It is important that students and faculty working with community groups develop healthy partnerships that meets identified community needs as well as objectives for students of the course or initiative.

Educators may consider including monitoring and feedback mechanisms for evaluating the partnership between students and community partners and ongoing dialogue among all partners. It is also important that students are given opportunities to reflect on their experiences outside of the classroom so that they can link their activities to what they are learning.


Principles of Best Practice in Service-Learning in Courses

(Source: University of Massachusetts Amherst)

  • The two primary aims of service-learning should be to offer an intellectually rich educational experience for students and to address a significant community need.

  • The service-learning project should be well-integrated into the course content, so that students clearly see the relationship between the project and the academic goals of the course. They should also be able to understand why the experience has intellectual value.

  • Adequate in-class time should be allocated for the students to share, discuss, and analyze their service-learning experiences with other students in the class and with their professor.

  • The time commitment for completing the service-learning project and students' reflection on it should be flexible, appropriate, and in the best interests of everyone involved: students, faculty, and community partner.

  • Structured opportunities for analysis should be incorporated into the course requirements so that students may reflect critically on their experiences.

  • Students should receive some instruction in how "to read experience as a text" so that they learn to isolate pivotal experiences and analyze their significance. It is important to remember that while most students have been schooled and are quite skilled in interpreting the written word, they are much less adept in understanding how to analyze experience. Students should also receive guidance in connecting the “text” of their experience to the other texts in the course, allowing their experience to illuminate or challenge their other readings.

  • Faculty should recognize that creating a viable service-learning project with a community partner takes time, commitment, and an understanding of the partner's point of view.
  • The community partner, not the faculty member, should identify what the community needs and the goals to which it aspires.
  • Collaborations between faculty and community partners are key to creating a service-learning project that is both intellectually rich and provides a real service to the community.
  • Final results of the service-learning project should be shared by the students with the community partner. End-of-the-semester oral presentations have been especially useful in bringing everyone involved in the project together. It is also a good way to celebrate the project's completion.



What is Education For?

Six myths about the foundations of modern education, and six new principles to replace them

We are accustomed to thinking of learning as good in and of itself. But as environmental educator David Orr reminds us, our education up till now has in some ways created a monster. Orr makes the case for a new foundation of education with the following principles: that all education is connected to environmental education, that knowledge carries with it the responsibility to see that it is used well in the world, that we cannot say we know something until we understand the effects of this knowledge on real people and communities, that we harness the power of examples over simply memorizing world, and that we understand that the process of learning is as important as the content learned.



Orr emphasizes the important role of experiential learning and working within communities, specifically by arguing that our education must instill within students a broad, integrated sense of the unity of things. Courses taught in isolation from real communities tend to induce passivity, and indoor classes create the illusion that learning can only occur in isolation from the “real world”. If we are to hope to create future citizens that can inherit the world in the future, we will need people who can participation in the creation of real solutions to real problems, inside and outside of the classroom.



Learning Through Service

By caring for others, students learn how to care for themselves—and their world

By separating the academy from the “real world”, we isolate learners from the very culture we profess to be preparing them for, says McPherson. Instead, she suggests that universities engage in service learning.

A 4-year study in psychology studied 60 adult graduate students, half of whom were enrolled in traditional learning programs, the other half in non-traditional, self-directed, mentor-oriented programs. Results from psychological tests, a questionnaire, and interviews demonstrated that adults in traditional programs regressed developmentally, while those in self-directed programs grew significantly. According to McPherson, “we learn best when the subject is personally meaningful, when we have input into what and how we learn, and when we have some measure of control over our life as a learner.”




Experiential Learning and the Reflection Process – “what, so what, now what?”

In the context of higher education, experiential learning offers a chance for students to link what they are learning in their studies to the world. As students reflect on the linkage between higher education training and worldly realities, reflection becomes a source for their own development.

Reflection is highly personal, and students may interpret the form of their reflection in different ways. It is helpful to have a process for what is required in a reflection—the ‘what, so what, now what’ model may be a good starting point:

Reflection on one’s experience (the ‘what’):

Questions to consider when reflecting on ‘what’ happened during an experience include: What happened during this experience? What did you notice most? What factors or observations stood out? How might this differ from your training and experience in class? What aspects of your training were most relevant to the experience on site?

Common sense may present a stumbling block to determining the object of reflection for students, as they may not be able to identify a significant episode during their experience to focus their attention at first. Students may require prompts at first to identify an object of their reflection, be it a specific scenario, interaction with a colleague, or time period.

Reframe the experience through critical reflection (the ‘so what’):

Questions to consider when reflecting the ‘so what’ of an experience include: Ask, so what? Why is that important? What patterns or conclusions are emerging? Why might this have happened? What else could have happened?

Students may need to be prompted to consider their experience from different angles and approaches. Collective reflection and facilitated discussion can help raise alternative perspectives, as each student brings their own social and cultural lens to the discussion.

Reform based on your reflection (the ‘now what’):

Questions to consider when reflecting ‘now what’ following an experience include: What actions or changes to your approach might make most sense now? What do I need to better prepare myself for an experience like this going forward?

At this stage, students may go beyond simply thinking about the experience themselves and begin to think about who they were before the experience and how they have changed as a result of it.



For more helpful resources, check out Further Reading