University of Southern Indiana

Academic Service-Learning Course Design Guidelines

Academic Service-Learning Course Design Guidelines

(Adapted from Campus Compact, 2015)

Effective and high-quality service-learning requires more than the proverbial “add service and stir” approach to designing courses and programs.

As a dimension of university-community engagement, service learning can be defined as a “course or competency-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students:

  • Participate in mutually identified service activities that benefit the community and
  • Reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of personal values and civic responsibility” (Bringle and Clayton, 2012, adapted from Bringle and Hatcher, 1995).

Principle 1: Academic credit is for learning not for service.

Academic credit is not awarded for doing community service, nor for the quantity or quality of that service, but rather for the student’s demonstration of learning.

Principle 2: Do not compromise academic rigor.

Integrate service learning in a way that supports or enhances existing academic standards and expectations through related readings, presentations, and assignments.

Principle 3: Establish learning objectives.

The development of a quality service learning course begins with explicit learning objectives.

Principle 4: Establish criteria for the selection of service placements. 

Establishing criteria for selecting community service placements/projects enable students to extract more relevant learning from their experiences.

Principle 5: Provide educationally-sound learning strategies to harvest community learning and realize course learning objectives.

Discussion and assignments that provoke analysis of community experience in the context of the course learning are necessary to ensure the service becomes an instrument of learning.

Principle 6: Prepare students for learning from the community.

Students realize the potential of community learning through appropriate preparation and orientation, examples of successful experiences, and the expertise and assets that exist in the community.

Principle 7: Minimize the distinction between the students’ community learning role and classroom learning role.

Classrooms and communities are very different learning contexts, each requiring students to assume a different learner role. The more these roles are made consistent, the better the chances the learning potential within each context will be realized.

Principle 8: Rethink the faculty instructional role.

A shift in instructor role that would be most compatible with service learning would move away from information dissemination and toward learning facilitation and guidance.

Principle 9: Be prepared for variation in, and some loss of control with, student learning outcomes.

The variability in community contexts necessarily leads to less certainty and homogeneity in student learning outcomes.

Excerpted from Howard, Jeffery, ed., Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Service Learning Course Design Workbook, University of Michigan: OCSL Press, Summer 2001, pp. 16-19.


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