Designing the Course

Interested in integrating service learning in your course? Contact Kim Jensen Bohat, Service Learning Program director, to set up an appointment. It's helpful to find out if your course would be a good fit for service learning. There’s no obligation. 

This next step is to complete the Course Planning Worksheet (CPW). The worksheet serves two purposes: focus your thinking on the key elements of service learning while you’re planning the course and give the Service Learning Office specific information on how you want to use service learning in the course.

The worksheet is used to match placements for the course and help our student staff learn more about how service learning is integrated in the course.

Course Planning Worksheet Help

While the Course Planning Worksheet is mostly self-explanatory, below are detailed explanations of the questions on the worksheet.

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Choose a model of service learning

There are five different models of the pedagogy used by the Marquette Service Learning Program. Visit the Service Learning Models page for more information and examples about each of them.

Question 2:  What are your specific learning objectives for service learners? 

Writing effective learning objectives is one of the most challenging aspects of service learning for many faculty. Clear and measurable objectives form the basis for your students’ knowing how to connect their service with course content and for your assessment of the learning that occurred. Here are some tips for writing learning objectives:

Christine Krueger, associate professor of English at MU, states: “…objectives are not what the teacher intends to do, but what the students are supposed to be gaining. For myself, with the core, I thought about what differences I should be able to observe between a student who had completed the University Core of Common Studies requirements and some hypothetical student who had been admitted to MU but forbidden to take core courses….the biggest trick is shifting the focus from what the faculty member intends to do—or even what the students will do—and what demonstrably the students are supposed to have learned.”

Question 3:  What kinds of community experiences will enhance learning in this course? 

What kinds of activities would you like students to do during their service learning experience? For example, students in a political science class studying city government could work with a local organization engaged in community organizing activities. Students should not tutor in a local organizations’s after school program. Service learning placements depend on your course learning objectives and the local organizations that would fit for your course. 

Question 5:  How will you design assignments to make sure there is a perceived balance (in time and effort) between the service learning and traditional learning? 

Achieving this balance is extremely important. If the service learning option is seen as a “piece of cake” (e.g., if service learners are asked to write a five-page paper in lieu of taking the final and writing a 15-page research paper), students will choose that option in droves just to get out of doing work. On the other hand, if it appears the service learners are being penalized for choosing that option (e.g., by having to do the service, keep journals, do research to incorporate scholarly work into their service learning paper, and write a paper that’s as long or longer than the ones the traditional learners are writing), even students who might be inclined to do service learning may feel they’re being "unfairly treated" and opt out.

Since service learners generally spend about 20-25 hours in their placement and five or more hours in travel (probably more like 10-15 if they use the bus), it’s important to make those 20-30 hours on the left side balance out with 20-30 on the right. Keep in mind that the service time does not include time spent in writing the paper or preparing the oral report. So, don’t count paper-writing time for the traditional learners either. If you’re going to assign each group a 10-page paper, ask yourself if the traditional learner will realistically spend 20-30 hours researching and gathering information. If not, can you adjust the requirement in some way to balance it out? Could you, for example, lengthen the traditional learner’s paper and/or shorten the service learner’s? Or could the service learners be exempted from some other requirement? Or could they use their service learning to fulfill one or more other requirements? One professor has five questions on her final exam, drawn from a list of 10 that she gives students. One question is worded such that only service learners could answer it, and she always includes it on the final. It’s a little break, but sometimes that’s all it takes to achieve balance.

Question 6:  What academic questions will you have students consider while they’re in the community?

Giving service learners specific questions or issues to consider helps to focus their thinking and reminds them about the LEARNING part of service learning. It also gives them a jump-start in making the connection between their community experiences and the course. Some faculty devise the questions themselves and present them to the students; others have the students form their own questions, in consultation with them.

Asking academic questions is one way to improve journal entries—which often become more diaries of personal experiences, thoughts and feelings than vehicles for critical thinking and integration. If students use the split-journal approach, they can write their experiences, thoughts and feelings on the left side and reflect upon these in light of questions dealing with course content on the right side. This is especially crucial if journals are to be graded.

Question 7:  How will you integrate service learning into the class? 

Some people put a hyphen between SERVICE and LEARNING, and sometimes they name the hyphen “REFLECTION.” Thus, reflection is what connects the service with the learning. Without reflection — both individual and in class — the service can easily become volunteer work rather than community-based learning.

See the Reflection Strategies page as well the Service Learning Bibliography page for books and articles related to reflection. (Note: If the word “reflection” seems to suggest something non-academic to you, try substituting a word like “integration.”)

Question 8:  What demonstration of learning will you have service learners produce (journals, paper, oral report, etc.)? 

While reflective, integrative papers are probably the most common demonstration of learning that faculty request of service learners, there are other equally effective means of evaluating learning: journaling, oral presentations, written or oral examinations, and products created for agencies such as videos, brochures, newsletters, reports, etc.

Service learning and journaling often go hand in hand, especially when the course is more theoretical than practical (e.g. a literature class vs. a writing class). Students’ journals should not be diaries, where they merely describe what they did and how they felt about it. They should be guided (perhaps by the academic questions) to reflect on the deeper issues and meanings behind what they see and do. Whether you grade the journals is up to you, but it’s a good idea to collect them at least once or twice before the end of the semester to make sure students are on the right track.

Over the past few years we’ve come to appreciate the value of oral presentations for service learners. They allow the other students in class to learn more about the community, whereas final papers usually only enlighten the professor. One professor at MU groups her service learners by issue or agency for their oral reports. That way, some basic facts (e.g. agency mission, history, clientèle) only have to be said once. Having to plan their presentation together is also a good experience for students. Additionally, giving presentations is a way for them to practice and develop their oral communication skills. As with other assignments, group presentations are more effective if structure is imposed. Presenters can be required to focus on, or at least include, material from the course, rather than merely describing their weekly experiences. Other groups of class members, especially traditional learners, can be assigned the task of devising questions for the presenters that will get at some deeper points for discussion.