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Service Learning


Service learning is a pedagogical form that offers students immediate opportunities to apply classroom learning to support the efforts of public or nonprofit entities that work for positive change in the community. Through service learning, students apply what they learn in class to community-defined issues. Students learn practical applications of their studies and become actively-contributing citizens and community members through the service they perform. Through directed critical reflection, students learn to integrate their learning about community needs with the learning goals of the class.

Service learning can be incorporated into a class by working with a wide range of entities, including schools, university departments, community-based organizations. It can involve a group of students, a project in a class, or an entire course.

Service Learning Definition

Service-learning is a "course-based, credit-bearing educational experience that allows students to (a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and (b) 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 civic responsibility" (Bringle & Hatcher, 1995, p. 112).

Bringle, R., & Hatcher, J. (1995). A service learning curriculum for faculty. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 2, 112-122.



Students can gain:
  • practical experience that challenges their perceptions and assumptions
  • opportunities to apply classroom learning in real-world settings
  • deeper understanding and commitment to civic engagement
  • awareness of the broad range of life experiences
  • a better sense of personal efficacy, personal identity, and moral development
  • leadership, communication, and team work skills
Faculty can gain:
  • increased student understanding of course material
  • innovative and creative teaching methods
  • increased student engagement and motivation
  • establish connections between theory and application
  • promote an environment that encourages personal and civic responsibility
Community-based organizations can gain:
  • valuable service accomplished by enthusiastic and creative volunteers
  • strong partnerships with schools, colleges and universities
  • access to resources of education institutions
  • creative ways to expand capacity
  • education of students about the mission and work of the organization
  • positive exposure in the community
  • future lifelong volunteers and contributors
  • help with planning, evaluation, and advancing the organization's mission
Schools, colleges and universities can gain:
  • motivated students who report improved satisfaction with college
  • expanded learning opportunities
  • strong partnerships with community-based organizations
  • access to community resources
  • positive exposure in the community
  • stronger student-faculty relationships
  • better retention and graduation rates

Course Planning

CSL is committed to helping faculty and instructors integrate service learning into their course objectives. Whether you are new to service learning or you want to improve what you have already been doing, the following resources will be a great start.

Ways we can help

Individual Consultations
Contact us to set up an appointment.

Assistance with Community Partnerships
We can help identify potential community partners or facilitate meetings with representatives from community organizations. Making this arrangement one semester in advance allows enough time to fully explore mutually beneficial working relationships and best ways to achieve academic outcomes.

Professional Development Workshops and Events
We offers a lecture series and events (roundtable discussions and workshops). Such structured events can help you create partnerships with community organizations and take away new ideas and resources.

Review Sample Syllabi
To gain a better idea of how service can work in your course, feel free to peruse sample syllabi of courses submitted by KU faculty as well as a clearinghouse of syllabi from Campus Compact.

Faculty listserv
Please contact the CSL, csl@ku.edu, to be added to this listserv.

CSL Library
Resources are available in hardcopy in the Center's library. To check out any of our books or journals, contact us at csl@ku.edu or at 785-864-0960.


Service Learning Steps to Success for Faculty

1. Find ways service learning can meet your learning goals.
  • Which areas of the curriculum could best benefit from real-world experience?
  • Identify what your class has to offer.
  • What can your students do to advance the mission of a non-profit organization?
  • Consider the kinds of service learning in which you'd like to participate.
2. Decide if you want to work closely with a few organizations or more loosely with many.
  • Will students be integrated into established volunteer processes, or will you work with the organization to define a project?
  • Student reflection on service is critical for learning.  What reflection tools will you assign?
  • Getting started is often the hardest part. Begin with simple projects, then build.
3. Plan collaboratively.
  • Get to know your community partners.
  • Community needs for service must be community defined.
  • Discuss goals and challenges early.
  • Address learning goals for the students and service goals for the organization.
  • Assign service requirements of 20+ hours per student. Your students will experience more, and the agency will get a better return on their investment.
4. Create well-defined roles.
  • Work with the organization to define the student assignment, supervision, and reporting.
  • Students will be more motivated if they have choices and a role in planning their involvement.
  • Make sure students understand and respect the responsibilities associated with volunteering.
  • Many organizations rely on good volunteers to function.
5. Monitor progress, evaluate, & adapt.
  • Determine how you and your partner organization will evaluate and/or document student service.
  • Keep evaluation and documentation measures simple.
  • Ask students and the organization what is working and what is not.
  • Discuss with your community partner what improvements could be made for a better collaboration.
  • Community organizations cannot always fulfill student needs for hours and may have to turn away students seeking last-minute volunteer opportunities.


Integrating and Assessing Service Experiences

Service learning experiences not only help students apply what they are learning in class, but can challenge their values, biases, and assumptions as well as help them shape their identities as citizens.

The first points to consider when incorporating service is that students need to know what service learning is, the intended outcomes or the purpose of their service, and what to expect from their experiences.

These resources will give you ideas about what to include in your syllabus as well as how to integrate ideas of civic responsibility.

Assessing Civic Responsibility

Risk Management

Assessing Program Risk Issues

Integrating service learning into curricula involves various logistical considerations, and KU faculty and instructors are responsible for taking care to minimize risk for the participating students. While students are responsible for themselves outside the classroom as they carry out assignments, instructors should administer due diligence, as outlined below, while creating a project, determining student orientation and supervision, and planning transportation.
(Unless otherwise noted, the following information was adapted from a risk management guide by Duquesne University.)

1. Creating a Safe Service Learning Project

Even when the students become volunteers for another agency, the instructor should be familiar with the service site and monitor student progress. Consider the steps below to outline potential student risks and mediate those risks.

Anticipating Risks

Risk Management and Liability in Higher Education Service-Learning

  • What policies and procedures are in place at the agency to protect their staff, volunteers and service-learners from risks due to contact with agency clients?
  • What are the potential risks to service-learners of having contact with agency clients?
  • Will students ever work unsupervised with clients?
  • In what areas of the agency property is risk higher for students? Certain areas of facilities could be "off-limits" to students without agency supervision.
  • What are the potential risks to service-learners of traveling to and from their homes, the campus, and the agency?
  • Is public transportation accessible?
  • Are escorts needed or provided for staff, volunteers, or service-learners to safely travel from the agency to public transportation, parking lot, etc.?
  • What are the potential risks to agency staff and clients of having student service-learners on-site, and how might they be minimized?
  • What are the existing requirements for staff and volunteers at the agency? For example, do they need to be fingerprinted, have criminal background checks, and be tested for tuberculosis or other communicable diseases?
  • Does the community agency cover insurance for volunteers?
  • How is confidentiality of students, agency staff, and clients assured? Are there policies in place for confidentiality?
  • Are pictures or video allowed?
  • What is the scope of work the students will do? Most often, harm occurs when people involved in service-learning work outside of their intended scope.
  • What are the risks if students exceed the scope of the agreed-upon project: to the student; to the clients of the agency; to the University; to the agency?
If students work beyond the scope of the project, any harm incurred is not the liability of the University or agency. If an agency staff person asks students to perform work outside of the scope agreed upon, students should decline the request. If a student requests that the agency allow him or her to work outside of the project scope, the agency can evaluate that request but agrees at the agency's risk.
Risk Mediation
  • What are procedures and policies unique to the community-based setting? (For example, are criminal background clearances required? Are there confidentiality agreements needed? Must students sign-in and sign-out of the facility?)
  • What preparation should students have before working in this setting? (For example, preparation might include client-specific training, cultural sensitivity training, confidentiality training, etc.)
  • When will this preparation occur? Moreover, who is responsible for offering the resources necessary for preparation?
  • What are the procedures if an incident or injury should occur?
Communicating Risk Mediation
  • Work with agency staff to identify risks and mediation procedures specific to this partnership/project.
  • Inform students of the risks associated with the partnership/project and the identified mediation procedures through:
    1. In-class orientation (described in section 2)
    2. On-site orientation (described in section 2)
Implement Risk Mediation
  • How will you remind students to take necessary precautions each time they are at their community-based site?
  • How will you confirm with agency staff that they will take agreed-upon precautions each time they host students?


2. Determining Student Orientation and Supervision

Each service learning course should incorporate two types of orientation: in-class and on-site. In-class orientation helps the students best fulfill their roles as volunteers and understand the relationship of the service work to the course learning outcomes. On-site orientation allows the community partner to explain their mission and any site-specific requirements and considerations.

Student In-Class Orientation
  • As applicable, discuss the partner organization's mission, services, and clients
  • Explain the course's learning objectives and how they tie to the planned service
  • Describe any necessary steps for student service (application, interview, background checks)
  • For students selecting or initiating their own service, require a Student and Agency Service Agreement to be turned in at the beginning of the project. This contract shows that both the student and the agency have agreed upon the service that the students will be undertaking.
  • Unless the organization where the student will be volunteering already has an established service hours tracking system, require that your students complete a timesheet for you.
Student On-Site Orientation
The on-site orientation will be held by the partner organization, but faculty should be aware of what students will be learning during this orientation. Discussion of both in-class and on-site orientations should occur between faculty and the community partner before service begins. Potential topics for on-site orientation could be:
  • Site tour and staff introductions.
  • How students check in and/or sign in when they arrive.
  • Rules students should follow for their own safety and to protect organizational staff and clients.
  • Procedures students should follow in the case of accident or injury.
  • Agency and faculty contact information the student can use during the span of their service.


3. Planning Transportation

Transportation to service efforts should be the responsibility of the student. Liability for faculty increases when transportation is organized for the students. When organized transportation is required, KU General Counsel prefers that "University employees drive Motor Pool vehicles for mandatory field trips. The State Auto Liability Insurance policy will provide primary coverage for employees' cars being used, but a student driver's own insurance is primary coverage for claims involving the student driving his or her own car." - from the KU General Counsel FAQ page


State and University Policies that Relate to Service Learning Risks

  1. Kansas Tort Claims Act: Per Kansas Statue 75-6109, state employees are indemnified against damages as long as they act within the scope of their employment, cooperate in good faith in the defense of a claim or action, and aren't found to have acted or failed to act because of actual fraud or malice. "As a State employee you will receive legal representation by an attorney without cost to you, and any judgments are paid by the State for lawsuits about actions within the scope of your employment." - quoted from the KU General Counsel FAQ page
  2. Kansas "Good Samaritan" Law: Per Kansas Statute 60-3601, unpaid volunteers working for a nonprofit organization that maintains general liability insurance are not liable to third parties for their actions "unless . . . [the volunteer's] conduct constitutes willful or wanton misconduct or intentionally tortious conduct."  While the volunteer is not personally liable, the nonprofit organization is liable for "damages caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of its volunteer[s]."
  3. KU Human Subjects Policy states that, "Researchers whose project is sponsored in any way by the University of Kansas or conducted by anyone connected with the University of Kansas (this includes all Lawrence Campus students, faculty, administrators, and other employees) whose research involves interviews, observation, surveys or any other form of information gathering about humans, either as individuals or members of groups"  must obtain approval by the Human Subjects Committee-Lawrence (HSCL)." Exceptions can be made for "accepted and established service relationships between professionals and clients where the activity is designed solely to meet the needs of the client."
  4. KU Health & Safety Policy states, "All faculty members and others involved in instructional and/or research programs are responsible for seeing that the students in their courses and laboratories are properly trained and educated about applicable safety and health policies and practices prior to exposures to instructional or research hazards." This policy also states, "All University-related facilities, activities, and programs shall be designed, conducted, and operated in a manner which reasonably protects human health and safety.  Adherence to these principles is necessary in order for the University to achieve its mission of providing quality instruction, research, and services."
  5. KU General Counsel, regarding transportation, states: "Preferably, have University employees drive Motor Pool vehicles for mandatory field trips. The State Auto Liability Insurance policy will provide primary coverage for employees' cars being used, but a student driver's own insurance is primary coverage for claims involving the student driving his or her own car." - from the KU General Counsel FAQ page


Service Learning Do's and Don't

Do's and Don't for Faculty
(From Best Practices for Managing Risk in Service Learning, California State University, 2002.)
  • DO provide campus- and community-based organization orientations to familiarize students with policies, procedures and risks involved in the specific service activities they will be providing and with the populations they serve.
  • DO discuss Learning Plans with students so they fully understand their responsibilities, learning objectives and service objectives, and are informed of the risks associated with their service-learning placements. Students should sign the Learning Plan, and have their site supervisor(s) and faculty member review and sign it as well.
  • DO build a working relationship with your risk manager and contracts and procurement officer.
  • DO conduct site reviews before, during and after a service-learning course is offered.
  • DO understand that faculty members can be individually named in lawsuits and should play an active role in ensuring safe and positive service-learning experiences for their students.
  • DO know that faculty members will be indemnified and protected by the university/state in the case of a lawsuit, so long as the faculty member was acting within the scope of his or her work.
  • DO offer alternative placements and/or opportunities for students in service-learning courses to avoid potential risks.
  • DO meet the special safety needs of any student.
  • DO be aware that there are state and federal regulations regarding fingerprinting and background checks for those students whose service-learning placements are in organizations that works with children, the elderly, or persons with disabilities.
  • DO know when each student is scheduled to provide service and be able to verify that the student did provide the service at the community-based organization site.  This will help to determine who holds liability for student behavior or student injury at any given time.
  • DO know where emergency contact information for students is kept, and what the procedures are at the university and at the community-based organization site if an emergency occurs.  If the community-based organization asks the student for emergency contact information, a copy should be kept at the university for the duration of the service-learning experience.
  • DON'T assume that students are automatically covered for liability through the university or community-based organization when they enroll in courses and participate in service-learning activities.
  • DON'T assume that campus and site orientations are consistent; they vary among courses, campuses, departments and community-based organizations.
  • DON'T assume that students are aware of such issues as liability or sexual harassment policies. Both campus and site orientations are necessary to familiarize students with any potential risks involved with service-learning activities.
  • DON'T assume that student fees will automatically absorb incidental costs for fingerprinting and background checks, or that the community-based organization will pay these fees. They can be an additional financial burden for a particular placement.
  • DON'T arrange travel for students. Liability is greatly reduced if students are responsible for their own transportation to and from the service site.
Do's and Don't for Syllabi
  • DO include a description of the service as an expressed goal.
  • DO include a description of the nature of the service placement and/or project.
  • DO specify the roles and responsibilities of students in the placement and/or service project.
  • DO include whether or not the service project/experience is mandatory.  If it is mandatory, offer an alternative for students who cannot do, for any reason, the specific type of service you have identified.
  • DO include time requirements (20 hours total per semester).
  • DO include community-based organization contact information.
  • DO identify the needs of the community that will be met through this service placement.
  • DO explain how students will be expected to demonstrate what they have learned in the placement, such as journals, term papers, and in-class presentations.
  • DO include an explanation of what will be evaluated and how it will be evaluated. (In terms of the course grade).
  • DO explain how the course assignments link the service-learning placement to the course content.
  • DO require a Learning Plan for each student that defines the scope of service to ensure the faculty member, student and site supervisor meet educational objectives, create measurable outcomes, and understand the risks inherent in the particular placement.
  • DO explain, if appropriate, the expectations for the public dissemination of the students' work.
  • DON'T distribute a syllabus that doesn't clearly explain or define the service-learning goals, objectives, criteria and requirements.
  • DON'T wait until the beginning of the quarter/semester to determine with which community- based organization to partner. Plan ahead.
  • DON'T allow students to randomly select their sites for service-learning placements.
  • DON'T allow students to complete their service in only one or two sessions, but rather distribute the service over a consistent period of time.
  • DON'T wait until the end of the term to clarify the reflective process for student evaluation and learning outcomes.
Pathways to Service


The Pathways to Service describe the variety of ways people can use their knowledge, skills, and talents to improve their communities. These pathways can overlap, but allow students experiences that help them define pathways are the best fit for them.

Faculty using pathways can consider the diverse experiences and projects that might enhance students' learning while benefitting communities.


Works with those in need of assistance or addresses a need of the broader community

     Assist senior citizens with their taxes
     Provide help in homeless shelter
     Assist a local agency with a marketing plan or social media


Mentor / Educator
Guides others in their development and learning

     Provide music/dance/art lessons
     Tutor, mentor or coach youth
     Teach English as a second language


Creates awareness and action on issues that impact the community

     Organize a letter writing campaign or petition drive
     Produce a public service announcement raising awareness about an issue
     Design and display posters highlighting a cause and need for action


Policy Shaper
Influences and shapes decisions for the public interest through policies and laws

     Lobby on behalf of a community issue
     Draft legislation that helps or protects the community
     Run for political office


Gathers and presents findings that inform action on issues that affect the community

     Conduct energy audits in public buildings
     Test water to assist with restoration efforts
     Conduct research for a community organization


Social Innovator
Uses knowledge and skills to create ideas and strategies that address social issues

     Create an online tool to help citizens report broken infrastructure
     Build an app that shows all of the accessibility entrances on campus



Adapted from the Pathways of Public Service and Civic Engagement, Haas Center for Public Service, Stanford University.

Models of Service*

"Pure" Service Learning

  • Courses that send students out into the community
  • Intellectual core is the idea of service to communities
  • Not typically lodged in any one discipline.

Discipline-Based Service Learning

  • Students are expected to have a presence in the community throughout the semester
  • Use course content as a basis for their analysis and understanding.

Problem-based Service Learning (PBSL)

  • Students (or teams of students) relate to the community like a "consultant" working for a "client"
  • Work with community members to understand a particular community problem or need
  • Presumes that students will have some knowledge they can draw upon to make recommendations or develop a solution to the problem

Capstone Service Learning Courses

  • Students draw upon the knowledge they have obtained throughout their course work and combine it with relevant service work
  • Excellent way to help students make the transition from the world of theory to the world of practice
  • Helps establish professional contacts and experience

Service Learning Internships

  • Like traditional internships, these experiences are more intense than typical service-learning courses
  • Students work as many as 10-20 hours a week in a community setting
  • Have regular and on-going reflective opportunities to help students analyze their new experiences using discipline based theories
  • Further distinguished from traditional internships by their focus on reciprocity: the idea that the community and the student benefit equally from the experience.

Undergraduate Community-Based Action Research

  • Similar to an independent study option for the rare student who is highly experienced in community work
  • Students work closely with faculty members to learn research methodology while serving as advocates for their communities.

*Adapted from Heffernan, Kerrissa. Fundamentals of Service-Learning Course Construction. RI: Campus Compact, 2001 pp. 2-7, 9.

Key Elements*

Genuine Community Needs

  • Students engage the community as partners
  • Identify needs and avoid making assumptions as to what is best for those being served
  • This process helps students:
    • Understand the project's beneficiaries
    • Strengthens relationships between students and the larger community
    • Generates service activities with a tangible impact

Connections to Learning Objectives

  • Service learning doesn't merely supplement existing curricula; it plays an integral role in the learning process
  • Practitioners carefully tie projects to specific learning objectives, often connecting multiple subjects
  • Learning becomes experiential and applied, deepening students' understanding of the material, how it's used, and why it's important

Student Ownership

  • Students are active partners with strong voices in identifying community needs and planning service activities
  • Play an active role in the evaluation of the project and its impact on the community
  • Empowers students to take control of their learning, develop leadership skills, and take their places as valuable, decision-making members of their communities.


  • Throughout the process, reflection is the key to growth and understanding
  • Students use critical and creative thinking to ensure that the learning makes sense and has meaning for them
  • Reflection activities can be used to assess where students are in the learning process, help them internalize the learning, provide opportunities for them to voice concerns and share feelings, and evaluate the project
  • A common starting point for reflection is having the students ask themselves the following questions:
    • What? (What did we do?)
    • So What? (Why does it matter?)
    • Now What? (What is the next step? What were the effects of our project? What can we do to continue the work we began?)
  • CSL Resources

    Center for Service Learning Library
    Resources are available in hardcopy in the CSL and can be checked out by contacting us at 785-864-0960 or csl@ku.edu. Feel free to come by our office and browse the literature library.

    Workshops and Events
    Whether you are a novice are very experienced with the service learning pedagogy, CSL provides workshops, consultations, and events geared to enhance your course.

    Faculty Listserv
    CSL provides periodic updates on external funding and faculty development opportunities related to service learning and civic engagement via a faculty listserv. Contact Amanda Schwegler if you are interested in being added to this listserv.


    Additional Resources

    Teaching Reflective Writing-Otis College of Art and Design
    Video explaining reflective writing that can easily be applied to service learning or any of your courses.

    Structured Reflection-Campus Compact
    The Campus Compact website offers numerous useful resources, including the above link on using reflection in your course.

    Service Learning Reflection Journal and International Service Learning Reflection Journal-Purdue University
    Academic tools created to help students with service learning and community engagement assignments and projects.

    Northwest Service Academy Reflection Toolkit [pdf]

    10 Tips for Designing Reflection-Patti Clayton [pdf]

    Faculty Toolkit for Service-Learning in Higher Education-Learn and Serve Clearinghouse [pdf]

    Deal Model of Critical Reflection-Patti Clayton [pdf]

*Adapted from "What is Service Learning?" by the National Youth Leadership Council


Why should I use service learning in my classes?
For faculty, service learning:
  • Provides a rewarding, transformative teaching tool,
  • Offers exciting perspectives on the course subject,
  • Underscores faculty efforts to teach course content in diverse settings,
  • Integrates theory and practice,
  • Provides new opportunities for scholarship, funding, and recognition,
  • Connects your knowledge and expertise with the needs of your community,
  • Can initiate relationships with other members of your community, and
  • Keeps teaching and learning fresh.

Service learning can connect traditional academic rigor to this existing passion for civic engagement. It shows students the complexity and applicability of course material, teaches responsibility and cooperation, and motivates students through the chance to help others.  Professors, like their students, take satisfaction in making a difference.

What are the benefits of service learning for students?
Students benefit in many ways from service learning.  It allows them to:
  • Apply course content to real-life situations,
  • Advance their academic goals,
  • Clarify their personal and career goals,
  • Gain practical experience valued by employers,
  • Help meet real community needs,
  • Obtain a deeper understanding of complex social issues,
  • Strengthen their sense of social responsibility,
  • Learn to use reflection to gain meaning from experience,
  • Learn to understand and respect cultural differences and commonalities, and
  • Use their time and talents to make a difference.
Why should we give credit for community service or volunteering?
Credit should be given for learning, not just for volunteering or community service.  In service learning, both service and learning are integral parts of the whole project, and both contribute to a student's intellectual and personal development within the context of a given course. In service learning, the "service" component is designed to provide an opportunity for students to apply and exercise their new knowledge and skills while meeting the needs of others. On the other hand, community service activities are not necessarily tied to the curriculum and, as a result, are often viewed as extracurricular.
How is service learning different from practicum/internship experiences or volunteering?
The goal of an internship/practicum is to provide students a practical work experience in a field of interest to them.  Volunteer opportunities are generally unpaid positions with a local non-profit community agency, where students work because they find the mission of the organization interesting or important. The primary focus of service learning is to provide a deeper understanding of academic course content studied in a particular class through community service.
Does service learning fit into all courses?
While service learning is not right for every course, it's surprising how many disciplines are represented in the growing list of service learning success stories.  Start by considering some of the projects you already include in your course. Could one of those be turned into a service learning opportunity?  Think of the skills you want your students to learn.  Could they develop those skills by working on a project that benefits the community?
Service learning seems to fit into my course. What is the next step in the process? How do I actually include service learning in my course?
Contact the Center for Service Learning. We will work with you individually or direct you to other resources, including workshops, printed material, the Center for Teaching Excellence, and other faculty who do service learning successfully.
How are service learning courses designed?
Collaboratively.  Service learning is intended to help meet the needs of your community partners while also satisfying the academic goals of the course. Therefore, service learning courses should be designed collaboratively, with input from the faculty instructor and a community partner.
I would like to find an agency I can work with for a service learning course I want to offer. Is there a campus resource that can provide me with a list of agencies I can partner with?
The CSL staff has a great deal of experience collaborating with community agencies.  We can help you find the agencies that work the best with your course curriculum.

Another way to find a service partner is to explore collaboration with community or neighborhood groups you are already familiar with or, through them, learn of others. Also, talk with other faculty who teach service learning courses.  The Roger Hill Volunteer Center is another great Lawrence resource.

How do I determine if the needs of the agency are going to fit with the content of my course?
Arrange a visit to the prospective community sites and discuss your course content and objectives with them. After this meeting and exchange of information, you should be able to determine whether you have a good match.
How much time should faculty expect students to devote to the service component?
The number of actual contact hours will vary according to how the service component relates to the rest of the course and the nature of the community partner's needs and conditions. Nevertheless, it should be more than symbolic or an "add-on" activity. Service learning courses should attempt to avoid "one-shot" events (even if they are all-day or all-weekend projects) unless these are parts of a more sustained involvement with the community partner. If service learning is to seriously challenge student perspectives and enhance student learning, then students must develop a sustained relationship and reflect on a prolonged experience.  We recommend that you require no fewer than 15 hours of service in a semester, with 20 - 25 being a good target.  Any requirements above 30 hours become prohibitive for students who already work, have heavy courseloads, or are otherwise committed.
Do all students in a course have to do service or serve at the same site?
Not all students need to serve at the same site. You can use as many or as few agencies as you would like for your service learning experience.  The specific sites, the number of sites, and the times of service will vary according to agency and student schedules, the nature of the course, and the needs the agency serves. This is something that faculty work with students and partners to determine.  Our experience is that working with a greater number of sites requires more coordination on the part of the faculty member and more independence on the part of the students.  However, because most Lawrence agencies are small, we recommend that faculty coordinate with (or at least recommend) a group of 2-4 sites for their students.
Can students find their own service learning sites?
We recommend that instructors work closely with a community partners in developing the service learning component of a course.  In doing so, you assure that the students meet the educational goals of your course by working on projects that truly benefit the community partner.  Neither agencies nor students get the most value from service learning when students suddenly show up at the end of the semester and demand to be given a project for a day.  Also, it may be logistically difficult for even self-motivated students to find and complete substantive placements within a semester, especially if their site requires training or other pre-service preparation (which can range from paperwork to TB tests and background checks).  However, some instructors successfully require students to find their own sites or to develop individual service learning projects.
What should I expect from a community agency?
This varies widely with the type of service learning experience you have designed. With some community agencies a representative needs to be amenable to work with students or at least available as a resource while students are on site. At other agencies, students need to have a contact person willing to set up times to meet and review work they have completed. At a minimum, you should have a contact person, phone number, and agency address. A letter or contract for students and agencies outlining expectations can prevent misunderstandings.
As a faculty member, what would be expected of me?
  • Collaboration with a community partner in preparing the service learning components of your course
  • Guiding and assisting your students as they participate in service learning
  • Building an ongoing relationship with sites where your students had positive experiences
  • Sharing your evaluation of and observations about your experience teaching a service learning course with others, including your colleagues and the Center for Service Learning

Students will have questions about service learning, so use resources on this site, on campus, and elsewhere to educate yourself and your students. Students will also need guidance in choosing a service site, coordinating plans with the site supervisor, and clarifying learning objectives. Students may need guidance on how to take experiences from their service to turn them into knowledge, and this is where group and individual reflection activities fit into the service learning course.

I am so busy already! How do faculty find time to do the "extra" work necessary to design and implement service learning experiences?
In the beginning, service learning will require a little extra time for planning and preparation, but you will find that the benefits strongly outweigh the additional time you spend. Service learning is a means of enhancing classroom learning. Take advantage of already existing resources for curriculum, utilize students and community members as resources, consult with faculty who already teach service learning courses, and of course, contact the Center for Service Learning.  We will consult with faculty on site selection, syllabi revision, student orientation, the design of reflection activities, and assessment/evaluation of student work.
How much can really be accomplished during a semester?
In a course with twenty students, each serving 20 hours during the semester, there are 400 hours of service to the community produced.  You can design projects with community partners that will be completed by different groups of students over several semesters, but for evaluative purposes, each student's involvement should achieve some degree of closure in one semester.  Students can always choose to maintain involvement on their own once the course has finished.
I am teaching a course that fits the definition of service learning. Is there a special designation for service learning courses in the course catalog?
At this time, courses identified as service learning will be announced and advertised on this website, but there is no designation in the course catalog.  If you have a course you would like to have reviewed and listed on the website, please email a copy of the syllabus and pertinent details to the Center for Service Learning.
How can I get students interested in service learning?
For students who are new to service or studying within disciplines that might not offer many community-based options, you may want to begin by asking a student who has already participated in a service learning project to share their experiences with your course to help generate some excitement. Most practitioners agree that the best approach is to bring students into the project from the very beginning. Not all classes are prepared to do this on their first try, so give it some time if necessary. You may ask your community partner(s) to visit your course and discuss service options. The more you involve the students in the planning process, the more ownership they take of the project. Ask students for ideas as to how they would apply what they are learning in the classroom to the community. The key is to capture student interest and connect them to organizations that will help them explore these interests as well as discover new ones.
What do students who have completed a service learning project think about their experience?
Most students will come away with a positive new view of both the subject matter being taught and the service in which they were involved.  Students will feel the best about their service learning experiences if they feel the project is a good use of their time and if they get to use their talents in carrying out their projects.  This is why we encourage faculty to assist their students in finding meaningful service learning projects.
How can we make sure that the "learning" part of service learning happens?
The "learning" part of service learning will happen when the instructor designs the course so that the academic, service, and reflection components form an integrated whole.  Faculty should be able to articulate what they want students to learn in the course and make sure that all components of the course are helping their students achieve that goal.  When this happens, service learning will greatly enhance the students' learning experience, helping them to understand the complexity of the issues they study in the classroom and increasing their ability to apply the knowledge they have learned.
How much time should I spend with service learning in the classroom?
Time should be set aside to teach students about what service learning is, clarify your expectations for them, establish them in their service learning projects, and explain the expected writing assignments.  Some faculty set aside time for student presentations of their service learning experience at the end of the semester.  In addition, you should consider scheduling periodic check-ins on the students' service learning experiences throughout the semester, or planning discussion questions that engage students' ongoing service learning experiences.
How should faculty evaluate student participation in the service component?
There are many ways this can be done. You may consider visiting the service site to conduct limited observations or ask the students' site supervisors to fill out evaluation forms.  Many faculty members rely on sign-up sheets at the site, timesheets, or checklists of specific tasks that students must complete and have certified by the site supervisor.  Other forms of evaluation include reviewing the portfolios or projects students produce through their work at the site. You may also wish to ask others who teach service learning courses which evaluative strategies have worked well for them.  Points related to service learning typically represent 30-40% of the course grade.
What is the reflection component in service learning?
Because structured reflection on the experience is an essential feature of a service learning course, this should be among the elements evaluated by the instructor. Students must reflect on what they've learned from service completed, especially as it relates to the course material.

This can take place in the form of any type of guided reflection: journal entries, papers, discussions, and presentations.  If the format is clearly outlined, then students are graded on both content and technical skills as they would be with any other assignment.

Reflection should also be included during class discussions. This creates a learning situation for all students (as well as the faculty member).  Issues that arise may be important to more than one person.  These discussions are often great learning opportunities.

While students are responsible for both the service and the learning, your assistance in the reflection process will help increase their understanding.  Your assignments and the questions you ask will be critical in helping them connect their experiences inside and outside the classroom to the learning objectives you've set for your course.

Reflection Resources

What are the potential problems?
  • If service learning is mandatory in a course, some students may complain or drop the class. On the other hand, if the project is optional, few or no people could take the opportunity.
  • Each professor must make sure that the service learning project will fit into reasonable time limits and should consider replacing something in the course with the service learning project.
  • Students may have difficulty finding time to do service outside of class. A student may not be able to commit to a certain day or time for community service. Flexibility is the key element here, as is close collaboration with students and community partners.
  • There may be some legal issues with liability to consider. Students should not be placed in a site where they are likely to injure someone or get injured. If a professor is concerned about a liability issue, he or she should contact the college administration.
Are there other issues to be considered?
Yes. Students, faculty and community partners should be aware of other factors that could affect service experiences.

Reliability -Volunteers play an essential role in many understaffed and under-financed community partner organizations. Students must understand that people are counting on them to meet their scheduled commitments.

Sensitivity - Many service learning projects involve students working with people whose backgrounds and experiences are very different from their own. Participants must be very sensitive to the needs and feelings of their partners in the learning experience. Service learning is built upon the concept of mutual learning and respect between all participants.

Ethical Conduct -Students are expected to follow the rules and regulations commonly observed at the service learning site. These include observing the dress code, using good judgment, etc.

Confidentiality - Information concerning various aspects of the community partner organization, including clients, patients, or others, are often covered by strict rules of confidentiality. Supervisors will guide students affected by obligations of confidentiality.

Observations of Unethical Behavior - Students observing possible unethical or illegal conduct should not try to address these situations individually. They should immediately consult with their supervisors or instructor.

Stress - Service learning students often work in settings outside their known environment (e.g. in situations of poverty, illness, and great human need). What they see may be intrinsically sad and depressing. Students should be made to feel that they can discuss feelings with supervisors, professors, or service learning staff to ensure a healthy balance in their lives.

Safety - Students should discuss personal safety issues with supervisors and follow the instructions and procedures of professionals who work in these situations daily.

Do you have sample syllabi I can view?

We do have sample syllabi available. You may also wish to visit Campus Compact's Syllabi Across the Disciplines.

Which community organizations have partnered with KU faculty and students?

The following is a list of some of the community organizations that have partnered with KU faculty and students on service learning projects:

What do other faculty have to say about Service Learning?

Raquel Alexander
Assistant Professor, Accounting and Information Systems

While the student enthusiasm for the class' service learning component has been incredible, the biggest response has been from the AIS Advisory Council. Our alumni and supporters have been quite moved by our students' efforts to provide tax assistance in the community, in Kansas, and across the nation.


Tanya Golash-Boza
Assistant Professor, Sociology

In my classes, service-learning means that students are required to perform community service for twenty hours over the course of the semester, at a list of pre-selected sites. In addition, they must write up field notes and reflections after each community service experience and write a paper based on their service experience at the end of the term. Service-learning is much more than volunteering in the community; it is learning through experience and reflection. Through service-learning, students work with community members who do not walk the halls of privilege, except perhaps to clean or repair them. Students' interactions with community members not only teach them to value the people they may have failed to notice before, but also teach them to question their position in the social hierarchy, turning their skills of critical analysis inwards. Most of all, students realize how much they have yet to learn and how much the world around them has to teach them.


Karen Lombardi
GTA, Education

In my class we talk about many different issues related to equity in education. When students actually put those ideas into practice through service learning, they come to better understand the impact that they can have on the world around them. As future educators, my students are hopeful about the role they will play in shaping the lives of others. But a service learning opportunity makes that hope a reality for them now, while also letting them see the practical constraints to doing this work.


Jan Sheldon
Professor, Applied Behavioral Science

Service learning has enriched my life as a professor, my students' lives, and the people with whom my students work in the community. For thirty years, undergraduate students in the Department of Applied Behavioral Science (the KU Program in Human Development and Family Life) have been able to participate in a senior practicum in a program called the Truancy Prevention and Diversion Program. Recognized as a model program, KU undergraduate students receive instruction and supervised experience that allow them to participate in real-world work in the human service field and to gain the satisfaction of knowing they made a difference in a child's or youth's life. Most of these KU undergraduate students go on to work in the human service field or attend graduate or law school and subsequently report that it was this service learning opportunity as an undergraduate at KU that impacted their lives in meaningful ways. So why is service learning important? Service and learning are life long endeavors that change people's lives. Instilling in our undergraduates not only knowledge and skills but also the understanding and compassion that come from helping others will undoubtedly be our key to a better future!


James A. Sherman
Professor and Former Chair, Applied Behavioral Science

Our undergraduate program provides practicum/service learning experiences for all majors. Thus, students not only learn about the principles of learning and how these principles have been used to help solve human problems, they also get direct experience in helping solve human problems. In the practicum/service learning course that I supervise, for example, undergraduate students spend two semesters teaching children with autism. The students teach children with autism a wide variety of skills: to follow simple instructions, to imitate behaviors demonstrated by their teachers, to identify and label objects and people, to talk to children and adults, and to play with other children. In essence, my service learning practicum in autism provides opportunities for students to test in real life the relevance of what they have previously learned through discussion and reading and to see immediately the direct effects that they can have on the life of a young child who needs their help.

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