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

Coming Soon!

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.

Risk Management    

As with any form of experiential learning in which students leave campus, service-learning can entail different risks than classroom learning. Faculty should consider the specific risks involved in academic service-learning, and respond appropriately in course and project design. This information supplements information from UVM's department of Risk Management, which may also be useful.

Guiding Principles of Risk Management for Academic Service-Learning

  • Provide an orientation to students that includes an overview of service-learning and the policies, expectations and guidelines involved in the specific service activities, projects or research in which they will be engaging.
  • Discuss the syllabus and/or assignments with students so that they fully understand their responsibilities, partners' expectations, the learning objectives, and the context for the service, project or research. Written agreements or memoranda of understanding (MOU's) are strongly encouraged.
  • Conduct visits, if appropriate, with service sites to ensure safety and suitability.
  • Collect students' emergency contact information, and familiarize yourself with the emergency procedures in the site, if appropriate.

Ways We Can Help

As with any topic, CUPS staff are happy to consult on risk management practices in your particular course.

Our Resource Library has many publications highlighting the range of academic service-learning, with examples and materials from many disciplines.

SL-TAs can be requested in advance. These teaching assistants can help manage the service-learning project, conduct site visits, orient students to service sites, gather emergency contact information if appropriate, and/or function as a liaison to a community partner.


For more extensive information, please review the Department of Risk Management & Safety's “Field Trip Guidelines”. The Vehicle Safety section of their website is also an indispensable resource for transportation risk management information.

Best Transportation Practices — Bus and University-Owned Vehicles

Use of personal vehicles is discouraged. Ideally, students will travel by bus or in University-owned or leased behicles. CCTA buses are free for UVM students.

University-owned vehicles are available in some departments.

The Student Government Association rents six 12-passenger vans and a pick-up truck. Academic departments can reserve them 10 days in advance of the rental and student groups can reserve up to 4 weeks ahead, meaning SGA vehicles have extremely limited availability on weekends. During the summer and mid-week, however, they become more available. SGA vans cost $90/day (each) and are parked at the Gutterson Parking Garage. This includes insurance through the University. If anything were to happen, it would be covered except for a deductible, for which the renting department is responsible. Vans come with a full tank of gas, and renters are responsible for returning them full. Contact Sara Gabaree in SGA to reserve one of their vehicles van.

Drivers of University-owned vans must be certified through the driver safety program offered by Risk Management. Note that this includes a driving background check through the DMV (which can take up to 10 days) and a 2-hour driver safety lesson. For more information, see their Driver Safety Program webpage.

Renting Vehicles

If University-owned vehicles are not available, vans or cars may be rented. UVM maintains a rental agreement with Hertz. Travelers should visit the Hertz Direct Booking Tool at: or call the local Shelburne Road Office: (802) 859-3601. The UVM corporate discount number is 1814044. Those renting vehicles should review UVM's policies concerning auto rental.

Use of Personal Vehicles

Student driving is also discouraged. If students or faculty must drive personal vehicles, they must show proof of a valid driver's license, insurance and sign the alternative transportation waiver. When students are travelling on their own for service-learning and community projects, it is best to arrange a university vehicle. But if that is not feasible, collect all drivers' liscense and insurance information, and have them all sign the waivers. NOTE: Those driving personal vehicles will not be covered by UVM's insurance policy in case of an accident.


Review the appropriate UVM policies for auto rental and use of University-owned vehicles. These are quite specific; consider bringing a copy of the policy with you.


Last modified May 09 2016 10:14 AM