Service Learning

 

Meg Gorzycki, Ed.D.

The Basics

Service learning is a teaching strategy that immerses students in community activities wherein they acquire knowledge and skills related to vocational training and civic participation. It aims to improve their understanding of and responses to social conditions and needs.[1] [2]It compels students to reflect deeply on their experiences, study the issues they confront in the line of service, and articulate their findings in a scholarly fashion.[3]

Integrating Service Learning

Service learning immerses students in real-life interventions, whereby they provide a tangible service to others, and wherein their assessments are indicators of personal, professional, and academic growth. [4] The following principles are central to effective integration of service learning into the curriculum.[5]

1.       The purpose of service learning is to learn; it generates academic credit and thus should foster academic growth and be assessed with academic criteria

2.       The critical foundation of effective experiences is a clear and precise rationale for the requirement and a set of attainable and specific outcomes; outcomes are attainable when students have access to the community resource and when time commitments are appropriate in the context of the course

3.       Outcomes may include those related to declarative knowledge, professional and personal formation, thinking and technical skills, valuing of civic engagement, and articulation of knowledge

4.       The service learning should augment existing studies, vocational training, and general academic skills

5.       Service learning is often a partnership with community organizations and so is best facilitated when instructors and supervisors in the field collaborate to set goals and monitor learning

6.       Placement in service environments should follow a criteria regarding student abilities and course objectives

7.       Service learning requires abundant preparation, so students understand what they will encounter and where their obligations and interventions begin and end

8.       Service learning outcomes should be flexible enough to accommodate organic changes in service environment

Sample Objective and Outcomes: Service Learning in Parks and Recreation

Course

Leadership and Urban Park Planning

Course Objective

The purpose of this course is to prepare students for their role as park managers, city planners, and civic leaders who set policy, and procure resources for city parks and urban recreation centers, and supervise the maintenance of urban parks and recreation centers. This course will survey legal, technical, social, and cultural dimensions of urban planning relative to urban parks and recreation centers, and immerse students in projects that foster growth in their knowledge base, thinking sills, articulations skills and team work.

Course Outcomes: Students will…

·         Identify key legislation relative to urban park and recreation center development and management, and trace the processes for regulation and securing funding

·         Compare and contrast urban park systems and explain why some are superior to others

·         Identify the controversies surrounding the development of private recreation centers in urban settings and identify the benefits and detriments of such development

·         Diagram the operations required for urban park management and describe the relationships between key offices in the management from the state to local level

·         Improve their ability to conduct scholarly research and compose scholarly essays

·         Complete 24 hours of service learning and report their learning in a formal paper

Service Learning Assignment Outcomes

·         Students will work with local urban park staff to address health and safety concerns by way of studying needs and concerns and volunteering 24 hours to address them; students will assume duties related to beautification, sanitation, landscaping, and public education

·         Students will document and report their findings, complete reflection papers, and submit a summative report at the end of the semester; they will also share and evaluate their experiences in class

Rubric for Summative Service Learning Report

Criteria

Exemplary (4)

Good (3)

Adequate (2)

Insufficient (1-0)

Background

Extremely clear detailed description of park, its community, management and needs with supportive documents

Clear description of park, its community, management and needs; few documents

Sufficient description of park, its community, management and needs

Poor description of park, its community, management and needs

Service

Exceptional documentation of services provided; clear and insightful commentary on professional and personal experience

Good documentation of services provided; clear and adequate commentary on professional and personal experience

Marginal documentation of services provided; some commentary on professional and personal experience

Poor documentation of services provided; lacks commentary on professional and personal experience

Synthesis

Essay superbly integrates material regarding theory, practice, field study, and analysis

Good integration material regarding theory, practice, field study, analysis and reflection

Inconsistent integration of material regarding theory, practice, field study, analysis and reflection

Poor integration of material regarding theory, practice, field study, analysis and reflection

Significance

Outstanding and abundant insights on the meaning and significance of service in general and parks in particular, with excellent, appropriate recommendations

Good insights on the meaning and significance of service in general and parks in particular, with some clear recommendations

Some insights on the meaning and significance of service in general and parks in particular, few and marginally relevant recommendations

Lacks insights on the meaning and significance of service in general and parks in particular, vague or inappropriate

recommendations

Composition

Outstanding organization, clarity, use of grammar and scholarly citations

Adequate organization and use of grammar and scholarly citations

Inconsistent organization and use of grammar and scholarly citations

Poor organization and use of grammar; lacks or poor use of scholarly citations

Assessing Student Achievement and Growth in Service Learning

Assessments of service learning are chiefly concerned with what students achieved as a result of their activity and reflections on their experiences. Assessments may address declarative knowledge, thinking and technical skills, and changes in values or attitudes. They may also regard the experiences of those that supervised students or who were the recipients of their service. Here are key questions to guide assessments:

1.       Effective assessments are aligned with the stated outcomes of the service learning requirement; questions and prompts used in assessments, (reflection papers, surveys, and exams) must reference those outcomes

2.       A pre-test of attitudes and values and a post-test reveal key changes, especially if students were asked to explain or justify the changes they believed they experiences as a result of their service.

3.       Rubrics help instructors and students stay clear and focused on both the criteria for evaluating service; they also help students distinguish various levels of achievement

4.       The advantage to assessing student achievement incrementally throughout the semester is that students may receive timely and formative progress reports that provide information on how to improve; and, the value of culminating assignments in service learning is that they provide a platform on which students may synthesize their learning and articulate how each discrete part of their experience contributed to a well- integrated learning experience

Using a Likert Scale to Generate Reflection

Scaled responses reveal something about student’s perceptions of their own learning and attitudes towards learning experiences. They are useful components of course evaluations, but not themselves course evaluations. Scaled responses are often best used when accompanied by discussion or writing assignments that require students to explain their responses in detail.

In the following sample of a scaled-response survey, note that the focus of the questions and prompts target the students’ experience and sense of learning. This is different from the students’ perceptions and thoughts about course design, course materials, course management, and instruction.

Sample General Prompts for Student Perceptions of Learning

Rating Scale: 5= Strongly Agree; 4=Mildly Agree; 3=Equally agree and disagree;

2=Mildly disagree; 1=Strongly disagree

1. The assignment improved my understanding of community needs            1  2  3  4  5

2. The assignment improved my ability to study and report findings               1  2  3  4  5

3.  My experience increased my empathy and respect for others                    1  2  3  4  5

4.  My experience advanced my knowledge of how organizations operate      1  2  3  4  5

5.  As a result of my experience, I have improved my teamwork skills              1  2  3  4  5

6.  The experience improved my valuing of civic engagement                           1  2  3  4  5

Integrating Service Learning into Course Evaluations

Essentially, course evaluations provide insights to student experiences relative to curriculum and instruction. They generate data that are suggestive of the course’s strengths and areas of growth. Highly effective course evaluations are thus, instruments that explicitly target student perceptions and thoughts on matters that are central to course objectives and stated outcomes.

Integration of service learning into course evaluations requires instructors to translate the stated service learning outcomes into questions or prompts to be placed in the course evaluation. These questions and prompts may be general in nature or very specific to the course’s actual service learning projects.

The course evaluation questions and prompts may address issues similar to those addressed in student reflection, but to be of any value in conversations regarding the improvement of course design, course materials, course management, and instructional strategies, they must target students’ perceptions and thought on those matters. The following sample survey contains general prompts for service learning evaluation.

Sample General Prompts for Evaluating Service Learning in Course

 

Rating Scale: 5= Strongly Agree; 4=Mildly Agree; 3=equally agree and disagree;

 2=mildly disagree; 1=strongly disagree

1.  The service learning assignment was well-organized                                       1  2  3  4  5

2.  The service learning assignment expectations were clear                            1  2  3  4  5

3. The service learning requirements were aligned with course objectives        1  2  3  4  5

4.  The supervisors in the field were very knowledgeable                                    1  2  3  4  5

5.  The supervisors in the field were very helpful and pleasant                            1  2  3  4  5

6.  Writing requirements of the project improve my articulation skills                   1  2  3  4  5

 Additional Resources and Guides

Carlton College. National Association or Geoscience Teachers. Assessment of Service learning Projects. 

Eberbly Center. Carnegie Mellon. Service Learning.

San Jose State University. Service Learning.

Steinke, P, & Fitch, P. (2007). Assessing service learning. Research & Practice in Assessment.


[1] Astin, A. W. et. al. (2000). How service learning affects students. HIRI, University of California, Los Angeles. Retrieved from

[2] Jacoby, B. (2015). Service-learning essentials: Questions answers, and lessons learned. San Francisco, CA: Wiley & Sons.

[3] Brandes, K, & Randall, G. K. (2011). Service learning and civic responsibility: Assessing aggregate and individual level change. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 23(1), 20-29.

[4] Jacoby, 2015.

[5] Howard, J. (2001). Principles of good practice for service-learning pedagogy. Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning. Summer, 16-19.