Six Models for Service Learning

Whether creating a new course or reconstructing an existing course using service learning, faculty should explore the appropriate model of service learning. While one could argue that there are many models of service learning, we feel that service learning courses can basically be described in six categories:


1)   “Pure” Service Learning: These are courses that send students out into the community to serve. These courses have as their intellectual core the idea of service to communities by students, volunteerism, or engaged citizens. They are not typically lodged in any one discipline.


2)   Discipline-based Service Learning: In this model, students are expected to have a presence in the community and reflect on their experiences on a regular basis using course content as a basis for their analysis and understanding throughout the semester.


3)   Problem-based Service Learning: According to this model, students (or teams of students) relate to the community as much as “consultants” working for a “client.” Students work with community members to understand a particular community problem or need. This model presumes that the students will have some knowledge they can draw upon to make recommendations to the community or develop a solution to the problem: architecture students might design a park; business students might develop a website; or botany students might identify non-native plants and suggest eradication methods.

4)   Capstone Courses: These courses are generally designed for majors and minors in a given discipline and are offered almost exclusively to students in their final year. Capstone courses ask students to draw upon the knowledge they have obtained throughout their coursework and combine it with relevant service work in the community. The goal of capstone courses is usually either to explore a new topic or to synthesize students’ understanding of their discipline. These courses offer an excellent way to help students make the transition from the world of theory to the world of practice by helping them establish professional contacts and gather personal experience.

5)   Service Internships: Like traditional internships, these experiences are more intense than typical service learning courses, with students working as many as 10 to 20 hours a week in a community setting. As in traditional internships, students are generally charged with producing a body of work that is of value to the community or site. However, unlike traditional internships, service internships have regular and ongoing reflective opportunities that help students analyze their new experiences using discipline-based theories. These reflective opportunities can be done with small groups of peers, with one-on-one meetings with faculty advisors, or even electronically with a faculty member providing feedback. Service internships are further distinguished from traditional internships by their focus on reciprocity: the idea that the community and the student benefit equally from the experience.

6)   Undergraduate Community-based Action Research: A relatively new approach that is gaining popularity, community-based action research is similar to an independent study option for the rare student who is highly experienced in community work. Community-based action research can also be effective with small classes or groups of students. In this model, students work closely with faculty members to learn research methodology while serving as advocates for communities.


Exemplary Service Learning Syllabi


•   Include service as an expressed goal

•   Clearly describe how the service experience will be measured and what will be measured

•   Describe the nature of the service placement and/or project

•   Specify the roles and responsibilities of students in the placement or service project (e.g., transportation, time requirements, community contacts, etc.)

•   Define the need(s) of the service placement

•   Specify how students will be expected to demonstrate what they have learned in the placement or project, via a journal, papers, presentations, etc.

•   Present course assignments that link the service placement and the course content

•   Include a description of the reflective process

•   Include a description of the expectations for the public dissemination of students’ work


Note: This information is from Campus Compact, June 2002. It is excerpted from “Fundamentals of Service Learning Course Construction” by Kerrissa Hefferman.  RI: Campus Compact, 2001, pp. 2-7, 9.