DLE OSL – A guide for service learning



(Prepared for Faculty Senate Gen Ed Committee)

 Service-learning is designed to expose students to the needs of the larger society, engage them in addressing those needs through community service, and connect what they learn in the classroom to real-world conditions through faculty-directed reflection. At its best, service-learning is a powerful teaching method that allows students to reflect upon why such conditions exist and what their democratic responsibilities are in addressing them.

Service-learning courses must incorporate the following student learning goals:

  1. Students will apply critical thinking skills and academic knowledge/concepts to develop effective response to, and make informed decisions about, problems or situations encountered in the course of the learning experience.
  2. Students will engage in reflection, which incorporates self-assessment and analysis of the learning that has occurred as a result of participation in the service placement.  At a minimum, students will be expected to examine and demonstrate their increased understanding of why the conditions addressed in their service experience exist in our society, what else they have learned as a result of the service experience, how they have learned it, the impact of their learning on their personal and professional growth, and how to apply that learning in other situations or contexts.

The following are some examples of potential student learning goals, many of which incorporate general education goals:

At the end of this course/credit experience, students will have demonstrated their ability to:

  1. Communicate ideas and the results of their work and resultant learning with clarity, concision, and precision.
  2. Design and implement a project that addresses a community-based problem.
  3. Use creative and critical thinking skills and knowledge of (insert language from discipline) to effectively contribute to a problem-solving team.
  4. Choose and apply appropriate technology/instrumentation/laboratory/computer skills/technology to devise solutions to problems or complex situations encountered in the course of this experience.

Besides student learning goals and assessment, what are the other requirements of Service-Learning courses?

Faculty have a responsibility to insure that students are prepared to engage successfully in service-learning; that is, that the student has been exposed to prior knowledge and experiences that they will need to successfully map their own learning.  Similarly, while students are primarily the ones responsible for defining the problem and engaging in problem-solving strategies, this cannot be effectively accomplished without strong mentoring support from faculty. Given this, the following are required elements of service-learning:

  1. The service-learning experience must be supervised, with on-going faculty involvement and support. While this support may take many forms, it always includes:
    • A written description of the service placement that includes a set of shared expectations about the needs to be met and the quantity and quality of the experience and required products.  Include a description of the roles and responsibilities of students in the placement (e.g., transportation, time requirements, community contacts, etc.).
    • Sufficient periodic meetings with the student(s) to assess progress, advances, and roadblocks; and
    • Feedback on the quality of the student(s) progress and intermediate products/assignments.
  1. In addition to the requirement for reflective learning, students will be expected to produce at least one final product as a result of the service-learning project. Examples of products include:
    • Reflective journal of responses to directed questions
    • Research papers
    • Reports
    • Essays
    • Exhibits
    • Portfolios
    • Oral presentations
    • Media presentations
  1. The expectations for student learning must be clearly established in the syllabi or otherwise communicated to the student in writing. The student’s work must be evaluated and a grade assigned. The grade should be based upon what the student has learned and how well the student has met the learning goals, not only how many hours were spent in the service experience.

The service-learning experience, particularly if it is integrated into a regular course, must be of sufficient depth and complexity to be worth the assigned number of academic credits.  Students in a service-learning course must participate in a partial or full[1] service experience.

[1] Partial projects are those in which students participate in one or two short but intensive service projects to explore one or two key terms in the course; Full projects are semester-long projects that require students to meet regularly with the community partner to explore major terms, key theories, hallmark writings, etc.)