Frequently Asked Questions
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- based organization and working with an Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE). Many instructors report that, like any course, a service-learning course gets much easier each time it is taught.
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. On the other hand, you might assign specific papers that reflect on and incorporate the service experience. These could be graded for analysis, critical thinking, 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. 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. Organizations should have tasks and expectations clearly defined. 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’s most effective to discuss in class some experiences, problems, and patterns that emerge from the service.
That’s something only you can answer. If you’re 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 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.