As mentioned in the first post of our Service-Learning Foundations series, giving equal space to the service and learning components of your course will result in the greatest impacts on students and community partners. So, how do you identify a service opportunity that reinforces service learning outcomes and civic development? Use the following questions to help you select service that is appropriate for the development of your students and the learning outcomes for our course.
Is the placement challenging for students? Service should give students an opportunity to mentally stretch by challenging them to make new connections and immerse themselves in the community in new ways. Productive placements offer students a way to relate to individuals and, through reflection, begin developing more nuanced viewpoints that move beyond the stereotypes that may be expressed in class discussion. This means service should frame how students think about the themes central to your course.
Is the relationship exploitative? Kendall (1990) argued reciprocity in service-learning means all are learning and teaching—student, faculty, and community partner alike. What this looks like is different in each partnership, but a starting point is to ensure that the partnership is of value to the agency and furthers the agency’s ability to achieve their mission. (See more on this in Bringle, Clayton, and Price (2012).) You may want your students to practice skills they have when entering your course, and what skills should they have built when leaving, but working with your community partner to see if the students’ level of expertise is sufficient to meet agency need is essential.
What can your students offer the partner? As with the previous two questions, this question necessitates reflecting on two overarching questions. What style and genre of service most clearly offers opportunities to connect to course content, and what skills or critical thinking abilities do your students possess? Students’ ability to complete meaningful outputs in projects and engage critically grows over time, and student development should be considered to ensure work is valuable to your community partner, but also appropriately challenge for your students as you work toward transformational service experiences. Learn more about this partnership principle in Gazley, Bennett, and Littlepage (2013).
To think through these questions more fully, check out Leslie’s post on backward course design and the Course Development Institute, schedule a consultation with the Service-Learning Program staff to explore how service can expand your course’s impact. Next up in the Service-Learning Foundations series, what happens after you pick your partner? We’ll discuss preparing your partnership and how the SLP’s Advocates for Community Engagement can help.