Howard, J., and McKeachie, W. (1993). Praxis I: A faculty casebook on community service learning. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Office of Community Service Learning (OCSL) Press.
Principle 1: Academic credit is for learning, not for service
Credit in academic courses is assigned to students for the demonstration of academic learning. It should be no different in community service learning courses. Academic credit is for academic learning, and community service is not academic in nature. Therefore, the credit must not be for the performance of the service. However, when community service is integrated into an academic course, the course credit is assigned for both the customary academic learning as well as for the utilization of the community learning in the service of the course learning. Similarly, the student’s grade is for the quality of learning and not for the quality (or quantity) of the service.
Principle 2: Do not compromise academic rigor
Academic standards in a course are based on the challenge that readings, presentations, and assignments present to students. These standards ought to be sustained when adding a community service learning component. Though experience-based learning is frequently perceived to be less rigorous than academic learning, especially in scholarly circles, we advise against compromising the level of instructor expectation for student learning. The additional workload imposed by a community service assignment may be compensated by an additional credit, but not by lowering academic learning expectations. Adding a service component, in fact, may enhance the rigor of a course because in addition to having to master the academic material, students must also learn how to learn from community experience and merge that learning with academic learning, and these are challenging intellectual activities that are commensurate with rigorous academic standards.
Principle 3: Set learning goals for students
Establishing learning goals for students is a standard to which all courses ought to be held accountable. Not only should it be no different with community service learning courses, but in fact it is especially necessary and advantageous to do so with these kinds of courses. With the addition of the community as a learning context, there occurs a multiplication of learning paradigms (e.g., inductive learning, synthesis of theory and practice) and learning topics (e.g., service of the course goals), and fully taking advantage of the rich bounty of learning opportunity offered by the community requires deliberate planning of the course learning goals.
Principle 4: Establish criteria for the selection of community service placements
To utilize community service optimally on behalf of course learning requires more than merely directing students to find a service placement. Faculty who are deliberate about establishing criteria for selecting community service placements will find that the learning that students extract from their respective service experiences will be of better use on behalf of course learning than if placement criteria are not established.
We offer three criteria as essential in all community service learning courses. First, the range of service placements ought to be circumscribed by the content of the courses; homeless shelters and soup kitchens are learning-appropriate placements for a course on homelessness, but placements in schools are not. Second, the duration of the service must be sufficient to enable the fulfillment of learning goals; a one-time two-hour shift at a hospital will do little for the learning in a course on institutional health care. And third, the specific service activities and service contexts must have the potential to stimulate course-relevant learning; filing records in a warehouse may be of service to a school district, but it would offer little to stimulate learning in a course on elementary school education.
We also offer three guidelines regarding the setting of placement criteria. First, responsibility for insuring that placement criteria are established that will enable the best student learning rests with the faculty. Second, the learning goals established for the course will be helpful in informing the placement criteria. And third, faculty who utilize the volunteer services office on campus or in the community to assist with identifying criteria-satisfying community agencies will reduce their start-up labor costs.
Principle 5: Provide educationally sound learning strategies to harvest community learning and realize course learning objectives
Learning in any course is realized by the proper mix and level of learning formats and assignments. To maximize students’ service experiences on behalf of course learning in a community service learning course requires more than sound service placements. Course assignments and learning formats must be carefully developed both to facilitate the students’ learning from their community service experiences and to enable use on behalf of course learning. Assigning students to serve at a community agency, even a faculty-approved one, without any mechanisms in place to harvest the learning therefrom, is insufficient to contribute to course learning. Experience as a learning format in and of itself does not consummate learning, nor does mere written description of one’s service activities.
Learning interventions that instigate critical reflection on and analysis of service experiences are necessary to enable community learning to be harvested and to serve as an academic learning enhancer. Therefore, discussions, presentations, and journal and paper assignments that provoke analysis of service experiences in the context of the course learning and that encourage the blending of experiential and academic learning are necessary to help ensure that the service does not underachieve in its role as an instrument of learning. Here too, the learning goals set for the course will be helpful in informing the course learning formats and assignments.
Principle 6: Provide supports for students to learn how to harvest the community learning
Harvesting the learning from the community and utilizing it on behalf of course learning are learning paradigms for which most students are underprepared. Faculty can help students realize the potential of community learning by either assisting students with the acquisition of skills necessary for gleaning the learning from the community, or by providing examples of how to do so successfully. An example of the former would be to provide instruction on participant-observation skills; an example of the latter would be to make accessible a file containing past outstanding student papers and journals to current students in the course.
Principle 7: Minimize the distinction between the students’ community learning role and the classroom learning role
Classrooms and communities are very different learning contexts, each requiring the student to assume a different learning role. Generally, classrooms provide a high level of learning direction, with students expected to assume largely a learning-follower role. In contrast, communities provide a low level of learning direction, with students expected to assume largely a learning-leader role. Though there is compatibility between the level of learning direction and the expected student role within each learning context, there is incompatibility across them.
Alternating between the learning-follower role in the classroom and the learning-leader role in the community not only places yet another learning challenge on students but also is inconsistent with good pedagogical principles. Just as we do not mix required lectures (high learning-follower role) with a student-determined reading list (high learning-leader role) in a traditional course, so too we must not impose conflicting learner role expectations on students in community service learning courses.
Therefore, if students are expected to assume a learning-follower role in the classroom, then a mechanism is needed that will provide learning direction for the students in the community (e.g., community agency staff serving in an adjunct instructor role); otherwise, students will enter the community wearing the inappropriate learning-follower hat. Correspondingly, if the students are expected to assume a learning-leader role in the community, then room must be made in the classroom for students to assume a learning-leader role; otherwise, students will enter the classroom wearing the inappropriate learning-leader hat. The more we can make consistent each student’s learning role in the classroom with her or his learning role in the community, the better the chances that the learning potential within each context will be realized.
Principle 8: Rethink the faculty instructional role
Regardless of whether they assume learning-leader or learning-follower roles in the community, community service learning students are acquiring course-relevant information and knowledge from their service experiences. At the same time, as we previously acknowledged, students also are being challenged by the many new and unfamiliar ways of learning inherent in community service learning. Because students carry this new information and these learning challenges back to the classroom, it behooves service learning faculty to reconsider their interpretation of the classroom instructional role. A shift in instructor role that would be most compatible with these new learning phenomena would be a move away from information dissemination and a move toward learning facilitation and guidance. Exclusive or even primary use of the traditional instructional model interferes with the promise of learning fulfillment available in community service learning courses.
Principle 9: Be prepared for uncertainty and variation in student learning outcomes
In college courses, the learning stimuli and class assignments largely determine student outcomes. This is true in community service learning courses too. However, in traditional courses, the learning stimuli (i.e., lectures and readings) are constant for all enrolled students; this leads to predictability and homogeneity in student learning outcomes. In community service learning courses, the variability in community service placements necessarily leads to less certainty and homogeneity in student learning outcomes. Even when community service learning students are exposed to the same presentations and the same readings, instructors can expect that the content of class discussions will be less predictable and the content of student papers will be less homogenous than in courses without a community assignment.
Principle 10: Maximize the community responsibility orientation of the course
If one of the objectives of a community service learning course is to cultivate students’ sense of community and social responsibility, then designing course learning formats and assignments that encourage a communal rather than an individual learning orientation will contribute to this objective. If learning in a course is privatized and tacitly understood as for the advancement of the individual, then we are implicitly encouraging a private responsibility mindset; an example would be to assign papers that students write individually and that are read only by the instructor. On the other hand, if learning is shared among the learners for the benefit of corporate learning, then we are implicitly encouraging a group responsibility mentality; an example would be for students to share those same papers with other students in the class. This conveys to the students that they are resources for one another, and this message contributes to the building of commitment to community and civic duty.
Howard notes that by subscribing to this set of 10 pedagogical principles, faculty will find that students’ learning from their service will be optimally utilized on behalf of academic learning, corporate learning, developing a commitment to civic responsibility, and providing learning-informed service in the community.