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Service-Learning and Civic Engagement

Faculty FAQs

What is service-learning?
Service-learning is an academic exercise designed to promote students’ learning and civic engagement through a combination of academic study, meaningful community service, and reflective thinking.

What is “reflection?”
Reflection is critical thinking. Structured reflection activities provide a means through which the relationship between service and course content can be studied and interpreted. In addition, reflection can encourage students to appreciate their future roles as socially responsible and civically engaged professionals. Reflection activities range from journal writing and small group discussion with the instructor to preparing class and community presentations. BSLC can help faculty develop reflection activities for students.

What is the difference between service-learning and community service?
Service-learning, like community service, seeks to make a valuable contribution to the community. Unlike community service, however, service-learning is designed to promote the curricular goals of a specified course through the application of classroom learning in service settings. Community service that is not integrated into the curriculum is not service-learning; it is simply service.

How do stakeholders benefit from service-learning?
Students acquire enhanced learning through a guided service project that allows them to apply their knowledge and skills to real world situations. Community partners gain from the developing expertise of Bentley students who provide them with organizational, social, and technical services. Faculty teaching is enriched through the introduction of experiential learning components within course curricula.

Does Bentley offer formal recognition for student involvement in service-learning?
Yes. Students who complete 120 hours of service to the community during their Bentley career and successfully participate in the Bentley Civic Leadership Program are eligible for the Service-Learning Certificate. Credit and noncredit service hours can be combined to meet the 120-hour requirement. Successful completion of the Certificate is recognized on the student’s graduation transcript. Also, students who receive a 4th-credit for a service project (see below) receive a transcript notation.

How is service-learning incorporated into the curriculum?
Service-learning is incorporated into the curriculum in three ways:

  • Service-learning can be “embedded” within a three-credit course. In this format, a service-learning project is assigned by the instructor as a required component of a course in the same way that a research paper might be. The number of hours students commit to embedded projects can vary at the discretion of the instructor in collaboration with the community partner.
  • Service-learning can be a “4th credit” option. Using this format students obtain an additional credit for electing to participate in an approved service project that enhances the course objectives. This option requires a minimum of 20 hours of service in addition to additional time for reflection activities.
  • Service-learning can take the form of an academic internship. As with all internships, a student is required to prepare a service proposal, obtain approval from BSLC, enlist a faculty member as internship supervisor, and accomplish a specified work product within a semester. Required number of service hours is approximately 14 hours per week.

What criteria does BSLC use for evaluating the quality of service-learning pedagogy?
The Course Review Committee (CRC) of the Service-Learning Faculty Advisory Board has developed guidelines for all embedded and 4th-credit option service-learning courses. BSLC staff and members of CRC are always available to assist faculty in meeting the guidelines.

Embedded course guidelines require:

  • the service project to advance course objectives, address real community needs, and entail meaningful student interaction with the community partner;
  • the project to assist in developing students’ awareness of the communities outside Bentley and to build Bentley’s relationships with the communities served
  • a syllabus that explains the scope and objectives of the community project and how students’ work will be evaluated;
  • the course to provide structured opportunities for students to analyze the service experience, connect it to the subject matter of the course, and consider the project in the broader context of civic engagement and social responsibility;
  • that the instructor meet with the community partner in the planning stages of the course, when appropriate, to establish common goals, timelines, project assessment, and closure activities.

4th-Credit option course guidelines require:

  • a service project that advances at least one learning objective of the course, addresses a real community need, and requires meaningful student interaction with the community partner;
  • a description in the course syllabus of the objectives, requirements, and grading criteria for the service-learning component (note that while the grading criteria should include attendance at the service site, academic credit is awarded for the learning gained from the experience, not just from the service itself);
  • a journal assignment that provides periodic opportunities for students to analyze the service experience, connect it to the subject matter of the course, and consider the project in the broader context of civic engagement and social responsibility;
  • periodic faculty feedback on students’ journal entries;
  • a final assignment that links the community service with course content (note that business-related projects—e.g., web pages, marketing plans—should include
  • an end-of-semester presentation in the presence of the community partner).

What do I have to do in order to offer a service-learning course?
Service-Learning courses must be approved by the Course Review Committee of the Service-Learning Faculty Advisory Board. The best way to begin is by contacting Shawn Hauserman, the Service-Learning Assistant Director for Academic Programs. It is best to contact him before you develop your service-learning course.

How does Bentley’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) process affect service-learning teaching?
Teaching a service-learning course does not require IRB approval even if faculty and students are working directly with vulnerable populations. If, however, a faculty member intends to engage in a “systematic investigation” of the people served or the students involved in the project, and to share the results of that investigation with others, then IRB approval must be sought.

What responsibilities do community partners undertake when accepting service-learning students?
The first responsibility of community partners is to provide a service opportunity that complements student academic learning. The second responsibility is to provide adequate and consistent onsite assistance to BSLC students and project feedback to faculty.

What responsibilities does BSLC undertake in offering academic service-learning?
BSLC is responsible for arranging and coordinating the service project. BSLC assists faculty in selecting projects that are appropriate for their courses. BSLC also provides logistical support to faculty and students engaged in service, maintains contact with community partners, and helps both faculty and community partners to troubleshoot issues that might arise during the course of the project. In addition, BSLC conducts service-learning student orientations for 4th credit students, conducts mid-semester and post-semester reflection sessions for 4th credit students, and assists faculty in developing their own reflection assignments for 4th credit and embedded course students.

Does BSLC offer professional development opportunities for faculty?
BSLC offers several programs to promote faculty development:

  • a two-day workshop to assist faculty in utilizing service-learning pedagogy
  • service-learning faculty awards with stipends for exemplary contributions to service-learning
  • development grants to assist faculty in establishing quality service-learning projects
  • luncheon meetings and teas that bring together faculty and community partners to address topics relevant to service-learning

In addition to sponsoring service-learning, does BSLC also sponsor community service projects?
Yes. Many Bentley students undertake community service. Working through BSLC, these students are typically motivated to perform service as a result of previous experiences in their home communities. A number of students also undertake community service as a condition of a scholarship award or perform community service as part of the federal Work Study Program. Whether engaged in community service or academic service-learning Bentley students have a continuing, significant, and positive impact on Waltham and the larger Boston community.