Is service-learning appropriate for introductory and lower-level courses?
Yes. Students at any level can have substantive and rewarding service-learning experiences. The key is for students to be placed at organizations where they’ll have responsibilities appropriate to their skills levels. Becca Berkey, Coordinator of Experiential Education, can help you identify service-learning opportunities that work well for your students.
Do students have time to do service-learning?
Many students juggle classes, jobs, family obligations, or other activities. Fitting in the 2 to 3 hours per week for a service-learning requirement can be a challenge, however it’s definitely possible to for students to fit that in, and they’re glad they did. Some students who didn’t think they’d have time decide to continue volunteering after the course ends.
Should I require service-learning in my course, or make it optional?
Either can work well, and there are pros and cons to each approach. (When service-learning is optional, you would allow students to choose a different assignment, such as a research paper.) When service-learning is required in a class, all students will have a shared experience to draw on during class discussions. This will make it easier to facilitate students’ service-learning reflection and discussions. The downside to required service-learning is that you may send some students into the community who don’t really want to be there.
Please contact Becca Berkey to help guide you as you decide whether to require service-learning or not. If you decide to require service-learning in your course, be sure to mention that in the course description, so students know about it when they register.
How should I grade students on their service-learning? What is reflection?
Think of students’ community work as a “lived text” for the course. Their time spent at community organizations is somewhat like required readings. When you assess students’ reading assignments, you don’t simply assess whether they’ve done the readings or not—you assess what they learned from the readings, and how well they demonstrate that in exams and papers. The same is true when assessing service-learning.
Your service-learning class should require students to discuss what they’re learning from their community work, and how that connects with other course texts, lectures, and discussions. This type of assignment is commonly known as reflection. Reflection sets service-learning apart from other types of volunteer work. See our Reflection page for in-depth information and examples.
Should I require a minimum number of volunteer hours? How many and why?
Most service-learning instructors do require students to complete a minimum number of community-work hours during the semester. This is similar to requiring class attendance or participation. We recommend that students be asked to commit 2 to 3 hours per week to their community organization, for a total of 25 to 30 hours total for a semester. By setting a minimum number of hours, you help assure that students do enough community work to fulfill the course’s learning objectives, and that the community organization receives enough benefit for the time and effort they invest in hosting a student.
How do I make sure service-learning is well integrated into my class?
First, be sure service-learning isn’t an “add-on” to the course. For it to be as effective as possible, it should be woven into the curriculum throughout the semester. Reflection assignments are the most effective way to integrate service-learning into your course. Reflection helps students connect their community work to the course content. Whether you require service-learning or make it optional, think about the ways students can learn from each other through these discussions.
What challenges do students encounter when doing service-learning?
During the semester, students will likely share with you the challenges they’re experiencing. These could include delays in hearing back from their organization and getting started with their work, difficulty fitting in their required hours, dissatisfaction with the work they’re being asked to do, or a lack of clarity about their role in the organization. If students approach you with concerns about their organization, you should work to address the situation as quickly as possible, either by communicating directly with the student’s supervisor at the organization, or by contacting Becca Berkey and letting her know about the situation so she can follow up. Because a semester goes by quickly, it’s imperative that any issues be resolved promptly. This will also help students maintain a positive attitude about their service-learning assignment and the course in general.
What are some of the challenges encountered by faculty doing service-learning?
When you first teach with service-learning, you may have questions about how to integrate it into your course. We are here to provide guidance in whatever way we can. The following are challenges service-learning faculty sometimes has to manage:
- how to reduce other parts of the course workload to accommodate service-learning
- how to create new assignments to facilitate students’ reflections on what they learn in the community
- how to assess students’ performance on those assignments
- how to build flexibility into the curriculum, so students can discuss and explore unexpected experiences in the community
- how to answer students’ service-learning questions when you don’t have ready answers
You may also have concerns about the additional time it may take to manage the service-learning component of your course, or whether your efforts will be rewarded within the promotion and tenure process. We can help you think through all aspects of service-learning course planning, manage the logistics of your students’ placements, and connect you with campus-wide efforts to support and recognize engaged teaching as an important tool .