Service-Learning @ BC

What is Service-Learning?

Service-Learning is a high impact teaching methodology that helps students meet their course learning outcomes, build transferable “21st Century skills,” and develop a greater sense of civic responsibility and engagement. Service-learning accomplishes this through the meaningful integration of community-based service with a course curriculum. The service provides opportunities for students to make real what they’re learning in their class, and critical reflection activities or assignments facilitate the extraction of learning that goes beyond the course content.

Three people with shovels in the forest
English Language Institute students and the instructor building trails in Snoqualmie Valley.

Students in service-learning classes can volunteer off- or on-campus, typically with community-based organizations (CBOs) consisting of non-profit, government, or BC agencies. Students may also conduct research that benefit these agencies, develop tools for them, or conduct community outreach and education. Service-learning is intentionally built into the class, either as a single assignment or throughout the quarter. Orientations and syllabus content help prepare students for their experiences, while critical reflections and other assignments help them process throughout and after the experiences. Service-learning can appear in almost any course; here are some examples of what instructors offer at Bellevue College:

  • Nutrition – Students volunteer with local food banks to see the fight against food insecurity and malnutrition in their communities
  • Business Intelligence Capstone – Teams of students spend two quarters developing data warehousing systems for non-profits
  • Sociology – Students volunteer for 16 hours with local CBOs and apply sociological principles to the experience
  • Food Chemistry – Online students engage with meal sharing (e.g. soup kitchens) as a way to apply content knowledge in community settings
  • Health & Wellness – Aspiring professionals volunteer for 33 hours with wellness organizations to understand volunteer management
  • Technical Writing – Students create brochures, training manuals, grant proposals, etc. for CBOs
  • Marine Biology – Students formulate community education campaigns around plastic waste
  • English as a Second Language – Students use service to practice English in context while learning about the community in which they live

How Do I Develop a Service-Learning Course?

A successful service-learning course brings together the 3 C’s: Course Outcomes, Community-Identified Needs, and Critical Reflections. It can take effort to create a well-integrated, asset-based, critically reflective service-learning class. We recommend that you take advantage of the resources RISE has to offer through the RISE website and the Service-Learning SharePoint, or set up a meeting to talk through your ideas and seek support to lessen the work.

Course Outcomes

The first rule of curricular, or academic, service-learning is that it must be connected to course outcomes. Service-learning becomes another text, something that conveys information that is then linked to course outcomes via assignments and assessments. There is no need to seek approval for new outcomes; just as different instructors use different methods to help students meet the same learning outcomes, service-learning is one method in that toolkit.


Best Practices

  • At least one approved learning outcome must be assessed using service-learning or community engagement as a source of content.
  • Some concepts or skills can be enhanced through real-world applications or civic experience; focusing on these helps with the process of integrating service-learning into the class.
  • Instructors should be intentional about what non-academic outcomes students should meet; for example, because teamwork or social awareness might be important transferable skills or civic engagement outcomes for the class, and can be connected to the service-learning experience, they should be purposefully integrated into lessons or assignments.

Community-Identified Needs

Put simply, this is the partnership component of service-learning. The majority of instructors will provide opportunities for students to work with community-based organizations that understand how the students can best support them. Serving at partners agencies allows the instructor to rely on experts in the field, thus easing their amount of work while providing students with meaningful civic experiences.


Best Practices

  • RISE lessens the pressure to find partners and opportunities by doing much of this work in advance. The BC in the Community portal has over 100 local non-profits, government agencies, and BC offices that have agreed to collaborate with students. RISE can also help faculty find community-identified projects that meet the needs of classes; faculty should approach RISE at least 2 months prior to the teaching quarter for support.
  • No matter the format of service-learning, students should be encouraged to approach the experience with an asset-based, rather than deficit-based, mindset. Faculty can talk with RISE about how best to convey this difference to students.
  • Even if an agency is too busy to have anything more than a transactional relationship with faculty, most still appreciate communication throughout the quarter.

Critical Reflection

This is the tool that draws the learning from the experience and applies it to the course outcomes. This also is essential to helping students grow the transferable skills and build their civic engagement, both of which are important effects of service-learning. Traditional reflection is often seen as touchy-feely or, contrarily, an objective recounting of events. Critical Reflection, however, encourages students to go deeper. Some tips on designing reflection are on page 2 of the updated Transcript Notation for Service-Learning Faculty Guide.

Best Practices

  • Each community-engaged class component must have a reflection; for lengthy service-learning (at least half the quarter), there should be a minimum of three reflections.
  • A mix of modalities will provide opportunities for most student to shine (i.e. written journals are not the only format for reflections). Ideas for how to create different types of critical reflections are in the faculty’s Service-Learning SharePoint team.
  • Critical service-learning challenges students to think beyond their current understandings while also connecting their experiences to course content, personal behavior, and future action.

How Do I Engage Students with Service-Learning?

Bellevue College students have busy lives, and it’s likely that at least one will protest to being asked to do service-learning. While there is no single solution to getting universal student buy-in, there are some things that instructors should consider as they develop and implement their courses. When in doubt, reach out to RISE for support.

Best Practices

  • The place to start to “sell” service-learning is in the syllabus; not only should service-learning be integrated throughout the document (including in grading), but the rationale for utilizing service-learning should also be clearly presented.
  • On the first day of class, sincerely and passionately explaining why you, the instructor, chose service-learning can help build support among students.
  • RISE can provide a comprehensive orientation tailored meet the needs of different classes.
  • Students should know that content was removed from the class to make space for service-learning.
  • Service-learning works well in resumes and on LinkedIn; the Center for Career Connections can guide students as to how best to list these experiences.
  • Students might be eligible for the Transcript Notation for Service-Learning Faculty Guide, which acknowledges and celebrates the student learning gained and contribution given through service-learning.
  • RISE has worked to foster partnerships on campus and provide remote opportunities with community organizations, both as a way to help engage students no matter their levels of accessibility.
  • RISE strongly encourages faculty to make service-learning required for all students in a class; making it optional removes the opportunity for all students to build important, transferable skills that can help reduce equity gaps.
  • Only assessing service-learning in an end-of-the-quarter project gives students the impression that they can procrastinate throughout the quarter; offer assignments and reflections regularly in order for service-learning to stay relevant.

Let RISE know how best it can work with you to implement service-learning into your class. We look forward to collaborating!


Last Updated October 14, 2019