Service Learning

How do I prepare my students for Service Learning?

Community-based learning projects require that students engage in a more independent learning experience. In order to ensure the safety of our students, it's important to introduce them to working in the community. Many faculty will add this information into their syllabi so students have it as a reference. The information below offers practical guidelines for how to do just that. Guidelines 1-4 can also be found at their corresponding link on the left menu bar.

1- Developing and Delivering Student Orientation
2- Orientation Checklist
3- Guiding Principles to Reduce Risk in Service Learning
4- What are the merits of Service Learning for Professional Development?


1- Developing And Delivering Student Orientation

The Orientation Checklist (below) is a tool to help you properly prepare service-learning students for their community experience. This checklist, more than any other, can be easily adapted to each campus and each service-learning placement. The orientation should provide students with a clear understanding of the work they will be doing, the risks associated with that work, and how they should conduct themselves when they are working in the community as part of a class assignment. The information and specifics you need in order to put together a comprehensive student orientation will come from the conversations you have had with the community-based organization. You should also discuss what information each party will cover so that time is not spent duplicating efforts. All the responses to the questions in the Checklist for Community-Based Organization Visit will guide your orientation.

It is recommended that two orientations occur:

The First Orientation, prior to the first day of service, gives students information about the community-based organization and the nature of their service placements. This should take place on campus, either in class or in a required outside-of-class meeting.

The Second Orientation, presented by the community-based organization, should take place at the site where students will be working. This is the simplest, most effective way for students to become aware of emergency policies, accident procedures, and the rules and regulations of the site.

Since orientation addresses all the factors students should be made aware of before accepting the service-learning placements, all students should attend both orientations in order to be permitted to serve. While we don't want to 'scare' students out of participating, all parties are best protected if placement details are presented, any questions asked, and students sign an informed consent that ensures they are aware of the nature of their placement and agree to the terms. The informed consent policy is contained within the Learning Plan where it is most effectively used as both a learning tool and a risk management tool.

2- Orientation Checklist

Orientation Provided Before First Day of Service

Details related to serving at the site:

  • Mission of the Community-Based Organization (CBO)
  • Who does the Community-Based Organization serve?
  • What programs / service does the CBO offer?
  • Specific policies and procedures related to the service placement.
  • Review any proof of eligibilities that is needed (fingerprinting, background check). Who will cover the cost of this? Where should students do to have fingerprinting done?
  • Discuss CBO volunteer expectations.
  • Provide students with a job description detailing the work they will do (outline the scope of work). Explain the types of activities that are "outside" the scope of work.
  • Give the students their site supervisor's contact information.
  • Will the students need to meet with the site supervisor prior to beginning their services?
  • How closely will the students be supervised?
  • Who do the students call if they cannot make their schedule service or will be late?
  • Discuss appropriate attire when providing service (based on CBO standards).
  • Provide specific training for the position.
  • What will the students learn? What qualities or skills will the students develop?
  • Review confidentially rules for the site. Are pictures or video allowed?
  • Review the risks associated with this placement. (Risks should directly reflect those listed in the Learning Plan.)
  • Explain what students should do it harassment occurs. Whom do they contact?
  • Talk about service schedule (total number of hours, days and times of the week, etc.). Also discuss beginning and end of service. Students should not volunteer outside of schedule hours until requirement is complete.
  • Who can the students contact with questions or concerns about their placement (CBO contact and campus contact)?
  • Is there a CBO training or orientation to attend? Where? When? How long?
  • Where do students check in at the site on their first day?
  • How are students' service hours recorded? (For their course and the CBO)
  • Give location of site and directions via personal car or public transportation. Where will students park if they drive? What is the cost associated with parking or taking public transportation? Emphasize that each student is responsible for getting to and from the site.
  • Who will be evaluating the students' service? Is there a formal evaluation the CBO will fill out?

On site Orientation - Must Occur On or Before First Day of Service

Site Specific Information:

  • Tour of site - location of restroom and break room.
  • Where, and with whom, do students check in each time they arrive at the site?
  • Where is the logbook kept (to record service hours)?
  • Review safety rules of the site, location of emergency exits, and emergency procedures.
  • Introduce students to other staff at the agency.
  • Emergency Contact Information: ask students' permission to share with university.
  • Review accident procedures at the site and what to do if a student it client is hurt.

3- Guiding Principles to Reduce Risk in Service Learning

The following guiding principles are considered best practices throughout the field and apply to all the parties involved in service-learning experiences: service-learning staff, faculty members, community-base organizations and service-learning students. Since each service-learning course is different, these guidelines are not intended to be all encompassing. However, these do's and don'ts apply to most situations. (If you feel something included here is prohibitive to the service-learning experience you hope to offer to your students, please have a discussion that includes the faculty member, the service-learning office, and a university rank manager.) The intent of these guidelines is not to prohibit service-learning experiences, but rather, to provide best practices that allow for safe and positive service environments where the risk and liability have been minimized.

The following guiding principles are considered best practices throughout the field and apply to all the parties involved in service-learning experiences: service-learning staff, faculty members, community-base organizations and service-learning students. Since each service-learning course is different, these guidelines are not intended to be all encompassing. However, these do's and don'ts apply to most situations. (If you feel something included here is prohibitive to the service-learning experience you hope to offer to your students, please have a discussion that includes the faculty member, the service-learning office, and a university rank manager.) The intent of these guidelines is not to prohibit service-learning experiences, but rather, to provide best practices that allow for safe and positive service environments where the risk and liability have been minimized.

For Service-Learning Staff and Faculty

  • 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 in Learning Plan, and have their site supervisor(s) and faculty members review and sign it as well.
  • DO build a working relationship with your risk manager and contracts and procurement officer.
  • DO be aware that special insurance policies for professional coverage are available for specific students and programs. (i.e nursing, social work).
  • 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 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 individual and faculty members or departments are aware of the students' whereabouts or activities while performing their service learning.
  • 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.

For Service-Learning Syllabi and Class Discussions

  • 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 role 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 (how many hours total / per week / per term).
  • 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, test papers, and in-class presentations.
  • DO include an explanation of what will be evaluated and how it will be evaluated. (In terms of 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.

4- Professional Development

What are the merits of Service Learning for Professional Development?

The scholarship of engagement is a field ripe for faculty creativity and input. You have many options for research, publication, and professional development. Click on "Promotion, Tenure and Retention " for specific suggestions on research and inclusion in your dossier. Click publishing opportunities to connect you to a variety of professional journals (both print and electronic) seeking submissions of scholarly work. And remember, the Service Learning Program frequently hosts workshops, so check the SL Homepage for updates!

Promotion, Tenure, and Retention:

How to include Service Learning, Civic Engagement, and Community Service in the Dossier and Where! - Word

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