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Designing Academic Service-Learning Experiences

There are a number of special considerations for faculty when designing and teaching a service-learning course. Prior to implementing service-learning, faculty will have to establish an appropriate relationship with a community partner, communicate expectations, choose classroom activities that support the service, and develop assessment tools to evaluate student learning.

Below is a rough timeline of things to consider when planning a service-learning course. The precise timing depends on whether the course is new or has been offered before, how much time you have to prepare, departmental differences, and individual preference. Although this timeline is not exhaustive or relevant to every course, it is a general guide for those teaching service-learning courses.

Long term:
• Determine the broad goals of your course
• Decide how service-learning will fit in the course (one assignment, entire course, etc.)
• Locate a community partner
• Screen potential students (if course is “by permission of instructor”)

Middle term:
• Articulate learning objectives for your course
• Identify appropriate classroom strategies to support the service-learning, such as readings or lectures
• Choose appropriate reflection exercises
• Ensure the alignment of objectives, assessments, and instructional strategies
• Write a tentative syllabus
• Develop appropriate forms for working with community partner (needs assessment, student evaluations, final evaluation)
• Meet with community partner to discuss issues of scale, scope, final product, and any requirements (such as attendance at presentations)
• Coordinate schedule for semester with partner
• Draft memorandum of understanding
• Work out transportation arrangements

Short term:
• Formalize agreement with community partner
• Finalize plans with partner (deliverables, schedule, location of meetings, expectations for evaluation)


The following resources will also help you get started on designing a service-learning course:

  • Service Learning/Social Justice Curriculum Development Framework Source: The Service Learning Institute, California State University, Monterey Bay
    Click here to view article

  • Eyler, J., Giles, Jr., D. E., Stenson, C. M., & Gray, C. J. (2001). At a glance: What we know about the effects of service learning on college students, faculty, institutions, and communities, 1993-2000: Third Edition. Vanderbilt University.
    Click here to view article
  • The Big Dummy’s Guide to Service Learning
    Frequently asked questions about service-learning that addresses both faculty and programmatic issues, and includes a list of “101 Ideas for Combining Service and Learning” in various disciplines.
    Click here to view article

  • Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (1995). A service-learning curriculum for faculty. Michigan Journal for Community Service-Learning, 2, 112-122.
    Click here to view article
  • The University of Maryland’s PARE model for planning effective and successful service-learning projects
    Click here to view article
  • Principles of Good Practice for Service-Learning Pedagogy
    Excerpted from
    Howard, Jeffery, ed. (2001). Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning: Service-Learning Course Design Workbook, University of Michigan, OCSL, pp. 16-19.
    Click here to view article
  • Seifer, S. D., & Connors, K. eds. (2007). Faculty toolkit for service-learning in higher education. Scotts Valley, CA: National Service-Learning Clearinghouse.
    Click here to view article
  • “Recommendations and Suggestions Regarding Risk Management with Service Learning”- Fact sheet on liability and risk management for service-learning
    Click here to view article
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Last Updated: 2/6/13