Service-learning is a teaching methodology used to aid in student understanding of the learning objectives of a given course. The spirit of service-learning could be described as learning by doing through an act of giving time and talent. We as educators want students to see the value of learning by doing and engage beyond the walls of a classroom.
While most educators find the service activity a natural fit to teaching and learning, evaluation of the learning is opaque. Developing evaluation rubrics for service-learning projects is not as challenging as one may perceive. The main emphasis we must maintain is to correlate the learning objectives in the course to the rubric directly. This means that students should be developing understanding and demonstrating the learning objectives in a given course throughout the service-learning project. If this continuum is not maintained, we as educators run the risk of requiring our students to volunteer, at best.
When the learning objectives of the course have been identified, one can now start to develop an evaluation rubric of the service-learning project. While there are many steps in developing a service-learning project, the purpose of this blog entry, specifically, is to identify the characteristics of an effective evaluation. Once one has identified the learning objectives, they must pinpoint the goals of the service-learning project. What are you expecting students to accomplish? What should students be able to demonstrate understanding of as a result of the service-learning project? What traits should students identify/demonstrate as a result of the project? You get the idea.
An effective evaluation is always clear to students up front. Prior to beginning a project, students rely upon knowing what they can expect to experience and how they will be evaluated. While educators should not be evaluating students on whether they “liked” or “disliked” a service-learning experience, we can evaluate students on the following:
Accurate: Are students able to present accurate and reliable EVIDENCE from their service-learning experience? Meaning, can students put theory into practice? Is this presented in the reflection or assignment?
Pertinent: Does the student actually answer the evaluation question clearly and directly? Or, are they giving an ambiguous statement that frees them from giving a direct response?
Objective: This is where the grey area is. We want students to be able to give us feedback, but not base their analysis with statements that are only laden with emotion. Students should be objective with their analysis of the experience. Meaning, students should faithfully represent their experience in relation to the course versus inserting their own opinions (emotionally based) as evidence.
Well organized and readable: Is the evaluation easy to understand? Is the assignment free of jargon? Is the reflection clear?
Logical: Does the student show RELATIONSHIP or CONNECTION with the learning objectives in the class to the service-learning experience? An important note for us as educators is to remember to meet the student at their critical thinking level. This means that we should be focusing on asking ourselves how the questions are posed to students. In order for students to present logical responses that are based in critical thinking, versus their feelings about the experience, they must clearly be presented questions with distinction and precise language.
Useful: Does the student provide useful information for the reader? Is this information based on observation and application? Would the information be helpful for improvement or demonstrate that the student identifies a need within the community the service-learning project took place?
Fundamentally, one wants to remember that the purpose of a service-learning experience is to allow students to learn by giving back to their community. The primary importance should not be placed in the evaluation metric but on developing an enriching experience for both students and community.
To review the presentation on service-learning evaluation in its entirety, please visit the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse Website: