The Office of Volunteerism and Service Learning offers guidance and support for faculty who wish to incorporate service-learning opportunities in the classroom. 

What is a service-learning course?
A service-learning course is defined as a "credit-bearing, educational experience in which students (a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and (b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility" (Bringle & Hatcher, 1995). 

An academic service-learning partnership involves a community partner (usually a nonprofit organization, governmental agency, or PK- 12 public school,) and faculty member working together, with support from the office of Volunteerism and Service Learning, to develop a service placement or project that will engage students in serving the community partner's needs while gaining an enhanced understanding of the learning objectives in an academic course. These partnerships involve an entire class, or occasionally a small group of students, serving with an organization for an entire semester.  Our program is founded upon a reciprocal relationship between students and community partners.

Learn more about the literature guiding our definition and approach to service-learning through these resources:

How is academic service-learning different from volunteerism or internships?

  • Service-learning is designed to benefit both the student and the community. The service activities meet community needs and enhance student understanding of course content. Service goals are aligned with learning objectives.
  • Volunteerism and community service activities are designed to benefit the community. The benefit to the student is limited to learning how service makes a difference in the lives of the service recipients.
  • Practicums, field education, internships, and co-op education are designed to benefit the student by providing experience in a particular field of study. The student typically works in the private sector rather than for a nonprofit and may even be paid for the work.

What is the advantage of taking (or teaching) a service-learning course?
Studies indicate that students forget half of what they learn passively, but they remember 90% when they DO the "real thing." An Astin HERI study indicates that service participation shows significant positive effects on all its outcome measurements, including: GPA, writing skills, critical thinking, values, self-efficacy, and leadership.  This educational approach enhances the total learning experience, as students are encouraged to consider their service within the context of the larger social, political, and economic issues that impact their project. As such, they are empowered to make positive contributions to their communities utilizing concepts and principles learned in class.  Students' academic experience through service learning opportunities gives them the knowledge, awareness, and impetus to become engaged with their communities. 

Benefits for Faculty and Students

  • Promotes the development of innovative approaches to instruction. 
  • Provides opportunities to collaborate with and meet special needs of community agencies. 
  • Sharpens critical thinking skills, improves mastery of academic material, and demonstrates the relationship between theory and practice. 
  • Strengthens sense of civic responsibility. 
  • Supports exploration of career options. 

To qualify as a service-learning course, what should a course do/include?

  • address an identified community (campus, local, regional, global) need
  • service-learning supports the attainment of one or more course objectives
  • demonstrate a clear connection between the service activity and the course content
  • involve reciprocity between course and community that has the potential to result in students' increased civic awareness and engagement
  • involve structured student reflection on the service experience and its relation to course goals
  • involve collaboration with an appropriate community partner or partners

When designing a service-learning class, what should faculty consider?

  • How can I involce a community partner or partners in project planning, implementation, and evaluation?
  • What kinds of reflection strategies will I use?
  • How will I evaluate student learning?

Assessment can help determine the effectiveness of a service-learning course and its impact on students and community partners. In addition to our office-led assessment initiatives, Volunteerism and Service-Learning offers assessment tools to help faculty collect usable data from service-learning courses and provide feedback on faculty service-learning experiences.

The Community Service Attitudes Scale (CSAS) is a tool developed by service-learning practitioners and used nationally to measure student perceptions about community service. By administering this evaluation at the beginning (as early as possible) and end of a service-learning course and comparing students' pre- and post-evaluation responses, faculty can determine how a service-learning project impacted student perceptions.

What services does VSL offer to support faculty and staff in service-learning courses?

  • We maintain an online system that allows students to respond to volunteer/service needs, log their service hours, and communicate with their community partners.
  • We develop and maintain partnerships with over 300 agencies in the metro Atlanta area and maintain a database that allows them to keep updated agency profiles.
  • We assist in linking faculty with community partners whose needs are relevant to academic goals.
  • We develop new community partnerships based on the needs and interests of faculty members.
  • We organize an annual Volunteer Fair, which assists faculty/students in identifying potential organizations that would meet the objectives of their course.
  • We provide classroom presentations to prepare students for their community work.
  • We coordinate numerous volunteer projects annually that faculty and/or students can participate in.
  • We consult with faculty who may be interested in including a service component in their course(s). 

Is assistance available for faculty who choose to include service-learning activities in their classes?
Yes, VSL can assist with everything from restructuring syllabi to selecting community partners. If you are a faculty member interested in utilizing our services to assist you with your service-learning course (or a student interested in taking a course that has a service-learning component), please visit the Faculty/Staff section of our website HERE for more information and/or contact us at