Evaluating Learning & Helping Students Make the Connection

Questions about evaluating learning and giving grades to service learners arise frequently. The primary concern seems to be that faculty are reluctant to down-grade a student who has genuinely tried to serve the community. There is a tendency to give service learners a break because of the heartstring-pulling nature of their work. Here are some suggested ways to approach this issue:

Below are Recommendations for Student Assessment from the Service-Learning Faculty Handbook at Virginia Tech (p. 20).

In order to ensure academic integrity, it is essential that service-learning be used in conjunction with rigorous evaluation. Assessment should be based on students' demonstration of how they are integrating the service experience to course content--not for service performed. The following recommendations are guidelines for how to conduct assessment of service-learners.

Helping students make the connection

Service learners don't seem to naturally know how to extract from their placements the learning they need for their courses. With help, however, they grasp the idea of self-directed learning quite well. You will have given your students a jump-start by providing them with Service Learning Guidelines at the beginning of the semester. On a day-to-day basis, you can also facilitate their understanding by the approaches you use in the classroom. Here are some suggestions.

Reflection: The word "reflection" used in an academic context calls up images of a feel-good, anti-intellectual exercise. It also happens to be one of the "big three" in service learning (preparation-action-reflection). So, we use it. Since Service Learning at Marquette stresses academic rigor rather than do-gooding, we use reflection to mean the thought processes and activities (e.g. journal writing) that lead students from service to learning. You will be encouraging student to do individual reflection through the assignments you design for them. Corporate reflection may occur in small-group meetings or in class discussions that encompass students' experiences, impressions about their experiences, and community issues that relate to course material. These all-class discussions led by the professor are enormously useful in helping students find the connection between the community and the course. They also enable the knowledge gained by the service learners to overflow to the traditional learners. Please see our Reflection Activities page for specific ideas on how to incorporate reflection into service learning courses.

Interfacing Service Learning with Course: In order to make sure you don't forget about service learning in the midst of a busy semester, it's a good idea to find ways of keying yourself into mentioning it at appropriate moments in class. One MU professor reviews her students' service learning contracts to find out where they're going. She then calls upon them to contribute when that agency - or the issues being addressed by the agency--is being discussed. A Sociology professor slips contracts into various points in her notes so she will remember to ask those students specifically about their experiences and thoughts when she gets to the appropriately related lecture.


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