Resources for Best Practices


This series of Web-Based Communication Modules on Service Learning has just scratched the surface of the useful information that is available for faculty in planning and leading a service learning (SL) course. As you continue, you may want more…


Principles of Good Practice for SL Pedagogy


Excerpted and adapted from Howard, Jeffrey, ed., Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning: Service-Learning Course Design Workbook, University of Michigan: OCSL Press, Summer 2001 pp. 16–19.


Principle 1: Academic Credit is for Learning, Not for Service
In  traditional courses we assess students’ learning from traditional course resources, e.g. textbooks, class discussions, library research, etc., in service-learning courses we evaluate students’ learning from traditional resources, from the community service, and from the blending of the two. So, academic credit is not awarded for doing service or for the quality of the service, but rather for the student’s demonstration of academic and civic learning.


Principle 2: Do not Compromise Academic Rigor
There is a widespread perception in academic circles that community service is a “soft” learning resource, there may be a temptation to compromise the academic rigor in a service-learning course. Service-learning students must not only master academic material as in traditional courses, but also learn how to learn from unstructured community experiences and merge that learning with the learning from ther course resources.

Principle 3: Establish Learning Objectives
It is a service-learning maxim that one cannot develop a quality service-learning course without first setting very explicit learning objectives. The addition of the community as a learning context multiplies the learning possibilities. To sort out those of greatest priority, as well as to leverage the bounty of learning opportunities offered by community service experiences, deliberate planning of course academic and civic learning objectives is required.


Principle 4: Establish Criteria for Selection of Placements
As you develop your service learning experiences, decide what you’d like from the community partner and what kinds of work you’d like students to do outside class.  If you can come up with flexible criteria and then collaborate with those experienced in service learning, you may have created a wonderful environment for learning.


Principle 5: Provide Educational Sound Learning Strategies
Merely logging student hours in the community is not enough. Learning interventions that promote critical reflection, analysis, and application of service experiences enable learning. To make certain that service does not underachieve in its role as an instrument of learning, careful thought must be given to learning activities that encourage the integration of experiential and academic learning.


Principle 6: Prepare Students for Learning from the Community Experience
Most students lack experience with both extracting and making meaning from experience and in merging it with other academic and civic course learning strategies. Faculty can provide: 1) learning supports such as opportunities to acquire skills for gleaning the learning from the service context (e.g., participant-observer skills), and/or 2) examples of how to successfully complete assignments (e.g., making past exemplary student papers and reflection journals available to current students to peruse).


Principle 7: Prepare Students for Active Learning
While many classrooms encourage students to take a passive role with the teacher assuming direction for most activities, the students need to learn another way to learn. In class, shape the learning context so students actively work in the course
development so they know better how to be activel learners outside of class.


Principle 8: Rethink the Faculty Instructional Role

An instructor role that would be most compatible with an active student role
shifts away from a singular reliance on transmission of knowledge and toward mixed pedagogical methods that include learning facilitation and guidance. To
re-shape one’s classroom role to capitalize on the learning bounty in service-learning, faculty will find Howard’s 1998 model of “Transforming the Classroom” helpful. This four-stage model begins with the traditional classroom in which students are passive, teachers are directive, an all conform to the learned rules of the classroom. In the second stage, the instructor begins to re-socialize herself toward a more facilitative role; but the students, socialized for many years to be passive learners, are slow to change to a more active mode. In the third stage, with the perseverance of the instructor, the students begin to develop and acquire the skills and propensities to be active in the classroom. Frequently, during this phase, faculty will become concerned that learning is not as rich and rigorous as when they are using the more popular lecture format, and may regress to a more directive
posture. Over time homeostasis is established, and the instructor and the students achieve an environment in which mixed pedagogical methods lead to students who are active learners, instructors fluent in multiple teaching methods, and strong academic and civic learning outcomes.


Principle 9: Be Prepared for Some Loss of Control with Learning Outcomes
For faculty who value homogeneity in student learning outcomes, as well as control of the learning environment, service-learning may not be a good fit. in traditional
courses, the learning strategies (i.e., lectures, labs, and reading) are constant for all enrolled students and under the watchful eye of the faculty member. In service-learning courses, given variability in service experiences and their influential role in student learning, one can anticipate greater heterogeneity in student learning outcomes and compromises to faculty control. As an instructor, are you prepared
for greater heterogeneity in student learning outcomes and some degree of loss of control over student learning stimuli?


Principle 10: Maximize the Community Responsibility Orientation for Course
Both academic learning and civic learning are important here. Building student’s learning about how to get engaged with people other than students and faculty is key. Working collaboratively in the classroom can also help build ideas about community.


Print Materials
Several scholarly journals in Communication have articles focused on Service Learning and Civic Engagement. Here are some recent titles: 

Note: The links below will take you to an abstract for the title listed, BUT you can’t return easily to this page. You may want to jot down the web address to return easily to this Best Practices page.

First-Generation Student Success: The Role of Faculty Interaction in Service Learning Courses. By: McKay, Valerie C.; Estrella, Jeremy. Communication Education, Jul2008, Vol. 57 Issue 3, p356-372


Public life and the internet: if you build a better website, will citizens become engaged? By: Coleman, Renita; Lieber, Paul; Mendelson, Andrew L.; Kurpius, David D.. New Media & Society, Apr2008, Vol. 10 Issue 2, p179-201


Online vs. Face-to-Face Deliberation: Effects on Civic Engagement. By: Seong-Jae Min. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Jul2007, Vol. 12 Issue 4, p1369-138


Evaluating Cognitive Outcomes of Service Learning in Higher Education: A Meta-Analysis. By: Novak, Julie M.; Markey, Vern; Allen, Mike. Communication Research Reports, May2007, Vol. 24 Issue 2, p149-157.


Doing Learning: Investigative Reporting and Service Learning. By: Flournoy, Craig. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Spring2007, Vol. 62 Issue 1, p47-61


In addition, the ECU Volunteer and Service Learning Center has an extensive collection of books and other materials on Service Learning.  If you want something specific, try that source first!


On Campus


ECU’s Volunteer and Service Learning Center offers resources for faculty And students who are involved in service learning experiences. This should be an early stop once you’ve decided to get involved with service learning in your classes.


Beyond Campus


National Communication Association has long supported service learning.  On their website, you can find experienced service learning faculty in different content matter areas. In addition, there are a variety of resources for service learning available here.


Campus Compact is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting community service, civic engagement, and service-learning in higher education. In addition to the national campus compact office, there are also statewide campus compact offices in many places across the U.S. 


Learn and Serve America has a national Service Learning Clearinghouse with resources for public school teachers and community agencies as well as university faculty.  There are so many resources here that it would be impossible to list them all. Grant possibilities, places to publish research, and other resources may be particularly interesting to college faculty. 


In addition, the Faculty Toolkit on Service-Learning in Higher Education is quite

complrehensive and includes worksheets and lots of other valuable information.


Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis has a very highly regarded Center for Service and Learning.


Duke University’s Scholarship with a Civic Mission program focused specifically on Research Service-Learning where undergraduates linked academic knowledge, ethical inquiry skills, and civic leadership capacities through RSL courses and research projects. Many resources are available here for research and SL.


University of Minnesota’s Career and Community Learning Center offers students, community partners, faculty and staff a range of information and resources about service-learning and community involvement.  Excellent resource.

Portland State University’s Center for Academic Excellence website has an assortment of information ranging from information about Teaching and Learning to detailed information about how to do civic engagement effectively. Portland State University, and 112 community based organizations in Oregon, win the National-Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Partnership Award for Campus Community Collaboration for their Watershed Stewardship Program.