Evaluating Learning

Evaluating Learning & Helping Students Make the Connection

Below are suggestions for faculty members who have questions on how to evaluate classroom learning with service in the community: 

  • Give grades based on the learning, not the service.
  • You should not be more lenient because service learning takes more time. You don't give breaks to students who spend many hours writing a research paper if it's a bad paper.
  • You're not grading either the service or the "goodness of their soul."
  • You're not grading the event; you're grading their ability to make connections.
  • Did they write well, think well, argue clearly?
  • Keep rigorous criteria, just as you would for a regular paper.
  • Even if the student's placement doesn't turn out well, look at how well they
    analyze the situation and make suggestions for improvements.
  • Areas to assess:
    • How well does the student integrate course theory with practice?
    • How well does the student analyze the situation and understand the problem?
    • Are they able to communicate this information?
    • How well do they formulate conclusions and recommendations for solutions?
  • The better your learning goals are formulated and communicated to students at the beginning, the easier it will be for you to evaluate and grade them at the end.

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.

  • An assignment or activity, such as a journal, is needed to provide evidence
    of how the student connects the service to the course content.
  • By helping students to distinguish between description and analysis, between
    emotional reactions and cognitive observations, faculty help them to transform service experiences into learning experiences.
  • Evaluation of service-learning occasionally makes use of subjective evaluation in the same way that traditional courses sometimes make use of subjective evaluation.
  • There is not a one-to-one correspondence between hours served and knowledge gained or credit earned.
  • Nevertheless, a certain minimum of service hours may be needed to provide an experience of significant depth....
  • Giving early and regular extended feedback on students' journal entries is a critical part of teaching students how to develop their reflection skills.

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.


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 the Reflection Strategies 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.