Course Planning

Designing Your Course

Written by Veronica House

Course Related Questions:
What are your motivations for doing service-learning?
What do you want students to learn (course objectives)?
Why target a particular level of student, i.e. freshman, seniors, graduate students? What are the student needs and abilities at each level?
How will this experience relate to their future lives? Do you want them to become more active citizens in the long-term? To help them build their resumes? To help demystify career ideas?

We can achieve our desired outcomes through the integration of learning goals and service goals. The duration and intensity of the service experience should be sufficient to produce meaningful learning and service outcomes.

Pre-course planning--Assignments:
Identify differences between community writing and academic writing – what are the community needs? These needs may have to come before what you thought you wanted. For example, I've had to rethink formatting, length, and other requirements for assignments because my expectations were not practical for the non-academic audiences for whom my students were writing.
All of my writing assignments link academic research or concepts with the students' work and research at the non-profits. This reenforces for students the validity and indespensibility of the non-academic work they do.

Pre-couse planning--Logistics:
Do students have cars? Are the non-profits on bus routes that students can access easily?
What are the required training hours at the site before a student can start work? What are the weekly hour requirements? Is there a required orientation on a set day? Do the hours the student is needed work with the student's schedule?
Prepare to tell students about appropriate clothing, not to give out their phone numbers, that it is better to go in groups, and any other safety concerns.

Does the non-profit want to work with students in the capacity you need? Is the work they want done appropriate and doable?

What happens when the course ends? To the projects your students were working on or to the people the organization helps? Think about an exit strategy so that if the student leaves after the semester ends, the non-profit is not left in the lerch. Be clear with the non-profits about course dates and when students will have to begin and end work.

Outcomes and Post-Course Assessment:
Students should not make false promises to the non-profits. If a student is leaving after a semester but the project must go beyond the semester, think about creating multi-semester projects.

At the end of the semester, contact agency representatives to verify students' hours and the quality of their work. You can also ask what worked and how to improve for the following semester.

This is the time to take stock of what happened and assess with community partners and students: What do you need to change/add? How can you better communicate with your partners/students? Which partners worked well/did not work? You will begin to gather a list of partners and/or projects for future students.