Base Service Academically

Link the service experience to your academic course content through deliberate and guided reflection.

What is reflection?

  • The practice of reflection is what combines the learning to the service. We cannot assume that learning will automatically result from experience. If it did, we’d all be a lot wiser, wouldn’t we? Like us, our students may not learn from their experience. They may even learn the wrong thing or reinforce existing prejudices. Reflection helps prevent this from occurring.
  • Reflection can be in the form of journals, essays, class presentations, analytic papers, art work, drama, dialogue, or any other expressive act. The key to effectiveness is structure and direction. The nature and type of reflection determines it’s own outcome. An unstructured personal journal or group discussion is a great way to elicit effective disclosure. More specific academic outcomes will result from structuring these exercises with specific curriculum related questions. For example, a biology student might be directed to comment on ecological balance in her journal account of an exotic plant removal project at the Desert Botanical Gardens.

  • Written reflection is a productive approach that helps improve basic communication skills at the same time it leads to critical thinking about the academic focus of course objectives. It is the most common and the least intrusive in terms of taking up class time.
  • A more powerful, and in many ways more effective, approach is the purposeful dialogue or a class "Reflective Session." This dialogue provides an opportunity for students to share experiences and exchange ideas and critical thoughts about the information being shared.

  • To achieve academic outcomes, the dialogue, while spirited and free, should be bounded by the learning objectives of the course. The faculty member must serve both as a facilitator to maintain the flow of ideas and a commentator who jumps on the relevant items and develops it into teachable moment. This is not an easy task, but with practice the rewards are great. When we seem to be losing control, the process can be threatening, but it is often at these critical moments at the real learning occurs.
  • The real advantage of the group based reflective sessions over the independently written forms is its power to develop a sense of community, which is one of the general goals of Service-Learning. Whatever form of reflection is chosen, it is important to do it early in the experience to assure that students understand the process. It should then be followed up regularly to monitor their progress.

  • This type of deliberate and guided reflection is what leads to academic learning, improved service, and personal development. From the description of the learning cycle, we know that reflection is the key element in creating meaning.

How to Assess Outcomes?

Evaluate Service-Learning results as you would any other academic product. Remember, students are being graded on their learning, not their hours of service. Many of us feel uncertain when it comes to evaluating or assessing the outcomes of experiences we did not completely structure or present. Try these proven techniques:

  • Use the same standard to evaluate your Service components that you use for any other written or oral presentation. Did the student master the course material? This is the only way to assure academic integrity of the strategy.
  • You may utilize formative and summative research techniques to measure your success in achieving these objectives. Formative assessment can be achieved through reading student journals with an eye toward answering your initial questions. Periodic quick surveys can provide specific answers to issues such as student satisfaction with the process, utility of experimental techniques, etc.
  • Summative techniques can also help compare learning outcomes for Service-Learning sections from traditionally taught sections. For quantitative research, you could collect data on the number and type of people served by your students and the number of hours provided.

1 Einstein, Albert. The Harper Book of Quotations. Fitzhenry, Robert I. New York, NY:  Harper Collins, 1993. 220. Print.