Service-Learning & Volunteering

Service-Learning Course Support

Service Learning has been identified as a high-impact educational practice (HIP) by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). The Designing and Delivering Service-Learning Course and Service-Learning Online modules can help you get started.

The Office of Service-Learning and Volunteering are here to support the integration of this pedagogy into your courses by offering:

  • Community Partner and Project Identification: We can connect you with potential service-learning partners who have community-identified issues that align with your course learning objectives. We have an internal community partner list available to faculty by request. E-mail us at for more information.
  • Design and Refine Service-Learning Courses: Individual faculty members interested in developing, redesigning, or strengthening service-learning courses can work with our staff.
  • Student Preparation and Orientation: Our staff can create your student orientation process, a best practice in service-learning courses, to ensure better student experience in service-learning. 
  • Foundations for Communication: We can support you in maintaining strong community partner communications and feedback loops when your time is limited during course delivery.
  • Reflection Resources: We will help design activities for students to connect their experiences to course learning goals, the larger context of these community partnerships, and critical issues.
  • Data Collection: We track student service hours through our online reporting system and feedback through academic assessment surveys

Our office can help you with any of the items listed below. Contact us at to schedule an appointment.

How do I connect with current one-time or short-term volunteer projects?

Our community partner events and one-time service events planned within the Service-Learning and Volunteering Office can be found on our calendar portal.

How do I connect with local organizations to establish relationships?

We recommend you meet with a Service-Learning and Volunteer staff member. We have an internal list of possible community partners and projects for your course. These opportunities include:

Teaching: Topics, learning objectives, and/or discipline-specific items to STEM and non-STEM fields.

Research: Community partners let their institutional contacts in our office know about potential research projects that they need additional support to complete or people with expertise in specific fields.

Service: We keep track of partners that currently have the capacity to host volunteers and partners that are looking to develop their capacity for service projects. 

What are some additional resources to learn about best practices in community partnerships?

Here is a list of resources from a variety of sources in the field.

How do I design my course to allow both my course and community partners to get what they need?

We recommend a multifaceted approach to address these the ethical issues of service-learning course design

  • Center your course around a pre-defined outcome that the community partner wants.
  • Create the learning goals, outcomes, and objectives with the desired community partner.
  • Set realistic expectations with each other. Promising too much can lead to as many problems as promising too little.
  • Agree on expectations between yourself, the partner, and students like how to communicate and handle conflicts.
  • Provide structured support for students before they work with community partners to ensure learning outcomes are reached and minimize harm to the community.
  • Proactively agree on how you each would like to be recognized for each other's work. 

What additional resources can I use to help in designing my service-learning course?

You will find links to some instrumental texts in service-learning below. These texts can help you design your course. Addtional physical resources can found in the Office of Service-Learning and Volunteering library.

What logistical considerations should I cover with students before they volunteer?

A variety of basic logistics are often connected to service-learning courses. Here are a few common considerations you or students should consider when establishing where service will take place:

  • Do students have transportation? Is the community site near public transportation?
  • What is the volunteer schedule of your community partner? Are those hours flexible? Is it reasonable to expect students to have availability during those hours?
  • Does the work the community partner provide connect to your course learning objectives?

How do I set up students for success in a service-learning course?

There are best practices in how to prepare your students for service-learning and support learning outside of the classroom.

Courses that have a designated community partner set from the beginning of the course:

  • Instructors should establish a Memorandum of Understanding with the community partner before the course begins.
  • Establish how community partners would like to be involved with your students.
  • Instructors should regularly contact student's site supervisors to troubleshoot student issues.
  • Ensure students have a group orientation in the classroom and with the community partner before service begins. This includes laying out volunteer expectations.

Courses that have students find their own community partner:

  • Establish rights and responsibilities that students will have as volunteers.
  • Students should contact and set a community partner in the first two weeks of the semester
  • Students should research the community partner before making contact
  • Instructors should provide students with course objectives and requirements when they contact community partners
  • Instructors should review the community partner placements that students procure for themselves to ensure their experience will allow them to pursue the learning objectives of the course.

What items should be covered in a service-learning orientation?

An introduction to service-learning and community partner specfic items should be included in every service-learning course orientation. Two components can be done in the classroom. Community partner specific components can be done in the in or outside the classroom. Sometimes a student will be responsible for making sure community partner specific items are covered.

Service-learning specific orientation items:

  • A detailed account of what service-learning is.
  • Establish why service-learning is essential for your course.

Community partner specific orientation items:

  • Organizational overview of a community partner.
  • Overview of community the organization serves.
  • Review the organization's policies and practices. Includes background check requirements, photo policies, etc.
  • Rights, responsbilities, and expectations of volunteers.

What additional resources can I use to help prepare students to participate in a service-learning course?

What is reflection?

Reflection is when students make personal meaning and connect course objectives to their service experience. It includes, but is not limited to, activities like group dialogue and journaling.

Rama and Battistoni state service-learning reflection activities should include:

  • Clearly connected learning goals and objectives to the coursework.
  • Choose community engagement activities that reinforce the course's learning goals and objectives.
  • Activities should be frequent and timely. Timely reflection is asking for a reflection activity to happen as soon as possible after the community engagement activity or scheduling reflection throughout the semester.
  • Reflection should include assessment strategies to evaluate learning goals and objectives.

Looking for additional resources on examples of reflection activities and the theory behind them? Here is a list of resources:

What type of support can Service-Learning and Volunteering provide in regards to assessment for my course?

The Office of Service-Learning and Volunteer can create custom assessment plans for your course.

How do I design my own assessment plan and materials?

We have resources and materials you can use to integrate service-learning focused materials below. We have additional items in our inter-office library.

Where can I find forms to help guide the process of putting together basic logistics for my course?

Here is a small list of some tools you can use for your service-learning course:

Incorporating service-learning into the STEM curriculum is incorrectly viewed as more difficult than other disciplines. STEM service-learning has specific principles, best practices and resources that can be found in this section. However, many components are the same.

Stem Service-Learning Pathways

What are some specific ways that I could pursue service-learning in my STEM course?

Offer engaged learning by working with existing programs on campus

This format is best for faculty new to service-learning and for courses that would like to test the service-learning module or provide the option for students in their classes.

    1. Faculty can work with STEM Ambassadors as alternatives to various course projects, as extra credit, or for grade exchange.
      1. Focus: Educational Outreach
      2. Pros: Easy to implement, no additional work by the faculty, students are trained and gain skills in facilitation, learn more about their kit's subject over the course of 6 weeks, and gain confidence in working with large groups from grades 4 through 8.
      3. Cons: The kits and lessons conducted by the student(s) may not be correlated to the coursework
    2. Faculty can work with STEM Sisters or local science fairs as alternatives to various course projects, as extra credit, or for grade exchange.
      1. Focus: Community Outreach and Impact, Design and Production
      2. Pros: Easy to implement, student develops an idea related to their course and interests, and offers engaged learning experiences to female high school students for three asynchronus days. 
      3. Cons: Rigor of the lessons will need to be judged by the faculty through reflection activities and plan reviews, which may require added work from the faculty member.

    Create a project or assignment which requires students to identify community partners to meet specified learning objectives

    This is best for new service-learning faculty, or faculty that have some experience with service-learning and are able and would like to support students in a different way.

    1. Focus: Educational Outreach, Design & Production, Consultation, Community Planning, Background Research, Community Outreach and Impact 
    2. Pros: Allows students to think about their course in a different way, and requires students to exercise different skillsets which are not 'curated' by the professor. Students are given room to be creative and the open format promotes self-directed learning
    3. Cons: Faculty may spend less time up front 'designing', but may need to enlist support to continue to guide students in helping to procude community partners and come up with project ideas. Faculty will need to be intentional about how they check the students' design plan through checkpoints or rubrics that will maintain a high level of topic rigor.

    Faculty should target a specific assignment, correlated to a course topic or not, and specifically design a project that has specific learning targets for students to develop their project around. Through this method, faculty are laying out expectations and outcomes, and students determine how to meet those outcomes.

        Develop partnerships that form the backbone of an integrated service-learning focused curriculum

        This form is fest for faculty that have experience with service-learning and has organizational expertise of the field/topic.

        1. Focus: Educational Outreach, Design & Production, Consultation, Community Planning, Background Research, Community Outreach and Impact  
        2. Pros: Projects are fully integrated into the course, such that all modules or topics can be applied to the project as the semester progresses. Students get to know the project, community partner, and organization in a thorough manner, and have great skill development in professional soft skills.
        3. Cons: Flexibility from community partners is key and projects must be able to conform to the semester timeline. A reperatoire of community partners must be established as community partners may not always be able to provide projects. Continued communication with the community partners must be had in order to sustain the project throughout the semester.

        Faculty will build or tap into pre-existing relationships with community members who have projects that can be interlaced into the course. Faculty must design the curriculum to offer specific deliverables to the community partner.

          What are some specific STEM service-learning resources?

          Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER)

          SENCER is an approach to improving science education and provides resources and a national network of how undergraduate STEM education can extend learning beyond the classroom and offers ideas for doing just that.

          eService-Learning joins the high impact practice of traditional service-learning with the opportunity and potential of online platforms. eService-Learning courses may be fully online, hybrid, or face-to-face, where the service-learning is digital, the learning is digital, or both. 

          This form of service-learning is growing and offers many new opportunities for students to engage with their coursework beyond the local area and even across borders and waters.

          What are some eService-Learning specific resources?

          Crowd Cafe

          The digitial scholarship groups at Boston University and Boston College are co-hosting a monthly informal gathering for people wishing to contribute to crowdsourced projects. There are opportunities to get involved for anyone regardless of their educational background, all that is required is a laptop and internet connection.

          Distance Teaching with Service-Learning and Civic Engagement (Beta)

          A collaboration between University College, University of Maine at Augusta, and University of Southern Maine, this toolkit provides introductions to eService-Learning and a detailed run through of how an eService-Learning class might look like.

          Center for Technology Enhanced Learning

          The Center for Technology Enhanced Learning (CTEL) offers staff support for creating or relocating faculty course and design to a digital environment. CTEL also offers Community of Practice (CoP) grants that supports faculty members interested in transforming their course to a community engaged course.

          Service-Learning Online

          Service Learning Online is a VCU ALT Lab self-paced course. This course may be completed entirely on your own, at your own pace, and completely online.This course is intended to take approximately 4-6 hours, or what would be considered one week of assignments in a three-credit hour course. It covers how to take the first steps to creating a service-learning course, classroom facilitation, community partner development, and civic/career competency. This module has a specific focus on forming reciprocal partnerships for e-service-learning courses.