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Best Practices for Service Learning Pedagogy

[Source: Excerpted from Weber State University, adapted/updated from Jeffrey Howard's Principles of Good Practice for Service-Learning Pedagogy (1993)]

  1. Academic credit is for learning, not for service. “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.”
  2. Do not compromise academic rigor. “Labeling community service as a “soft” learning stimulus reflects a gross misperception. The perceived “soft” service component actually raises the learning challenge in a course.”
  3. Establish learning objectives. “...it is especially necessary and advantageous to establish learning objectives in service-learning courses. 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.”
  4. Establish criteria for the selection of service placements. “Requiring students to serve in any community-based organization as part of a service-learning courses is tantamount to requiring students to read any book as part of a traditional course.”
  5. Provide educationally sound learning strategies to harvest community learning and realize course learning objectives. “Requiring service-learning students to merely record their service activities and hours as their journal assignment is tantamount to requiring students in an engineering course to log their activities and hours in a lab… 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.”
  6. Prepare students for learning from the community. “Most students lack experience with both extracting and making meaning from experience and in merging it with other academic and civic course learning strategies. Therefore, even an exemplary reflection journal assignment will yield, without sufficient support, uneven responses.”
  7. Minimize the distinction between the students’ community learning role and classroom learning role. “Alternating between the passive learning role in the classroom and the active learner role in the community may challenge and even impede student learning. The solution is to shape the learning environments so that students assume similar learning roles in both contexts.”
  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.”
  9. Be prepared for variation in, and some loss of control with, student learning outcomes. “For those faculty who value homogeneity in student learning outcomes, as well as control of the learning environment, service-learning may not be a good fit.”
  10. Maximize the community responsibility orientation of the course. “For example, efforts to convert from individual to group assignments, and from instructor-only to instructor and student review of student assignments, re-norms the teaching-learning process to be consistent with the civic orientation of service-learning.”
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