For service to have value and meaning and to build effective partnerships between students, faculty and community members, there are five critical elements that must be included in the design and direction of courses and community service programs.
Community Voice/Student Voice
Community and student voice is essential to build bridges, make change and solve pressing problems. Academic courses which include service and campus community service programs must ensure that the voice and needs of the community and students are included in the development of programs and service placements.
Thoughtful action means that the service that is being done is necessary and valuable to the community itself. Meaningful action benefits both the community and student in that both feel that the service makes a difference in a measurable way and is a productive use of time and resources. When service is not perceived as necessary and valuable, students and community members will quickly lose motivation for the service and the partnership.
Orientation and Training
Orientation and training are important first steps for any service experience. The students, faculty and community members should be provided with information which will help them prepare for the experience. For example, community agencies or members working with students should receive information about the course, a list of contacts on the campus, an academic calendar, and information about any expectations regarding their participation in the training, supervision and evaluation of students. Students should receive information about the community, the issue, agency or community group they will be working with as well as specific training for their service placement and expectations regarding their participation, supervision and evaluation.
Reflection is a crucial component of the service-learning experience and works as both a vehicle to process the experience and apply academic work. Students, faculty and community members share reactions, stories, feelings and facts about the service and the issues which help to place the experience into a broader context.
Evaluation measures the impact of the students’ learning experience and the effectiveness of the service in the community. Students, faculty and community partners should evaluate the effectiveness of the partnership and the service. Continuous improvement measures give direction for improvement, growth and change.