Faculty Keys to Success


  • Brainstorm -- Well before the start of the semester, consider the courses you teach and determine how community service might enrich student learning in it. It requires a little imagination for some courses, but service learning can be used effectively in every discipline. Do not worry at this point whether your ideas will work. Just think about what kinds of volunteer opportunities might apply to the course.

  • Contact the Career Services service learning staff -- The University has a staff member in Career Services who specializes in experiential learning and community service. In many cases they may be able to think of service learning opportunities for your course that you might not have considered.

  • Find a community partner/partners -- Choose the option(s) that closely connect to your course material, and contact the community agencies offering the service opportunity. Build a relationship with those Agencies that are interested in helping take responsibility for orientation, monitoring, and evaluation of the community work of your students. Career Services may also be able to assist you in this task.

  • Decide how to incorporate service into the course -- Be sure that you have two or three very clear and specific learning goals and objectives in mind. What are you trying to accomplish for your community, your students and yourself? What is the outcome you hope to achieve? Decide how service will play a role in your course. Your options can range from a one-time special project to a forty hour per week contribution to an agency. The service could be an extra-credit assignment, an alternative to a library research paper, or a requirement for course completion. (If service is a course requirement, it will be crucial to publicize your course in order to attract students who are motivated to learn this way). Also, be sure to consider special issues such as transportation, scheduling and training.

  • Create a syllabus -- To be successful, service must be more than a mere add-on to an already full syllabus. Be clear in the opening words of the syllabus that service is central to the learning that will happen in the course. Identify readings that will tie directly to the service experience and include them in the syllabus. Cut readings that are less tied to the experience. Shift class time away from lecture to allow more discussion with students about their experiences, even if all students do not participate in service. Adjust the estimated time for reading and traditional assignments to accommodate the extra time students will spend in service.

Beginning of the Course
On the first day of class, explain and promote the ideas behind including service learning in your course. Explain the benefits to students as well as the benefits to the community. Make it clear that you are committed to this approach and encourage them to take the opportunity for personal and academic growth that service promises. Remember that many students will hesitate to venture into an unconventional course. Make it easier for them to commit by providing specifics on locations, hours and term of commitment for each service option.

During the Course
Guidance and feedback from faculty is extremely important in helping students reflect on the meaning of their service and on how their experiences enrich the academic content of the course.

  • Student reflection on expectations and stereotypes. Early in the course it will be important to guide students in understanding the objectives and expectations about service that they bring to your course. Students need to consider that their expectations may or may not link well with the learning aspects of the course. Typically, students link service with volunteerism and personal objectives (e.g. improved self-esteem, feeling better about community). They also come into the course with more abstract ideas of "doing good" that may have little to do with the course content (e.g. seeing service as "just helping out," improving the community, fixing a "problem," or learning about hospice care or house-building). Students might also have stereotypes about the community members and agencies they are serving, and faculty members can help make students conscious of their biases and to explore how they affect the meaning of service and the academic content. In order to improve the chances that your course goals will be met, you must focus on helping students link the service to specific course content. Paradoxically, it is important not to over-prepare students for service. Much of the learning in Service Learning comes from discovering on one's own as they raise questions connected to course content. We can sometimes impede that kind of learning by telling students exactly what to expect, making their experience a comparison between expectation and reality, rather than an adventure.

  • Guidance in reflections. We cannot expect that linking service with learning will occur automatically. Without guidance from faculty in how to reflect on the experience, students might not learn anything, or worse, learn all the wrong lessons. Students need the most guidance from faculty in reflection. It is important for faculty to build into the syllabus discussion opportunities and assignments that encourage reflection.

  • Structuring assignments for reflection. Reflection can come in many forms: journals, essays, research, class presentations, discussions, artwork or other expressive acts. The key to success is structure and direction. The fruits of reflection are often related to the amount of structure in the assignment. For example, giving students less structure for their journal can lead to more personal exploration, and more structure can lead to more direct connection to specific curriculum-related questions. Written work will allow more opportunity for critical thinking, but unstructured discussion can lead students to share their experiences and get different perspectives than their own. Faculty members need to understand that there are benefits and drawbacks for any method of getting students to reflect. The point is that whatever method is used and in whatever combination, the faculty member must incorporate reflection early on in the course, regularly monitor student progress in reflection throughout the semester, and facilitate and guide the flow of ideas in the class. The Service Learning Committee, Office of Career Services and the Bernhard Library resources (listed at the end of this manual) can offer more information on reflective strategies and techniques.

Concluding the Course
Maintaining the academic integrity of the service learning course is crucial to the viability of combining service and learning. It is important to evaluate the course just as you would any other academic product. While it is not really possible or advisable to evaluate the feelings that students have about their experience or grade them according to the number of hours spent in service, you can grade students on the academic products that they make of their experiences. In short, evaluate them according to what they have learned from the experience, not the experience itself. Nevertheless, it is natural for a faculty member to hesitate to evaluate experiences that are not fully controlled by the faculty member. Thus it is important to structure assignments and standards so that they are the same standards and assignments for conventional oral or written work in conventional courses: Did the student master the factual course material? Does the student communicate ideas effectively? Does the student demonstrate critical thinking? Did the student participate well in class discussion? How did the student’s attitude and skills improve during the course?

At the end of the semester, after the course grades have been assigned, it is important to evaluate how well the course achieved its objectives and whether adjustments should be made for the next service learning course you teach.

A faculty member could evaluate the development of student thinking over the course of a semester. One way to do this might be to periodically review student journals to see if learning is occurring. Another approach is to measure quantitatively how many people students have helped, or how many total hours were provided. Still another approach is to collect student stories or essays for qualitative evaluation. Another strategy might combine student evaluation and scholarly research. Many scholars have tested whether students learn anything different in service learning courses than they do in courses on the same subject without service learning approaches. Another factor could be the measurement of how the community and organization involved was affected by the students, faculty can then hypothesize how the affect can be magnified in later courses.

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