Carlson Leadership & Public Service Center

How to Integrate Service-Learning in your Course

The Carlson Center partners with faculty and instructors across disciplines to support the development of service-learning as an integral component of designated courses. The success of service-learning relies on the fit between courses’ academic goals and community-based service-learning opportunities, and on faculty and instructors integrating service-learning into their course as a central organizing element.  In our experience supporting service-learning courses, the Carlson Center makes the following recommendations:

Plan the service-learning course well in advance

For community partners, students, and faculty to have the best experience with a service-learning course, the importance of integration on the part of faculty cannot be underestimated. Integrating service-learning into the course design takes time to successfully plan.   Ideally, you’ll reach out to the Carlson Center well in advance of the course start.  (Our absolute minimum is a month before the term starts, though we prefer to longer lead times–particularly if we have not worked together before and/or this is a new course.)

Email Kathryn Pursch Cornforth, Carlson Center Assistant Director, to express your interest in service-learning. Ideally, send a copy of your syllabus–even from prior quarters along with this email. This starts the planning process to develop an excellent service-learning course, and enables the Carlson Center to work with you to make appropriate choices for selecting community-based partners for service-learning opportunities.

Write (or revise) the syllabus to reflect integration of service-learning

Course syllabi are important blueprints for students, the Carlson Center, and interested community partners. We ask each faculty to provide us with a syllabus such that we can best match community partners with your course and your learning objectives for the course.

This is best achieved when the syllabus reflects your consideration of service-learning as part of the course design. A syllabus for a service-learning course should include the following components:

  • What is service-learning?
  • Why service-learning is valuable?
  • Why service-learning is a key component of the course?
  • How service-learning will work in this particular course?
  • This section should include an explanation of what the service learning option or requirement for the course will entail, and of course, all assignments, presentations, etc. pertinent for the service-learning option or requirement.

Introduce service-learning to the students in the first week

Service-learning is often a new concept for students. While the relevant information is also documented in the syllabus, a best practice is to introduce and discuss service-learning in the class during the first week to underscore its connection and relevance to the course content and its capacity to offer dynamic experiences to students.

The Carlson Center offers guidance on introducing service-learning to your students through your course syllabus and an in-class presentation.

Ensure ongoing support and integration

Ensuring students get connected to their service-learning placement is an important first step of the service-learning process.  Through intentional service-learning course design, faculty should consider how they are regularly providing space for students to reflect on their service-learning and integrate this reflection with their academic learning.  Incorporating service-learning into class discussions, reflection prompts, and course assignments are all ways to ensure students have the guided space to make these connections.  This regular integration also provides a mechanism by which the faculty member can provide support and guidance to students navigating their service-learning experience.  Please also see the Carlson Center as a resource in supporting service-learning students.