Service Learning

Guiding Principles to Reduce Risk in Service Learning

The following guiding principles are considered best practices throughout the field and apply to all the parties involved in service-learning experiences: service-learning staff, faculty members, community-base organizations and service-learning students. Since each service-learning course is different, these guidelines are not intended to be all encompassing. However, these do's and don'ts apply to most situations. (If you feel something included here is prohibitive to the service-learning experience you hope to offer to your students, please have a discussion that includes the faculty member, the service-learning office, and a university rank manager.) The intent of these guidelines is not to prohibit service-learning experiences, but rather, to provide best practices that allow for safe and positive service environments where the risk and liability have been minimized.

For Service-Learning Staff and Faculty

  • DO provide campus - and community - based organization orientations to familiarize students with policies, procedures and risks involved in the specific service activities they will be providing and with the populations they serve.
  • DO discuss Learning Plans with students so they fully understand their responsibilities, learning objectives and service objectives, and are informed of the risks associated with their service-learning placements. Students should sign in Learning Plan, and have their site supervisor(s) and faculty members review and sign it as well.
  • DO build a working relationship with your risk manager and contracts and procurement officer.
  • DO be aware that special insurance policies for professional coverage are available for specific students and programs. (i.e nursing, social work).
  • DO conduct site reviews before, during and after a service-learning course is offered.
  • DO understand that faculty members can be individually named in lawsuits and should play an active role in ensuring safe and positive service-learning experiences for their students.
  • DO know that faculty members will be indemnified and protected by the university in the case of a lawsuit, so long as the faculty member was acting within the scope of his or her work.
  • DO offer alternative placements and /or opportunities for students in service-learning courses to avoid potential risks.
  • DO meet the special safety needs of any student.
  • DO be aware that there are state and federal regulations regarding fingerprinting and background checks for those students whose service-learning placements are in organizations that works with children, the elderly, or persons with disabilities.
  • DO know when each student is scheduled to provide service and be able to verify that the student did provide the service at the community-based organization site. This will help to determine who holds liability for student behavior or student injury at any given time.
  • DO know where emergency contact information for students is kept, and what the procedures are at the university and at the community-based organization site if an emergency occurs. If the community-based organization asks the student for emergency contact information,a copy should be kept at the university for the duration of the service-learning experience.
  • DON'T assume that students are automatically covered for liability through the university or community-based organization when they enroll in courses and participate in service-learning activities.
  • DON'T assume that campus and site orientations are consistent; they vary among courses, campuses, departments and community-based organizations.
  • DON'T assume individual and faculty members or departments are aware of the students' whereabouts or activities while performing their service learning.
  • DON'T assume that students are aware of such issues as liability or sexual harassment policies. Both campus and site orientations are necessary to familiarize students with any potential risks involved with service-learning activities.
  • DON'T assume that student fees will automatically absorb incidental costs for fingerprinting and background checks, or that the community-based organization will pay these fees. They can be an additional financial burden for a particular placement.
  • DON'T arrange travel for students. Liability is greatly reduced if students are responsible for their own transportation to and from the service site.

For Service-Learning Syllabi and Class Discussions

  • DO include a description of the service as an expressed goal.
  • DO include a description of the nature of the service placement and / or project.
  • DO specify the role and responsibilities of students in the placement and / or service project.
  • DO include whether or not the service project / experience is mandatory. If it is mandatory, offer an alternative for students who cannot do, for any reason, the specific type of service you have identified.
  • DO include time requirements (how many hours total / per week / per term).
  • DO include community-based organization contact information.
  • DO identify the needs of the community that will be met through this service placement.
  • DO explain how students will be expected to demonstrate what they have learned in the placement, such as journals, test papers, and in-class presentations.
  • DO include an explanation of what will be evaluated and how it will be evaluated. (In terms of course grade).
  • DO explain how the course assignments link the service-learning placement to the course content.
  • DO require a Learning Plan for each student that defines the scope of service to ensure the faculty member, student and site supervisor meet educational objectives, create measurable outcomes, and understand the risks inherent in the particular placement.
  • DO explain, if appropriate, the expectations for the public dissemination of the students' work.
  • DON'T distribute a syllabus that doesn't clearly explain or define the service-learning goals, objectives, criteria and requirements.
  • DON'T wait until the beginning of the quarter / semester to determine with which community-based organization to partner. Plan ahead.
  • DON'T allow students to randomly select their sites for service-learning placements.
  • DON'T allow students to complete their service in only one or two sessions, but rather distribute the service over a consistent period of time.
  • DON'T wait until the end of the term to clarify the reflective process for student evaluation and learning outcomes.
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