Guidelines for Undergraduate Service Learning Projects and Courses

Service learning is a teaching methodology in which students engage in an organized activity that has two goals: to serve a local community organization and to provide a credit-bearing educational experience that directly relates to the goals and objectives of a course within the academic curriculum. By addressing needs and issues within the local community through service, students are able to apply what they have learned in a course. Students reflect on their service activities in order to learn curricular concepts and to practice problem solving and evaluative skills as well as analytical, critical and reflective thinking.

Service learning is different from an internship. The distinction between service learning and an internship is understood in terms of the primary beneficiary. While it is a principle of service learning that the student is gaining valuable knowledge through the experience of performing a service to the community, the not-for-profit organization is the primary beneficiary of the skills a student brings to the project. This is the reason why service learning within an existing course or at most a 1-credit add-on component is deemed the appropriate amount of academic credit. In an internship, the student, as intern, is the primary beneficiary as a company provides the learning environment which includes adequate training and supervision of the intern's pre-professional work experience. The internship provides an arena for much new student learning and may generate a multi-credit academic component.

Requirements for Student Participation in Service Learning

The student must be in good academic standing.

Service Learning Sites

Appropriate sites for service learning are non-profit, public service organizations outside of the academic context and within the local communities which they serve. The site should be an organization or partner whose mission and work address community-identified needs and directly connect to the content of the academic course. A list of such organizations can be obtained from the Student Volunteer Outreach office.

Service Learning Site Supervisor

Students and faculty should work with a supervisor from the site who will provide an orientation to the site and its goals and mission. The site supervisor provides training and supervision for students who are engaged in the service activity.

Service Learning Agreement

A service learning agreement should be approved in advance of the service activity and should include:

  • The learning objectives of the service activity
  • Responsibilities, duties and time commitment of the student at the service site
  • Responsibilities and duties of the Site Supervisor
  • Description of the academic assignment to the student

Earning Credit

Credit is earned for the demonstration of learning outcomes through the academic work and other assignments that accompany the service activity and not for completing the service activity itself. Students are not to receive payment for the service learning activity.

Alternatives for earning academic credit include the following:

  • Service learning projects can be designed to be part of a course.
  • Service learning can be a separate one-credit course attached to an anchor course within the department. Students may elect to add the one-credit service learning course option. Academic credit for service learning is based on one credit for three to five hours per week of engagement in the service learning activity and inclusive of groups meeting for reflection.

Examples of Assignments for Effective Service Learning

Reflective Journaling—Students create written records of their observations of service activities and the communities in which they work. With regular daily or weekly entries, journals provide a means for connecting course content with agreed upon learning goals and responsibilities of the service activities, observations of the organizations and the communities they serves. Specific journal writing assignments also assist students in consciously reflecting on specific observations or incidents that occur within the context of the service activity.

Facilitated Meetings—Reflection is fostered within the context of a facilitated group meeting. Students debrief their service learning experiences through focused commentary on selected journal entries. Group discussion around questions arising from reflections on observations provides opportunities for further connections to the course content and learning objectives.

Portfolio—A student creates a portfolio to present samples of written work, photographs, videos, reports, summaries and other documentation of the learning outcomes of the service learning experience. The portfolio provides illustration of what the student contributed to the organization and the community which it serves and how his/her skills, knowledge and practice have expanded through the service learning activity.

Topical Paper—A paper to be written at the conclusion of the service learning experience integrates the experience with one or more topics from the course. Researched references should be cited to support conclusions drawn. The paper provides opportunity for reflection and integration of the service experience within the framework of the expected course outcomes and for identification of questions for further exploration and research.