Faculty Frequently Asked Questions

Below are FAQs we often receive from both current and prospective service learning faculty.

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Is service learning a legitimate pedagogy?

Absolutely. Service learning is a form of experiential education, deeply rooted in cognitive and developmental psychology, pragmatic philosophy and democratic theory. It shares a common intellectual history with organizational development and participatory action research. Service learning has no singular or simple definition. It is informed by a range of intellectual traditions and values systems, many of which seem to contradict or compete with one another. Service learning theory begins with the assumption that experience is the foundation of learning; and various forms of community service are employed as the experiential basis for learning. Informed by John Dewey’s theory of the primacy of experience,"...service learning is interactive and democratic, engaging the whole student and transforming the learning process."

If a student does service learning at a for-profit corporation, does it count?

Truly, it is up to the professor whether a for-profit corporation is an appropriate service learning site for the learning objectives in the course. However, students should not be paid for their service learning hours. We have had students do service learning at for-profits when the service they are providing somehow benefits the larger community, and when the corporation is not making large sums of money from the volunteer labor. We also believe that service learning students could do valuable work assisting small minority-owned or woman-owned businesses, thus maintaining the social justice focus that is integral to the transformational experience of service learning. Feel free to discuss any partnerships with for-profit organizations with the service learning program director to determine whether it is an appropriate placement for your class.

How much extra work will I have to do if I add service learning to a course?

It does take time to set up the logistics of a service learning class, to respond to individual students and to work though unanticipated situations. There are ways to minimize the impact of the time by gaining assistance from the Service Learning Program, including the student coordinators. The time you put in to carefully design the course will pay off with fewer challenges throughout the semester. Also, it gets easier each time you teach a service learning course.

Will I have to completely restructure my course?

Service learning as a pedagogy is a form of experiential learning that transforms the experience of many students and also improves their mastery of content knowledge. Integrating commentary and discussion from students throughout the course of the semester is a vital part of service learning. Many service learning faculty include aspects of service learning in all parts of the course – on writing assignments, in discussion and on exams. It is unlikely that you will need to completely restructure your course, but it is important that you look for every way to appropriately integrate a service learner's experience into course content.

If I use service learning in a course, do I have to require all my students to do it?

It depends. In some service learning classes the service experience is an integral part of the course. Students who choose to enroll in this type of class are expected to participate in the service activity in the same way that they are expected to complete a research paper or make a class presentation. In other classes, the service component is an option and may replace another class assignment.

How will I find placements for my class? Will I have to contact the agencies myself?

The Service Learning Program will prove to be an invaluable resource when finding community agencies. Since the program began in 1994, more community agencies have been added every semester to the list of partners. Currently the program works with 100-plus community partners. Once you meet with Director Kim Jensen Bohat, our staff will find the most suitable and appropriate community partners for your course to give students the most beneficial experience. We strongly encourage you to give us suggestions for new community partnerships and view service learning job descriptions to get an idea of the type of work your students will do at the organization. If you hear concerns from your students about their community partner, let us know and we will assist the student. 

How do I keep track of who’s doing what, where?

The Service Learning Program does an excellent job of keeping track of where students complete their service learning. The program recently moved to online registration for service learning. Faculty members can see what organizations students choose, track service learning hours and view reflection session attendance through MUEngage. Faculty are encouraged to set up a meeting with service learning staff to get one-on-one MUEngage assistance. Faculty members can also check out the MUEngage Faculty Member Quick Guide for assistance. 

Which of my colleagues have used service learning?

We encourage you to see the list of current Marquette faculty who have used service learning in one or more courses.

What does university administration think of service learning?

The Marquette Service Learning Program has received enthusiastic support from university leadership because it provides value for students, faculty and the community. Service learning is a high-impact educational practice, which research has suggested increase rates of student retention and student engagement, and is a part of the university’s deep commitment to serving others and promoting solidarity and the common good.

What are the benefits of service learning to my students, the agencies and, frankly, to me?

Service learners are asked to step foot into the neighborhood surrounding Marquette, and many times it is their first experience navigating the Milwaukee County Transit System and traveling outside campus. Students' eyes are opened to the social injustices occurring right outside of the immediate campus. They are able to communicate and oftentimes even form friendships with people who may be quite different from them, and see individual examples of the social problems discussed in lectures and textbooks. They are able to learn about others, the community and, often most importantly, themselves.

The agencies receive weekly assistance from dedicated Marquette students. They are able to feel a connection to the university, and the clients at the agencies value the presence and help of service learners. We often hear from our site contacts, "Our agency would be unable to exist without the help of volunteers like Marquette Service Learners." For additional research on the outcomes of service learning, check out a bibliography of resources.

Professors are able to see more of the "lightbulb" moment in their students. Most students leave service learning courses with strong content mastery; this means that during class discussions, exams and assignments, they were able to connect the theories explained and the things witnessed at their agencies. In addition to witnessing unparalleled content knowledge in their students, professors have many opportunities for publishing journal articles, and even books, about their use of the service learning pedagogy.

How can I help students learn from their community experience? What if they don’t "get it"?

It is essential to integrate discussion, whether written or oral, about service learning throughout the entire semester. If students do not witness a link between the things they see at their agency and the content in the textbook, they will be left to make that connection on their own -–and many don't. This is where the role of the professor in a service learning classroom is essential. Leaving time during class to discuss service learning is great, but true connection are made through reflection. Asking tough questions that lead students to link theory to practice in journals, blogs and reflection papers are just a few examples. Occasionally, despite all efforts to integrate substantial reflection and discussion, students still don't "get it." In this case, encouraging students to continue volunteering in Milwaukee may eventually lead them to discover the true reasons for social injustices in our community and nationwide.

Will I expose my students to danger by sending them out into the Milwaukee community as part of class?

Rarely have students ever reported feeling threatened or in a dangerous situation while participating in service learning. The program has provided all service learners with safety pointers and a safety video, available here, and strongly encourages Marquette students to sign up with a buddy when selecting a service site. In addition, the crime rate in Milwaukee has been decreasing lately, providing less need for hesitation about sending students out into the community.

Does service learning take too much class time? How do other faculty fit service learning into an already packed course?

As you evaluate whether you want to use service learning in a course, you’ll have to weigh the value of the community-based learning experience against the importance of covering every bit of your usual content material. You are still in charge of what class time is used for. Students can reflect on the experience outside class through paper and online journals and logs, as well as more formal papers. Research, however, indicates that devoting time in class to discussing experiences that emerge from the service experience will increase student learning and satisfaction with the course. If the students’ experiences become text for the class, they will integrate what they are learning as they discuss, make connections to course materials, and listen to the experience of others.

How do I evaluate the students’ performance?

Service learning is defined with an emphasis on learning. Many teachers do not change their evaluation technique but assume that the service heightens student learning, and that monitoring the service contribution is all that is necessary. On the other hand, you might have specific papers devoted to reflecting on the experience, and grade those for analysis, critical thinking and other standards normally used. Faculty who use service learning must generate data documenting the impact that this pedagogy has on student learning. Otherwise the question, "Why should I utilize service learning if it doesn’t work any better than what I am already doing?" is a legitimate one. There are a number of outcomes that can be assessed; these include: impact on student learning, impact on the agency, impact on those being served and impact on faculty development.

How can involvement in service learning strengthen my professional research?

Many professional academic associations now include sessions on service learning and civic engagement at national and regional conferences. Associations such as Campus Compact, International Association for Research on Service-learning and Community Engagement, and the American Association of Higher Education hold conferences and provide opportunities to present papers on service learning and the scholarship of engagement. Additionally, special issues of professional journals now feature service learning as a topic of inquiry.  Involvement in service learning can augment and redirect one’s professional research interests, especially when a strong partnership is created with the community agency.