Essential Practices for Faculty to Prepare Students for A Quality Service-Learning Experience while Mitigating Risk

As a faculty member, you play a pivotal role in setting a solid foundation for a student’s service-learning experience. Your commitment to partnership building both on- and off-campus, as well as your understanding of risk mitigation practices are critically important to student success. Faculty members set the tone of promoting safety, informing students of their placement sites, and reflecting with students throughout the entirety of the service-learning experience.

Required student risk forms need to be signed prior to a student’s first day of service. It is highly encouraged to list the forms required by students on your syllabus, shared verbally on the first day or week of class and verified before students begin service.

  1. Familiarize Yourself with Campus Risk Practices: Please consult the Service-Learning/Community Engagement Office on your campus to see what forms are required by the University for both partners and students. Before placing students at a learning site, confirm with the service-learning/community engagement department that the learning site has a current University-Agency Agreement on record.  It is imperative to know that the Student Academic Field Experience for Credit Liability Insurance Program (SAFECLIP)This link will open a PDF file. (pdf) provides general and professional liability coverage for students enrolled in service-learning courses and learning sites only when the proper agreement is in place. 

    It is strongly recommended that every service-learning participant sign a Release of Liability WaiverThis link will open a Word document. (docx). If a student refuses to sign this waiver they must be provided with an alternative assignment and may not be penalized in terms of their grade or course standing. Your campus may require additional forms based on risk management policies. Seek out the consultation of your service-learning/community engagement office and campus risk manager.
  2. Conduct a Student Orientation: Communicate with your community partner to negotiate service-learning placement specifics, logistical information, and orientation requirements. The Service-Learning Course Planning Checklist for FacultyThis link will open a Word document. (docx) and the Orientation ChecklistThis link will open a Word document. (docx) are examples of two resources that can assist with the topic areas that should be covered before service. Faculty members and learning site representatives are encouraged to work together to ensure that, prior to their first day of service, a student orientation is offered to make them aware of their learning opportunities, the nature of their service-learning placements, any health and safety requirements, as well as any potential risks.
  3. Develop and Discuss a Learning Plan with Students:  Faculty are encouraged to utilize, create, discuss and review the Learning PlanThis link will open a Word document. (doc). Though not a risk management document, the Learning Plan is an educational service-learning tool that provides the opportunity for faculty and students to have a conversation on the connections between the course content and the service placement.  A copy of the completed and signed Learning Plan by the student can be shared with the learning site contact. These plans can be filed by the faculty member with other course materials or managed and stored electronically on platforms such as CalState S4 which allow students, faculty, and site supervisors to sign the form and access it as needed. As a course material, the Learning Plan is stored according to your campus documentation retention policy, typically three years from the end of the service-learning course.
  4. Inform Students of their Rights: Clearly communicate and inform students of the rights they have regarding service-learning placements. This can be done through the syllabus, during class time or as part of the online student placement process. Students should be aware that their course grade will not be affected as they have the right to decline signing the Release of Liability WaiverThis link will open a Word document. (docx) form. If this occurs, students are to be made aware that they will not be placed at a learning site and will instead receive an alternative assignment. Students participating with a service-learning component, have the right to contact you or a designated University official at any time to modify their service requirement, report harassment, and inform you of unexpected changes to their service-learning responsibilities. By students knowing their options and their rights in service-learning placements, they can make a more informed choice about their participation. It is highly encouraged that you collaborate with service-learning/community engagement staff on how this information is communicated. See section on student rights, for more information. 
  5. Track Service Hours through Time Logs: The faculty member should provide students with information on how to track their hours of service. For example, the service-learning office may have a database (i.e., CalState S4) that allows students to create a personal login for their placement and track their hours electronically and where hours can be verified by site supervisors or faculty themselves. Time logs are beneficial to see the exact timing of students’ hours, the tasks completed, and an accurate total of hours served for the class. See section on time logs for more information.
  6. Incorporate Reflection: A critical piece of the learning that occurs in service-learning is directly related to the reflection. Reflection activities can take several forms such as journals, focus groups, classroom and/or community presentations, portfolios, etc. These activities serve a purpose to have students see the connection between their service in the community and the classroom content. By incorporating reflective activities with students prior, during and after their service-learning placements, faculty can more accurately gauge how the project/experience is progressing or if there are issues that need to be addressed with students or the learning site.