Principles for Effective Service Learning Courses


Principle 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.


Principle 2: Do Not Compromise Academic Rigor


The perceived “soft” service component actually raises the learning challenge in a service-learning course.  Students must not only master academic materials as in traditional courses, but also learn how to learn from unstructured and ill-structured community experiences, merge that learning with the learning from other course resources, and satisfy both academic and civic learning objectives.


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. This principle is foundational to service-learning.


Principle 4: Establish Criteria for the Selection of Service Placements


Requiring students to serve in any community-based organization as part of a service-learning course is tantamount to requiring students to read any book as part of a traditional course. Faculty who are deliberate about establishing criteria for selecting community service placements will find that students are able to extract more relevant learning from their respective service experiences, and are more likely to meet course learning objectives.


Principle 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 engineering to log their activities and hours in the lab.


Principle 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.


Principle 7: Minimize the Distinction Between the Students’ Community Learning Role and Classroom Learning Role


Classrooms and communities are very different learning contexts. Each requires students to assume a different learner role. The solution is to shape the learning environments so that students assume similar learning roles in both contexts.


Principle 8: Rethink the Faculty Instructional Role


If faculty encourage students’ active learning in the classroom, what would be a commitment and consistent change in one’s teaching role? Commensurate with the proceeding principle’s recommendation for an active student learning posture, this principle advocates that service-learning teachers, too, rethink their role.


Principle 9: Be Prepared for Variation in, and Some Loss of Control with, Student Learning Outcomes


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 in service-learning courses.


Principle 10: Maximize the Community Responsibility Orientation of the Course


One of the necessary conditions of a service-learning course is purposeful civic learning. Designing classroom norms and learning strategies that not only enhance academic learning but also encourage civic learning are essential to purposeful academic learning.


Note: This information is from Campus Compact, June 2002

(excerpted from Howard, Jeffer, ed.,
Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning’s Service-Learning Course Design Workbook, University of Michigan: OCSL Press, Summer 2001, pp. 16-19)