Service-learning unites students, faculty, and community members to benefit the community while advancing educational goals and enhancing students' academic development.
This guide provides practical information on service-learning in college classrooms, with an emphasis on writing and writing-intensive courses.The following sections are provided.
With roots in colonial education and industrial-age rethinking of community, service-learning has become a formal component of undergraduate education.
Service-learning practitioners emphasize the following elements in formulating a definition of service-learning:
The justification for adopting a service-learning approach involves pedagogical and practical considerations.
Public administration professor Thomas H. Jeavons identifies several ways in which service-learning is more effective than traditional presentational modes in supporting the goals of liberal education.
As an experiential and collaborative mode, service-learning:
Colorado State University's Office for Service-Learning (OSL) identifies the benefits of service-learning to the groups listed below. The benefits listed in each section are adapted from OSL's Service-Learning Faculty Manual (6-7) and other sources, as indicated.
Students benefit from service-learning through:
Instructors benefit from service-learning through:
An enhanced teaching repertoire
The community benefits from service-learning through:
Academic institutions benefit from service-learning through:
Colorado State University's Office for Service-Learning and Volunteer Programs (SLVP) identifies the following participants in service-learning. Click on each link to view the roles of each participant as identified in SLVP's Service-Learning Faculty Manual (16-17).
As an instructor implementing service-learning in your classroom, you will likely have the following responsibilities:
Create a syllabus that clearly articulates the relationship between service-learning and academic objectives and outlines the process by which students will engage in service activities.
Students are expected to:
Community partners are expected to:
If you are working with a campus service-learning office, they might serve any or all of the following functions:
Composition scholars have noted a natural alliance between service-learning and writing. The following sections provide discussion of that alliance and associated benefits and caveats. Material in these sections is adapted from the American Association for Higher Education Series on Service-Learning in the Disciplines, Composition Volume and Michigan State University's Service-Learning Writing Project (see Resources).
Composition scholars point to several features of both service-learning and writing instruction that support a convergence of service and writing in college-level courses:
Advocates of integrating service-learning and writing frequently speak in terms of transitions. Consider the following potential transitions:
Courses that combine service-learning and writing are particularly vulnerable to the following constraints:
Michigan State University's Service-Learning Writing Project offers the following examples of service-learning assignments for writing courses:
In general, consider how any of the following might provide meaningful writing opportunities for students involved in service-learning:
The following tips will help you put service-learning into practice in your classes:
According to Colorado State University's Office for Service-Learning and Volunteer Programs, it's common for enthusiastic faculty to scramble to integrate service-learning into an upcoming course when it might be wiser to wait a semester and devote more time to planning. Because service-learning is not a supplemental activity but an alternative teaching method, thoughtful planning is required to develop a unified package of syllabus, orientation, reflection and assessment.
Seasoned service-learning practitioners caution against making every course a service-learning course. Course objectives should drive teaching methods, and some courses more than others lend themselves to service-learning. Articulate objectives in writing to determine the suitability of service-learning. Having decided to implement service-learning, identify community needs that are related to course objectives.
Factors such as students' ages, academic levels, living situations, and background experiences will influence the effectiveness of any approach to service-learning. Traditional undergraduates, for example, are less likely to be familiar with the community and will tend to benefit from a more structured approach. Graduate students are likelier to have existing ties to community agencies and will appreciate greater freedom in deciding how-or even whether-to enhance their learning through community service. Commuters will have greater difficulty scheduling service hours with local agencies, while lack of transportation might restrict younger students to agencies within walking distance of campus. Taking these factors into account will promote a beneficial service-learning experience for each unique group of students.
Class size will influence the number and diversity of community partnerships formed. Larger classes generally require the cooperation of a greater number of community partners, which can enrich learning by bringing several perspectives to class discussions. Smaller classes, on the other hand, might glean deeper understanding and work toward more lasting goals through a group partnership with one agency. Keep in mind that different agencies can absorb different numbers of student volunteers and plan accordingly.
Because arranging community partnerships typically requires a considerable time investment, early contact is recommended. Initial contact involves communicating course objectives and class particulars (make-up, size, timeline, etc.) and gathering information regarding agency needs, contact person(s), location, number of volunteer positions available, orientation and training requirements and hours of operation. When partnerships have been formed, consider inviting agency representatives to address the class during its first or second session. Maintain contact with community partners throughout the semester and attempt to visit the service site(s) at least once.
A service-learning course syllabus should clearly articulate service requirements and communicate their relationship to course objectives and other course content such as writing assignments, readings, discussions, and presentations. It should include a timeline that factors in agencies' required training period and a description of how students will be assessed. It should allow flexibility for students with special needs and should incorporate reflective assignments and activities.
Service-learning courses require significant out-of-class time commitments for both instructors and students. To provide students with a realistic estimate of time requirements, mentally take on a student's role and walk through orientation and training, service hours, class attendance, and other class assignments. To estimate instructor time commitment, account for contact with community partners, class visits from agency representatives, discussion and written comments acquainting students with service-learning objectives and addressing students' fears and concerns, and preparation of academic content that complements service activities.
Assign grades to reflect the processing of students' experience and not the service hours alone. Look for ways to evaluate analytical skills, communication skills, and critical thinking and judgment through paper, presentation, and discussion grades. Create assignments that require students to integrate course content and service experience. Consider asking service supervisors to submit student evaluation forms that may or may not contribute to students' course grade through incentive points. As in any other course, students' final grades in a service-learning course should reflect academic development and skill application.
When multiple sections of the same course adopt a service-learning approach, instructors and their students will benefit from instructor collaboration. In freshman composition courses, for example, one instructor acting as coordinator can spearhead syllabus changes that fulfill composition program objectives, form ties with the campus service-learning office, establish a pool of initial agency contacts, recruit and train other freshman composition instructors to implement service learning, and monitor service-learning sections for continuity between sections and within the larger composition program.
Service-learning is not productive when students view service as a chore; distinguishing service-learning from volunteerism will help students understand how they will benefit from the exchange. Repeatedly highlight connections between service and other course content and emphasize the contribution of service activities to course objectives. Other preventative measure against complaints about service requirements include:
Recognize that students might have legitimate grounds for objecting to service requirements and consider offering optional opportunities for involvement or directing them to traditional sections or courses that will fulfill their degree requirements. On the other hand, don't assume that students will complain. A recent UCLA study found that freshmen entering U.S. colleges and universities were the most service-oriented class in the thirty-one years the nationwide survey had been administered (CIRP). Students may well be seeking opportunities for community involvement and will be enthusiastic about a course that facilitates that desire.
One benefit of service-learning is its potential to challenge students' stereotypes about persons whose backgrounds are different from their own. Inadequate preparation for diversity issues, however, can result in an experience that reinforces rather than breaking down stereotypes. Literacy tutoring, for example, can enhance students' visions of themselves as "saviors" bestowing their services upon undeserving "others" (Schutz & Gere 133).
Addressing stereotypes in class is the most effective safeguard against the perpetuation of stereotypical beliefs. Set parameters to discourage inappropriate comments in class as well as at service sites, but do provide an open forum for students' sincere questions and concerns. For example, students might fear entering an environment where they are uncertain what constitutes acceptable speech or behavior. In addition to classroom discussion, reflective writing can challenge students to articulate and examine their beliefs and enable to instructors to respond to individual concerns.
Reflection, a key component of many writing classes, is vital to the success of a service-learning course. Reflection is a process of examining and interpreting experience to gain new understanding. The following sections highlight this important element of service-learning:
Reflection is integral to the service-learning experience in the following ways:
The following tips for facilitating reflection are adapted from Colorado State University's Office for Service-Learning and Volunteer Programs:
Reflection activities may include any or all of the following:
Varying activities will accommodate multiple learning styles and will help students understand reflection as part of the learning process, not as an isolated activity.
Visit the following links for additional reading and resources:
The following sources were consulted in preparing these pages:
Adler-Kassner, Linda, Robert Crooks, and Ann Watters, eds. American Association for Higher Education Series on Service-Learning in the Disciplines, Composition Volume. Washington, D.C.: AAHE, 1997.
Cooper, David D. and Laura Julier. "Writing in the Public Interest: Service-Learning and the Writing Classroom." Curriculum in the Academy and the World Series. East Lansing: Writing Center at Michigan State University, 1995.
Furco, Andrew. Service-Learning: A Balanced Approach to Experiential Education." Building Connections. Washington, D.C.: Corporation for National Service, 1996.
Higher Education Research Institute. "Volunteerism Among U.S College Freshmen at All-Time High, UCLA Study Finds." Los Angeles: UCLA, 1997.
Jeavons, Thomas H. "Service-Learning and Liberal Learning: A Marriage of Convenience." Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. Fall 1995: 134-140.
Lisman, C. David. "Ethics in the Curriculum." Community College Journal. Dec. 1999/Jan. 2000: 37-41.
Office for Student-Learning and Volunteer Programs, Colorado State University. Service-Learning Faculty Manual, 2nd ed. Fort Collins: 2002.
Schutz, Aaron and Anne Ruggles Gere. "Service Learning and English Studies: Rethinking "Public Service." College English. 60 (1994): 129-147.
The following syllabi illustrate how several instructors have integrated service-learning into their writing or writing-intensive classes:
Kim Kankiewicz. (2018). Using Service-Learning in Writing Courses. The WAC Clearinghouse. Retrieved from https://wac.colostate.edu/repository/resources/teaching/guides/sl/. Originally developed for Writing@CSU (https://writing.colostate.edu).