For Faculty: Frequently Asked Questions

Is service-learning appropriate for introductory and lower-level courses?
Yes. Students at any level can have substantive and rewarding service-learning experiences. The key is for students to be placed at organizations where they'll have responsibilities appropriate to their skills levels.

Do students have time to do service-learning?
Many students juggle classes, jobs, family obligations, or other activities. Fitting in the 10-20 hours for a service-learning requirement can be a challenge, but we've found that most students can fit that in, and they're glad they did. Some students who didn't think they'd have time decide to continue volunteering after the course ends.

We are diligent about offering service-learning opportunities that meet varying schedule and location needs. If a student seems to be having a particularly difficult time meeting the service-learning requirement in your class, we can help you think about alternative assignments for exceptional cases. When you incorporate service-learning into a course, you should adjust the workload of readings and other assignments, in recognition of the time students will also spend working in the community. We are always happy to review your syllabus with you if you have any questions or concerns.

Should I require service-learning in my course, or make it optional?
Either can work well, and there are pros and cons to each approach. (When service-learning is optional, you would allow students to choose a different assignment, such as a research paper.) When service-learning is required in a class, all students will have a shared experience to draw on during class discussions. This will make it easier to facilitate students' service-learning reflection and discussions. The downside to required service-learning is that you may send some students into the community who don't really want to be there.  If you decide to require service-learning in your course, be sure to mention that in the course description, so students know about it when they register.

How should I grade students on their service-learning? What is reflection?
Think of students' community work as a "lived text" for the course. Their time spent at community organizations is somewhat like required readings. When you assess students' reading assignments, you don't simply assess whether they've done the readings or not—you assess what they learned from the readings, and how well they demonstrate that in exams and papers. The same is true when assessing service-learning.

Your service-learning class should require students to discuss what they're learning from their community work, and how that connects with other course texts, lectures, and discussions. This type of assignment is commonly known as reflection. Reflection sets service-learning apart from other types of volunteer work.

Should I require a minimum number of volunteer hours? How many and why?
Most service-learning instructors do require students to complete a minimum number of community-work hours during the semester. This is similar to requiring class attendance or participation. We recommend that students be asked to commit 10-20 hours per semester to their community organization. By setting a minimum number of hours, you help assure that students do enough community work to fulfill the course's learning objectives, and that the community organization receives enough benefit for the time and effort they invest in hosting a student.

How do I make sure service-learning is well integrated into my class?
First, be sure service-learning isn't an "add-on" to the course. For it to be as effective as possible, it should be woven into the curriculum throughout the semester. Reflection assignments are the most effective way to integrate service-learning into your course. Reflection helps students connect their community work to the course content.

When students are asked at the end of the semester how service-learning could have been better integrated into their class, a common response is that more time could have been spent in class discussing students' experiences in the community. We strongly encourage you to keep this in mind as you plan the course. Whether you require service-learning or make it optional, think about the ways students can learn from each other through these discussions.

What if something happens to a student, or if their actions cause damages to someone else?
Every service-learning student will need to complete a Waiver and Release Agreement for Student-Participants in HPU-Sponsored Event and Student’s Liability Release, Waiver, Discharge and Covenant Not to Sue, in which they acknowledge "that there are risks involved in doing community work and that the University does not assume any responsibility for injuries or loss to my personal property while I am participating in a community organization."

What challenges do students encounter when doing service-learning?
During the semester, students will likely share with you the challenges they're experiencing. These could include delays in hearing back from their organization and getting started with their work, difficulty fitting in their required hours, dissatisfaction with the work they're being asked to do, or a lack of clarity about their role in the organization. If students approach you with concerns about their organization, you should work to address the situation as quickly as possible, either by communicating directly with the student's supervisor at the organization. Because a semester goes by quickly, it's imperative that any issues be resolved promptly. This will also help students maintain a positive attitude about their service-learning assignment and the course in general.

What are some of the challenges encountered by faculty doing service-learning?
When you first teach with service-learning, you may have questions about how to integrate it into your course. The following are challenges service-learning faculty sometimes have to manage:

  • how to reduce other parts of the course workload to accommodate service-learning
  • how to create new assignments to facilitate students' reflections on what they learn in the community
  • how to assess students' performance on those assignments
  • how to build flexibility into the curriculum, so students can discuss and explore unexpected experiences in the community
  • how to answer students' service-learning questions when you don't have ready answers

You may also have concerns about the additional time it may take to manage the service-learning component of your course.  Please feel free to contact Billie Jo Day, AmeriCorps*VISTA with any questions or concerns at bjday@hpu.edu or 566-2446.

*Adapted from the University of Minnesota