Frequently Asked Questions
Maybe. Service-learning is part of a range of community-engaged pedagogies. These pedagogies recognize a common set of features to achieve the outcomes and benefits of community-based teaching and learning. At IU Bloomington, service-learning has described the full range of community-engaged teaching and learning. The Service-Learning Program uses a model of Community-Engaged Learning which describes a developmental path for integrating community-based teaching and learning into curricular activities. Contact Michael Valliant to learn more about this model.
Without a doubt, a service-learning class does require extra time to plan, meet with your community partner(s), work out logistics, orient students toward the service, visit the site(s), and structure regular reflection and evaluation. There are, however, ways to minimize the amount of time—by building on community connections you already have, incorporating the service into your research agenda, condensing student projects into teams, working with a single community
However you evaluate, grading should be based on learning from the service, not on the service itself. Many instructors don’t change their evaluation methods, but assume that the service heightens student learning on traditional measures, and that monitoring attendance is all that’s necessary. A well integrated course will include mechanisms for understanding how service contributes to or enhances learning course content. You might assign pre- and post-service reflections, scaffolded reflections, or specific papers that reflect on and incorporate the service experience. These could be graded for analysis, critical thinking, civic learning and engagement, and other typical criteria.
When a certain pedagogical method serves the learning objectives of the class, instructors require it. Students are rarely asked to “volunteer” to write a paper or take a test. It is important that you let the students know the distinction between volunteering and service (Furco, 1996). In this case, service is not voluntary; it is required as a text – a text of real life experience – for the course. You should convey directly and clearly to your students how the service enhances the subject matter. Students will learn more and be less likely to complain about the extra time required if they understand the relevance of service to course material.
Share up front with your students as much information as possible about the organization and what’s expected. You and your community partner should have tasks and expectations clearly defined. Approach service partnerships as you would when selecting other course content by understanding the community need, service opportunities and how they complement course content, and other expectations of the community partner. Creating a statement of expectations or scope of work can be very helpful in managing the service. Any work you do up front can really ease problems down the road. Ongoing communication is essential to a successful service-learning collaboration. Keeping in close contact with the community partner representatives and your students throughout the semester about the service-learning experience and your students’ performance will help prevent potential problems as the semester progresses.
You’re still in charge of how class time is used. Students can reflect on the experience outside of class through journals, response papers, and more formal papers. However, it is most effective to discuss in class some experiences, problems, and patterns that emerge from the service. And there is evidence that "thoroughly integrate[d] service and academic learning through continuous reflection promote[s] development of the knowledge, skills, and cognitive capacities necessary for students to deal effectively with the complex social issues that challenge citizens." (Eyler, 2002)
That’s something only you can answer. If you are interested in students’ intellectual development and personal growth, this kind of teaching is really wonderful. Because a sizable proportion of students learn best through experience, working with community-based education can enhance your teaching effectiveness. Many instructors feel that service-learning connects them more closely to the community in which they live and that they, themselves, learn from this experience.
When students serve in a community-based organization, they should be covered as volunteers for that agency. Indiana University’s insurance does not cover service-learning off campus, so students need to be informed of potential risks before they volunteer. Have them sign an informed consent form indicating they are aware of risks and will not hold the university liable in the case of an accident. Further information is available from the Service-Learning Program staff and the Office of Risk Management.