University of Vermont

Office of Community-University Partnerships & Service Learning

Rubenstein students in former Dean Mary Watzin's RSENR class.

Course & Project Design for Community-Based Learning

The following topics outline the general process of designing community-based projects involving a community partner.

Choosing the Course

What level of the curriculum do I want to choose, and what will my students' capacity be?

Designing a service-learning projects depends at the very base upon the location of a particular course in the curriculum. First-year seminar? Capstone course for seniors? Required course in the major? Upper-level elective? All of these mean different student capabilities, experience and expectations. Service-learning can be done in all of them, but should be tailored to its location in the curriculum.

Faculty often assume that experiential learning and community engagement should be reserved for upper-level students, but there are good reasons to consider it in earlier courses as well.  By giving students experiential learning opportunities in their earlier courses, they will be better prepared to engage at a deeper level as juniors and seniors. Experiential learning can engage students and draw them in to a discipline, helping them to see the real-world implications of the subject matter.  Service and projects can be designed to draw on the skills students have at each level of the curriculum.

Click to enlarge picture.

Identifying the Learning Goals    

What learning goals do I want to further with an experiential component?

Some course content lends itself immediately, or obviously, to a community-engaged project. For example, courses in public communications, engineering, forestry, statistics, or nursing are often teaching content which can immediately be put to the benefit of a community partner, in the form of marketing plans, engineering designs, forest management plans, data analysis or health workshops.  Yet service-learning may be a perfect fit even in unexpected places:  students might teach others, create educational materials, engage in research, or any number of projects connected to course content.

Thinking specifically about your learning goals for the course can help you to develop possible activities and potential partners.

Deciding the Scale or Scope

What proportion of the course work should the SL service/project be?

Similarly, deciding the scale of the SL project can narrow your focus.  SL projects can be a small portion of the course, or the entirety of the course.  A senior capstone SL course would likely involve the project as a central focus, while an introductory course could have one SL assignment among several assignments.   Upper-level classes could also employ service-learning at a smaller scale. 

Identifying Partners

How do I find community partners for my class?

Faculty are welcome to choose appropriate community partners for their courses. Many faculty find that their academic interests or research have already brought them into contact with community partners. But for others, the connections are not immediate. CUPS is happy to help with identifying potential community partners, and is developing a database of past and potential partners.

Identifying Projects or Service

Reciprocity is the key term in service-learning, and one of the most difficult for us as faculty to grasp. It will make sense to develop projects and service in collaboration with your community partner. If you have a clear idea of what students might do, you will need to shop that idea to community partners until you find one for whom that would be useful. If you have a partner in mind, approach them with a rough idea of your students' capabilities and your ideal scale/scope, to see if they have a project in the pipeline that matches these. This should ideally be an iterative process, until you have found a project which aligns with a community partner's needs, student capacity, and your learning goals.

Describing the Service-Learning

See sample syllabi and service-learning project descriptions. Being explicit about all aspects of the service-learning component will help with both student understanding and community partner expectations.

Designing the Structured Reflection

Coming Soon!


CUPS conducts assessment of every designated service-learning class, sending a satisfaction and impact survey to all community partners each semester (this is why we ask for community partner contact information from all faculty). Click HERE to view the survey questions, if you wish. We publish the results in summary format every year in our September newsletter (and results are available HERE under "Summaries and Reports").

If you are interested in engaging in deeper assessment of your course, we would be happy to collaborate with you. Student learning outcomes, community partner impact, student success and other topics are all possible foci for study - and publication in pedagogical journals as the scholarship of teaching and learning.


Last modified April 29 2016 02:34 PM