Community Standards for Service-Learning
A guide for community-based organizations and
Recommendations from community organizations (Download the PDF). The best service-learning projects will incorporate these elements:
higher education to
I. Communication: Staying in Touch and Making Your Goals and Purpose Clear
- Provide a course syllabus and/or statement outlining expectations for the service-learning experience.
- Invite organizations to make classroom presentations.
- Give advance notice when requesting to send service-learners to an organization, especially if students desire more than 40 hours of experience.
- Provide welcome packets and guidelines to students to clarify commitments.
- Make class presentations to tell students about their programs.
- Ensure there is staff capacity to mentor service-learning students.
Organizations and Faculty:
- Familiarize students with the organization’s programs and mission.
- Agree on how to communicate (phone, email, or the preferred face-to-face meeting) and how often.
- Sign contract or memorandum of understanding with each student. Include a definition of service-learning, learning objectives, responsibilities, time commitment, timeline, supervision, training, evaluation, and liability/risk management issues (background checks, transportation, etc.).
II. Developing Positive Relationships: Building an Effective, Enduring Partnership
- Make a multi-year commitment; students should commit to at least a semester, preferably 12 months (project outcome of shorter commitments will have less depth).
- Clearly define for organization whether course requirement is for service-learning, independent study, or “volunteer work.”
- Help agency staff mentor service learners.
- Respect the work of the agency:
-- When possible, collaboratively develop projects.
-- Provide for continuous open communication.
- “Globalize” opportunities: combine or piggy-back on existing meetings; do group tours for faculty at organization site; provide group orientations for students/faculty when feasible.
- Protect organizations from being excluded from future service-learning offers because they have turned down past offers.
- Encourage organizations to interview students for fitness and to turn down unsuitable candidates.
III. Providing an Infrastructure: Get Organized
Institutional Service-Learning Offices:
- Help define “service-learning.”
- Streamline the process of finding matches through either service-learning offices or departments.
- Work to create databases containing:
--List of professors who teach service-learning classes or have community partnerships.
--Opportunities posted by organizations that faculty and students can access.
--A listing of organizations that accept service-learners and a checklist for students.
- Keep in touch with community partners and do site visits or other face-to-face meetings if possible.
- Run orientations for service-learners on office etiquette, professional behavior, and cultural competence.
- Run orientations for organizations on how to access campus resources and provide service-learning information in a user-friendly environment.
- Provide organizations with “zero-dollar appointments” (which allows for library access and other privileges) in exchange for their supervision of students.
IV. Managing Service-Learners: Keep it Running Smoothly
Faculty and Organization:
- Determine the organization’s role in evaluation.
- Evaluate midway and at end of the course; use the evaluations to improve the course for the duration of time left on the project
- Agree on the criteria and processes that will be used to evaluate students.
- Limit paperwork; perhaps use a phone call interview or e-mail response instead of forms.
- Determine who grades or checks that hours and duties have been completed.
- Commit to the organization’s cause.
- Be self-directed and follow professional etiquette of organization.
- Be responsible for institutional requirements and deadlines.
- Adapt to organization’s scheduling and program framework.
- Keep line of communication open with faculty and the organization throughout project to avoid potential problems.
- Complete evaluations as agreed upon.
- Communicate challenges or problems with students to faculty in a timely fashion.
V. Promoting Diversity: Learning to Value Multiple Perspectives
Faculty and Organization:
- Work together to develop goals and processes for student cultural competency.
- Help students understand and reflect on social status and self-identity.
- Provide feedback on student cultural competency, including student reflection writing.
- Work together, with students, to handle cultural conflicts as they occur.
- Actively recruit more diverse students to servic- learning.
- Provide comprehensive cultural competency training.
- Work to understand social status, self-identity, and community strengths in the service-learning site.
- Actively reflect on the experience and share those reflections with agency staff.
For more resources on service learning:
These principles are elaborated in the 2009 book The Unheard Voices: Community Organizations and Service Learning, edited by Randy Stoecker and Elizabeth Tryon with Amy Hilgendorf, and published by Temple University Press.
To access area service-learning offices:
Go to http://comm-org.wisc.edu/sl to get contact information for area service-learning offices.
This information is based on research by a University of Wisconsin seminar that was held in the spring of 2006, and the input of more than 30 Madison-area community organizations.
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