Decide how you will incorporate community service into your course. Course service options can range from a one-time special project, to a twenty (or more) hour commitment to an agency or public school throughout the course of the semester. You can offer the option as extra-credit, an alternative to a library research paper or other required project, or a requirement for course completion.
As Albert Einstein once said, "A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labours of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received"1. It is time to exert yourself, as your Service-Learning experience can pave the way to profound change in your life and in the lives of others.
With service sites or activities in mind, consider your goals and motives in using the application. What are you trying to accomplish for your students, yourself, and the community? Review your course objectives to determine those that can be linked to service. List two or three specific and measurable service and learning goals and objectives for your initiative.
Determine how community service might be helpful in enriching learning in your discipline. Service-Learning can be effectively used in every academic discipline. Some applications require a little more imagination than others, and often the best are not immediately obvious. Brainstorm about the application potential to your course. Think about how your course content connects with the community, and what kinds of volunteer opportunities might be available at that linkage point.
Discuss and identify community placements that offer experiences that are relevant to your course. With over 200 possible placements, you will be able to find ample sites appropriate for your course. There also may be faculty from your discipline with Service-Learning experience that can provide input and direction.
Once you have chosen how Service-Learning will be incorporated, review and redesign the syllabus. To be successfully integrated, the service experience must be more than just an “add on.” Identify some readings that might tie the service to specific objectives. Allocate class time for discussion of the experience even if all students do not participate. By consciously committing to integrating service, up-front and in writing, you are on your way to a successful implementation.
Link the service experience to your academic course content through deliberate and guided reflection.
Reflection can be in the form of journals, essays, class presentations, analytic papers, art work, drama, dialogue, or any other expressive act. The key to effectiveness is structure and direction. The nature and type of reflection determines it’s own outcome. An unstructured personal journal or group discussion is a great way to elicit effective disclosure. More specific academic outcomes will result from structuring these exercises with specific curriculum related questions. For example, a biology student might be directed to comment on ecological balance in her journal account of an exotic plant removal project at the Desert Botanical Gardens.
A more powerful, and in many ways more effective, approach is the purposeful dialogue or a class "Reflective Session." This dialogue provides an opportunity for students to share experiences and exchange ideas and critical thoughts about the information being shared.
The real advantage of the group based reflective sessions over the independently written forms is its power to develop a sense of community, which is one of the general goals of Service-Learning. Whatever form of reflection is chosen, it is important to do it early in the experience to assure that students understand the process. It should then be followed up regularly to monitor their progress.
Evaluate Service-Learning results as you would any other academic product. Remember, students are being graded on their learning, not their hours of service. Many of us feel uncertain when it comes to evaluating or assessing the outcomes of experiences we did not completely structure or present. Try these proven techniques:
1 Einstein, Albert. The Harper Book of Quotations. Fitzhenry, Robert I. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1993. 220. Print.
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