Faculty and staff members are integral to service-learning by serving as community service learning (CSL) course instructors, departmental program coordinators, and advocates to students. 

Faculty and staff members play vital roles in engaging students in critical reflection, interacting with community partners, and conducting community-based research. CSL courses promote student success and retention while improving the quality of learning in traditionally underserved student populations, including students of color, the economically disadvantaged, first-generation college students, and students with different learning styles.

Service-learning is identified as a high-impact educational practice (HIP) by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and is a pedagogy that utilizes community service projects within the context of an academic course.

Academic service-learning distinguishes itself from internships and other credit-bearing community experiences in several ways. First, the community experience is a component of an academic course, used as a "text" for student learning. Second, service-learning projects are designed in partnership with the community to meet an expressed community need. Third, a structured reflection activity is utilized to help students understand how their community experiences link with the academic and civic learning objectives of the course. And, directly and intentionally prepare students for active civic participation in a diverse democratic society. 

Interactive service-learning courses promote achievement and improve the quality of learning in traditionally underserved student populations, such as students of color, the economically disadvantaged, first-generation college students, and students with different learning styles.

At SF State we have adopted the formal definition used by the CSU (statewide) Center for Community Engagement:

“A teaching method that promotes student learning through active participation in meaningful and planned service experiences in the community that are substantively related to course content. Through reflective activities, students enhance their understanding of course content, general knowledge, sense of civic responsibility, self-awareness, and commitment to the community.”

The combination of academic study with community service so that each is enhanced by the other. Through a process of structured reflection, the service experience is integrated with the lessons of the classroom to enrich learning outcomes. CSL is a form of experiential education that . . .

  • is developed, implemented, and evaluated in collaboration with community;
  • responds to campus or community-identified concerns;
  • attempts to balance the service that is provided and the learning that takes place;
  • enhances the curriculum by extending learning beyond the classroom and allowing students to apply what they’ve learned to real-world situations; and
  • provides opportunities for critical reflection.


Central to effective community service-learning courses rely upon reflection, also known as processing, that employs critical analysis. Through critical reflection, students learn to process their experiences and find connections to course content, thereby making their experiences more memorable and valuable. Moreover, reflective critical analysis using different methodologies, tools, and guided by the course instructor can help students develop their civic identities and connections to diverse communities. 

Good critical analysis:

  • is intentionally designed by the faculty member
  • works with a variety of student learning styles
  • happens throughout the course — not just at the end

Critical analysis can take a number of forms. Some of the most common are:

  • guided journaling
  • related research and writing projects
  • role-playing, plays, presentations
  • art, creative writing, and multimedia projects
  • group discussions

1Eyler, J., " Giles, D. E. (1999). Where's the learning in service-learning? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Why should faculty do it?

Critical analysis also called "reflection, "processing" and other combinations of these terms, is thinking about a service experience in order to connect the service experience and the course material. Although one can do this process alone, it is important to share perceptions with others who may have interpreted the experience differently or made different connections. Learning comes through sharing about what we do, not by just doing, nor by just thinking.

Critical analysis is not only a means to integrate service and course content, it is also critical in challenging or reinforcing conclusions which grow out of experience. Students may find their assumptions or philosophies challenged through service-learning and may need to hear other opinions to help understand their experience. Through discussions in an open forum, a student can consider their own experience and conclusions in a broader context. Without thinking about the experience, the service may do more harm than good, especially if it reinforces inaccurate stereotypes.

Effective critical analysis goes beyond the application of concepts learned in the classroom. It promotes good citizenship. SF State's mission statement includes preparing students "to become productive, ethical, active citizens with a global perspective." Critical analysis can help make the connection between the current experience and broader issues of citizen involvement and action.

Adapted from Eby, John, "Why Service-Learning Is Bad" (1998). 

Thinking critically about service may be new for students. For many students, it takes explicit attention to the reflection process before they become thoughtful about what they do, and reflection is not routinely built into most community work.1 Many students are not challenged by sharing their personal experiences with service or by doing the service itself. However, some may be resistant to addressing the critical thinking goals of academic service-learning. Students may write the "transformational essay," thinking that it is what faculty want and expect to hear. This can be a bigger challenge to grade, as service-learning is a transformational process. If you are getting the "it changed my life" essay without evidence, it is possible that the student did not fully connect their service to the course goals and you may want to clarify the purpose of service-learning and critical analysis with them.

There are many other activities you can borrow or adapt for your service-learning class's critical analysis.

Moore, D.T. "Discovering the Pedagogy of Experience​." Harvard Educational Review, 1981, 51(2), 286-300. in Eyler, J., & Giles, D. E. (1999).


Watch Reflection in Service-Learning Part II, a video from St. Mary's College of California.

What? So What? Now What?

"What? So What? Now What?" provides a structure for critical analysis. There is some information in the Reflection in Service-Learning Part II video from St. Mary's College of California, above.

What? What happened? What did you do? What did you expect and what was different?

Note: This is also the time for preparation and orientation.
Some ideas: ask students to check out the website of the community partner, define important terms (watershed, homelessness, etc.), ask community partner to come to class and bring a client.

So What? Why does that matter? To you? To the partner? To society as a whole? In the context of the class? Is our experience in alignment, informed by, in conflict with other class texts?

Now what? What will you do differently? What have you learned? Will you continue to serve or commit to political engagement?

What? So What? Now What? can be a written assignment, art project, 3-panel poster presentation, discussion, or a combination. Each section of What? So What? Now What? can be graded equally or more points can be given for certain sections. For example What? = 1 point So what? = 1 point + 1 point for each connection to a lecture or reading Now what? = 1 point + 1 point for evidence of action taken

Do you have questions or tips to share about What? So What? Now What? Please let us know.

Because, service-learning is not credit for service (or time) and because service-learning is an integrated text of an academic course that provides credit for learning, and because service-learning is based on reciprocal University-Community partnerships:

  • We measure academic learning AND
  • civic learning AND
  • We also need to ensure community interest is addressed

Community-Engaged Learning Course Framework 

  • Encompasses community engagement and service-learning; developed by the Chancellor's Office and used to apply course attributes.

There are many tools you can borrow or adapt to assess your service-learning class:

Assessing the Impact of Service Learning: A Workbook of Strategies and Methods. 2nd Ed. Portland, OR: Center for Academic Excellence, Portland State University, 1997.

  • A handbook of strategies of assessment using case studies that responds to the complexity of service learning and focuses on all four constituencies of service learning--students, faculty, community, and institution.

The Evaluation Handbook: Practical Tools for Evaluating Service Learning Programs. Mark Batenburg and Denise Clark Pope Ph.D. Oakland, CA: Service Learning 2000 Center, 1997.

  • An instructive manual and workbook for those interested in evaluating a community service program.

The Measure of Service Learning. Robert G. Bringle, Mindy A. Philips, and Michael Hudson. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004.

  • A valuable resource for program evaluators and researchers who want to inform the practice of service learning. Provides an extensive compilation of scales for use in studying students in service learning classes.

Profiles of Successful Service Learning Initiatives. Center for Experiential Education and Service-Learning, University of Minnesota.

  • Provides support for teachers writing evaluations of their service learning programs through documentation of other teacher narratives of service-learning programs to increase awareness and use of exemplary service-learning initiatives by identifying programs and practices that work.

Assessing Service-Learning and Civic Engagement. Dr. Sherril Gelmon PH.D., Barbara A. Holland Ph.D, Amy Driscoll Ed.D, Amy Springs M.P.A., and Seanna Kerrigan M.Ed. Providence, RI: Campus Compact, 2001.

  • Offers a broad overview of many issues related to assessment in higher education, with specific application for understanding the impact of service-learning and civic engagement initiatives.

Service Learning and Assessment: A Field Guide for Teachers. National Service-Learning and Assessment Study Group, 1999.

  • A compilation of case studies that provide suggestions and clues about how to develop service-learning strategies and assessment tools.

Faculty Development Workshop. Community-Service Learning office, California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA: 1999.

  • A complete workshop of the components of Community Service Learning and how to plan a service-learning class with community partners.

Evaluating Service-Learning Activities and Programs. David A. Payne, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Education, 2000.

  • A guide to evaluating service-learning outcomes and their relevance to the curriculum using an extended case study for schools that have a service-learning component as part of their curriculum.

Community engaged teaching has many positive impacts. Most, but not all, of the research focuses on service learning.

Learn more about the impacts on faculty, students, organizations, SF State, California, and beyond!

Service-learning courses are offered across disciplines at SF State . ICCE can help you create or deepen your service-learning class. We provide models of other courses, sample syllabi, resources for course construction, reflective analysis tools, and risk management support.

Examples of service-learning activities in the departments


To ensure strong communication with students, syllabi in community-engaged courses should include:

  • A definition of community engagement or service-learning and an explanation of how or why this type of learning activity is important to the course or discipline
  • A description of the community engagement or service-learning activities and how they connect to community needs
  • Identification of time commitment or requirement (if relevant)
  • Instructions for the placement process, including finding/contacting partners, confirming placement, and logging hours.
  • Identification of course materials that connect community and course learning
  • An articulation of student learning outcomes relevant to the community engagement/service learning activity (e.g. civic learning, social responsibility, social justice, equity, sustainability) or that demonstrates the connection between community and course learning
  • Identification of assignments that connect community and course learning (e.g. reflections, papers, presentations, discussions)
  • Explanation of any assessment tied to community engagement or service-learning activity or assignments

When organizing and constructing your community-engaged learning course, consider four basic principles:

  1. Engagement: Does the service meet a real community need? Has that been defined by your local community? How?
  2. Reflection: Do you have mechanisms built throughout the semester to support students in making connections between the course content and service experiences?
  3. Reciprocity: Is the partnership going to provide mutually beneficial outcomes for students and community partners? Do both serve as teacher and learner equally?
  4. Public dissemination: Is the outcome of the service activity/project presented to the organization for current and future use? How?

Adapted from: Heffernan, K. (2001). Fundamentals of service-learning course connection. Providence: Campus Compact.



ICCE provides administrative support and resources for faculty/staff to develop and teach service-learning courses. Through our services, we promote opportunities for faculty/staff to increase their social network, participate in engaged scholarship, advertise themselves through different avenues, and get involved with diverse communities.

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