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Academic Community Service Learning


Academic Community Service Learning (Academic CSL) is a form of EE in which “students engage in activities that address community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote intentional learning goals” (  Another commonly accepted definition comes from Bringle and Hatcher (1996):

"A course based, credit bearing institutional educational experience in which students participate in organized service that meets community needs, and reflect on the service to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic or social responsibility."

Academic Community Service Learning has the following characteristics

  • Linked to course content and learning outcomes
  • Community Experience (unpaid)
  • Reflection


How to do Academic Community Service Learning (CSL)

Academic CSL is fundamentally about relationship building. The relationships that are built are between faculty members and community partners, community partners and students, and students and faculty members. Through pushing students out of their comfort zone and enabling a higher level of communication, significant learning occurs. In this manual, we have attempted to break down the process of academic CSL into discreet steps concerning the planning, implementation and evaluation of an academic CSL opportunity.

Step 1: Forming partnerships

First and foremost, if you are thinking about using academic CSL for the first time, contact your experiential education coordinator. They are in a position to help you find community partnerships, support relationship development, and give you insight into how to plan your course accordingly.

Step 2: Plan your Project

For this step, refer to the Project Planning Form in the appendix. The form is designed to help you remember all the necessary details for planning a successful project. Your experiential education coordinator is available to help you as well. This is also the time to modify your syllabus to include the project.

Step 3: Tell your Students

Many projects will require police reference checks of some sort. If this is the case, the students must be informed as soon as possible. It is often best practice to let your students know in advance of the start date of the course by emailing them.

Step 4: Hold an Information Session

If your project is optional, you may want to hold an information session for students who are interested in participating. Refer to the information session checklist in the appendix, which is designed to help you keep in mind all the relevant pieces of information to pass on to the students at the information session.

Step 5: Paperwork

Students must fill out all applicable paperwork for their placement. The two most important forms will be the Work Education Placement Agreement form (WEPA form), and the Academic CSL Student Agreement. Both forms can be found in the appendix. Other forms that maybe useful are included as well.

Step 6: Hold an Orientation Session              

Ensure that the first day the students are doing their project, they are properly orientated to their learning site. You can refer to the orientation form in the appendix for a list of all items that should be included in a student orientation.

Step 7: Students Create Learning Plans

Students are encouraged to use the Learning Plan, included in the appendix, to help them set goals and reflect on their experience. It is also designed as a simple way to ensure that the course director, community partner, and student all have a clear understanding of the student goals and deliverables as they relate to the project.

Step 8: Continue the Communication During the Project

Keep the lines of communication open with your partner. This will help them deliver relevant feedback, and will positively impact the student experience. Your experiential education coordinator will help you to coordinate feedback meetings.

Step 9: Evaluate and Follow Up

After the project is completed, aside from grading student assignments, this is the time to sit down with your partner and talk about what went well and what can be improved.


Sending Students into the Community

Students can be tremendous assets to community organizations. In order to ensure that both the community partner and the students have positive experiences, it is important to prepare the students properly to interact and function in a community setting. The Academic CSL Handbook for Students was developed with this purpose in mind. It outlines everything from general professional behavior, to communication guidelines, to punctuality, attendance, and many other facets of professional behavior. In addition, it gives students vital information on health and safety, and what to do in any number of challenging situations that may arise in the community placement. The manual is designed to not only help students behave properly in the community, but also minimize the risks associated with students working in a community setting.

The relevant content can be found in the appendix, under Student Guidelines for Academic Community Service Learning.

Updated on April 9th, 2013.