How to design service learning experiences


Identifying what you want students to learn from the S-L component of the course is a critical first step.  You're much more likely to integrate the S-L project and the course content will if you take the time to figure this out.  

Miami Dade College, like many other institutions that have service-learning centers, developed learning outcomes for their service learning programs.  They provide their list and then show a wide range of disciplines developing students' skills, insights, and knowledge through service learning in this 5 1/2 minute video:

Stanford University's Graduate School of Business offers its students life-changing service-learning opportunities organized around social and environmental issues.  Students discover how useful -- vital, in fact -- business skills -- and listening skills -- are to solving complex and even intractable problems in this 5 1/2-minute video:

P. 4 of "The Role of the Faculty Member in Service-Learning" from Tennessee State University is a good place to start.  Opens as a Word document. 

Planning process

This model was designed for the geosciences, but works well for most fields: 

And here's a FREE workbook by Sarena D. Seifer and Kara Conner, Faculty Toolkit for Service Learning in Higher Education (Washington, D.C.,  Learn and Serve America's National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, 2007).  Opens as a .pdf -- works best in Internet Explorer. 

Here's a great collection of S-L resources for faculty, ranging from rubrics to help you evaluate various types of learning to learning contracts (with students), to planning processes, to examples of learning contracts and liability releases. from Tennessee State University's Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement.  

Developing a service learning placement site

Good experiences for your students means developing a relationship with your S-L sites and their staffs, clients, members.  Expect to spend some time involving your S-L site's people in the project design.  Students don't like, and don't benefit from, community service that involves rote tasks like filing or housekeeping tasks like cleaning, however necessary those tasks might be to the S-L site. 

What's unique about S-L is that it benefits both students AND the community equally.  For that to happen, neither you nor your students can dictate the form of the project.  If the project aims to benefit a client or membership base, these beneficiaries need to be involved in designing the project.  They are the experts on their own needs.  Given this, be sure to prepare your students as well as you possibly can for collaborative work, including the ability to cross social and cultural boundaries.  Bear in mind that your students' motivations for doing S-L may vary, and their attitudes toward particular client populations may be based on the "deficit model" or on pity.  You need to challenge those attitudes long before your students begin the S-L project.

What will you do if the attitudes of the S-L site's employees or leadership seem to be grounded in the deficit model or in pity?  How will you work with that site, and how will you work with your students on those issues? 

Possible placement sites

Please note that our student affairs colleagues CAN NOT DESIGN a service learning experience for you -- but they can help facilitate your initial contact.

Student Diversity

How will you gauge a potential S-L site for working with your students of color?  Your LGBTQ students?  Your women students?  Your students with disabilities?  Do you have a range of options so that all students will gain as much as possible from the experience? 

See the Faculty Toolkit for Service Learning in Higher Education cited above for some useful guidance on evaluating sites.  The topic begins on p. 11 in the .pdf.  As mentioned in the Faculty Toolkit, the Partnership Self-Assessment Tool might be useful to your community collaborators.