Service Learning Network

Planning Course Instruction and Activities

Several elements of service learning courses function significantly differently than traditional courses.  Strategies for effectively addressing these unique course aspects are provided below.

Developing course syllabi

-Take care to provide a detailed explanation of expectations and criteria for the grading of assessment methods such as reflective journals.  Students who have not been exposed to these instructional techniques may be unfamiliar and uncomfortable with receiving a grade for responses to questions for which there is no objective "right" answer.

-Consider including the accreditation standards of the course, and mention that the institution's normal standards for work quality, academic honesty, and other policies apply to this course in the same manner as they do to traditional courses.

-Consider including a statement which articulates the connection between the goals of this course and those of the curriculum and the institution.  Providing context and making explicit connections for students can help them to realize the integral role that service learning courses can play in the wider scope of postsecondary education.

Developing reflection assignments and activities

-Have students engage in a "pre-reflection" discussion or writing assignment in which students think about and express what they already know (or think they know) about the community and issues with which they'll be working.  This is also an excellent opportunity for students to express what they expect and hope to learn through the course.

-Consider a variety of approaches to "journaling" reflection assignments.  Such written reflection can be done in an online message board or private writing assignment, can be done few or many times throughout the semester, and can involve the input of the community partner organization.

Example: Students can be assigned brief weekly or bi-weekly written reflection pieces, from which they will draw for a cumulative reflection portfolio which is submitted at the conclusion of the course.

Example: Students can be encouraged to work with the community partner organization in developing a cumulative reflection assignment, in which they might design an online, written, or video testimonial regarding the service that the organization provides to the community.  The organization can work with the student to ensure that this promotional material is beneficial in increasing community awareness of the organization.

Other Considerations in Course Design

-Determine how students will be graded for their service activities

-Determine what the appropriate workload for the class will be.  For example, will students be expected to complete the same amount of reading assignments as students taking a similar course in a traditional format? 

-Make sure students receive sufficient orientation to the issues, communities, and populations related to their service.  Some of this orientation can be done in the classroom, but it is also important that students have time on-site at the organization with which they'll be serving in order to gain familiarity with the physical space, staff, clientele, policies, and procedures of the organization.

-Determine what the primary purpose of course texts will be (illustrative/instructional vs. self-reflective, etc.), and draw from a wide variety of materials from different disciplinary orientations and in different media formats.  Involve community partners in this process, soliciting their input regarding materials they believe are valuable for learners to engage with.

Page last modified September 11, 2011