Service Learning Network

Quick Reference Guide to Service Learning

What is service learning?
Service learning is an experiential educational technique in which field-based engagement with community partners is an integral element of instruction.  Service learning courses "give students direct experience with issues they are studying in the curriculum and with ongoing efforts to analyze and solve problems in the community," (AAC&U, 2011).  Service learning combines practical, applied learning in a real-world setting with opportunities for reflecting on service experience in the classroom setting.  Service learning seeks to instill in students the idea that  "giving something back to the community is an important college outcome, and that working with community partners is good preparation for citizenship, work, and life," (AAC&U, 2011).

Who benefits from service learning, and how?
Service learning benefits students, the institution, and the community.  Students are given the opportunity to apply their learning in real-world situations and gain self-confidence, practical skills, familiarity and connection with people and communities, and a richer understanding of course concepts.  The institution gains good will within its community, scholarly and practical collaborations with community members and organizations, and the accomplishment of its goals for teaching and learning excellence.  Finally, the community benefits through heightened awareness and understanding of needs and resources and increased connection and engagement on the part of students, alumni, and faculty and staff members.

What role does service learning play in my course?
Depending on a course's particular intended learning outcomes and the preferences of the instructor, service learning can constitute a single assignment or a primary component of the course. 

How do I identify a community partner?
The instructor can utilize institutional and community resources (Community Service Learning Center, Heart of West Michigan United Way, etc.) to identify a community partner organization whose work closely aligns with the intended learning outcomes for the course.

How do I determine relevant service activities for students?
The instructor and community partner collaborate to identify pressing community needs and how students can contribute skills in and knowledge in a way which both addresses identified needs and results in meaningful learning experiences for all involved.

How are service learning activities tied to course content?
Structured reflection writing assignments and class discussions are designed to highlight the conceptual links between course content and service activities.  Students implement what they have learned in class in the service setting, and their service experience informs subsequent classroom engagement.

How do I assign grades to service learning activities?
Scholars and practitioners of service learning have developed rubrics designed to assess and grade student work on a variety of service learning tasks.  Such rubrics are available online and through service learning professional organizations, and can be adapted to suit the specific course content.  Additionally, the Community Service Learning Center and Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center can provide guidance in development of rubrics and assessment of student work.

Association of American Colleges & Universities. (2011). High-impact educational practices. Retrieved from http://www.aacu.org/leap/hip.cfm

Page last modified February 6, 2012