Developing a SL/CE Course

This page is designed to help you think through and plan out converting a course or creating a new course with a SL/CE focus.

This information is designed to be applicable to Service Learning, Service Engagement, and Community Engagement and may help you decide which designation you should pursue. The SL/CE Course Designation Overview page focuses on the designations themselves and may also be of interest.  

The materials here may be used before, during, and/or after consultation with the Service Learning team. To make an appointment to discuss course planning, please email

If you are wondering if a SL/CE course is right for you, check out our Is SL/CE for me? flowchart. For a visual overview of key elements in course development, check out our SL/CE Flowchart

If you are ready to dive deep into developing a SL/CE course, we recommend that you start with our timeline and then move into a worksheet that leads you through 17 steps toward developing your course.  

Suggested Course Development Timeline

Service Course Planning Worksheet 

You may also choose to browse the information below at your own pace. 

Community Need

How will you determine the community organization(s) that will be Served? 

  • Organizationally Originated: A community partner has reached out to you, asking for something.
  • Organically Originated: You live and work in the community, have discovered a need, and have established a connection with a community partner who wants the service your class can provide.
  • Optimistically Originated: You believe/know there is a need in the community and you’d like help in finding a community partner who wants the service your class can provide.
    •  YES, this is an acceptable approach and YES, we can help you with this!
Community Partners

A core value in SL/CE is respect for, and reciprocity with, our community partners. As the University Senate approved definition of Service Learning stipulates, we must all "collaboratively address identified community needs with a community partner." 

Community Partners

Curricular Need

What content areas or course themes might be enhanced through a service experience?

  • Convert an existing course to include service to enhance students’ experience
    NOTE: It is possible to have BOTH Service and non-Service sections of a single course (link to Instructional Mode) – cross-listed concurrently or offered in different semesters
  • Create a new course that includes service to supplement the current course offerings
    NOTE: The Office of Service-Learning and Community Engagement does not approve new courses. All new course proposals must be submitted and approved through Faculty Governance.
  • When your course is conceptually complete, please click here to fill out the Service Course Designation Application.  

Perhaps the key point of evaluation for service learning is that students should be assessed on evidence of learning, not on hours served. Evaluation is often based on observations of performance during service and on connections made between service and course concepts

Assessable Activities

Common techniques for evaluating students' service include community partner feedback, direct observation, time/activity logs, journals, interviews, reflection essays, and peer-evaluation, and self-evaluation. Evaluation can be completed in the classroom (e.g. large & small group discussions, think-pair-shares, collaborative concept mapping, one-minute reflection papers, presentations, and skits), in the service environment (e.g. performance and skills assessment), and in submitted materials (e.g. integrative papers, structured journals, [multimedia] scrapbooks/collages, portfolios, and case studies - see also "Reflection" on this page)

Assessment Domains

Common assessment domains include content-based learning, general academic learning (e.g. Critical Thinking), inter- and intra-personal learning, application of theory in real-world situations, and application of course concepts to social issues.

Student Perspective

As with all assessment, students should know what they are being assessed on, how the assessment aligns with the goals of the course, and how quality is judged (how they can demonstrate excellence). Finally, students also need to accept that the assessment expectations are realistic and appropriately aligned with the amount of effort and extent of knowledge

Check out our Sample Service Learning Reflection Rubric. Feel free to use this as presented, to edit it to suit your needs, or to create your own. 

Reflection Rubric in PDF 

Reflection Rubric in Excel

Instructional Modes

How will you offer your Service course?

  • Delivery Style
    • Traditional F2F
    • Hybrid: F2F + Online
      (input from the Office of Distance Education is encouraged)
    • Fully Online
      (approval from the Office of Distance Education is required)

      See our e-Service page for details on the online option
  • Sectional Division
    • Uniform
      (single section – all students do Service)
    • Bi-Modal
      (2 sections/1 course – Students choose Service or Traditional)

      The bi-modal approach is great in that it recognizes that service learning is not for everyone, but it requires careful orchestration not only within the course, but also with the Registrar and OSLCE. 
      If you're interested in pursuing this, please email us
Reflection Models

Reflection, a unique and critical component of high-quality programming, is described by Learn and Service America as an opportunity to provide "students and faculty with a way to look back on their experiences, evaluate them and apply what is learned to future experiences with new experiences to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills."

How will you encourage your students to reflect on their Service? 

While free reflection has certain advantages, Sturgil & Motley (2014) suggest that guided, dialogic, private reflections may be most effective.  

There are many models for guided reflection; two of the most influential are described in detail here: "What, So What, Now What? (Toole & Toole, 1994; Rolfe et al 2001), and the DEAL Model (Ash & Clayton, 2009). 

Review Reflection Models

Reflection Techniques

Reflection brings service together with course concepts, and therefore warrants particular attention in service course development.

Maximum effect derives from using multiple reflection techniques. We offer several suggestions for reflection based on the Service-Learning Faculty Handbook from Virginia Tech. 

Reflection Techniques

Remember your chosen service SLOs as your plan your reflection. 

P&T Considerations

Adding service to a course is an investment, requiring time and effort beyond the typical traditional course. The Office of Service Learning and Community Engagement recognizes this and will be happy to provide a statement for you to include in your files if you like. If you have invited us to partner with you in meaningful ways, we may also have a valuable perspective to offer in a recommendation letter. 

Additionally, we encourage you to consider engaging in research related to service and/or community engagement. Journals to target for publication include those which focus directly in this area as well as disciplinary journals that open to pedagogical papers. Check out our Publications page

Key Connections between P&T and Service
  • Service Engagement/Learning is NOT required, but is recognized
  • Service Engagement/Learning can contribute to:
    • Scholarship (publish about your Service experience or use your service to extend disciplinary knowledge) 
    • Teaching (participate in high-impact practice)
    • Service (be recognized for what you do beyond teaching & scholarship)
Questions to Consider
  • What research areas interest you?
  • What aspects of your current service-learning program or service-based discovery could be published?
  • What methods-qualitative or quantitative-will you use to publish &/or present your research?
  • How will your research make a significant contribution to your discipline &/or the field of service learning?
Should I consider service learning if I'm not on the tenure track?

Absolutely! All other benefits to you, your students, our community, and our university remain unchanged. Engaging in any SL/CE endeavor is a rewarding experience in many ways! 

If you'd like to schedule a time to talk about these issues, please email us at!

Sample Service Contract

While not required, you may find this Service Learning Contract Template helpful in terms of accountability. 

Feel free to modify this template to fit your course needs!  

Service Learning vs. Service Engagement

To recruit, track, and celebrate students who accept the challenges involved in Service oriented courses, and the instructors who make such courses possible, the designations Service Engagement and Service Learninghave been created. For approved course offerings, these designations are included in the course title in the Schedule and on student transcripts.

Service Learning 

The original designation – based on our peers and aspirants in the university-based Service domain. Courses with this designation will be marked "Service Learning" in the Course Schedule and on students' transcripts

  • ≥15 hours of service/student with an identified community partner (preparation + contact time + follow-up)
  • ≤ 7% of the service (1 of 15 hours) = administrative (filing, mailing, etc.)
  • ≥ 30% of course grade based on service (performance, reflection, etc.)
  • Identified need evolved with community partner
  • Guided reflection connecting service experience and course content
  • Survey-based program assessment (Do it yourself and encourage students and community partners to participate)
  • Adhere to 4 of the 8 Service Learning SLOs
  • Complete Hours Served report
Service Engagement

Added to recognize and celebrate the broad spectrum of Service opportunities at Upstate. Courses with this designation will be tracked via attributes in the system for awards and other recognition, but will be unmarked in the Course Schedule and on students' transcripts

  • At least 4 hours for each student per semester of active service to the community
  • Adherence to the community collaboration element of the Faculty Senate's Definition of Service Learning
  • Adhere to 2 of the 8 Service Learning SLOs
  • Basic reflection tying service to course concepts
  • Survey-based program assessment (Do it yourself and encourage students and community partners to participate)
  • Complete Hours Served report
Service Models

There are five primary models on which service courses are typically constructed. 

Service Models


e-Service Learning adds another level of complexity to the decision process. If you are considering including service in a class with a virtual component - with electronically delivered service &/or course content, we invite you to review our e-SL/CE page


Service SLOs

In order to promote best high-impact practices and create rigorous, career-relevant, accessible, and transformative service opportunities, USC Upstate has adopted the eight requisite career competencies identified by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and, for each, has extrapolated two key Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) that reflect skills and insights USC Upstate students should hone through courses designated "Service." 

Quick Links: Other SLO Resources:

  1. SLO Overview
  2. SLO Assessment Options
  3. SLO Common Assessment Rubric 
Students' Work Load

Upstate policy defines expectations of “one hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out-of-class student work each week for approximately 15 weeks for one semester hour of credit… or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time.”

  • Service = Instructional time (generally associated with “Service Learning”)
    • Students are expected to be deeply involved in Service, deriving equal (or greater) benefit from their Serves as they would from classroom instruction and their involvement and learning is evidenced in deep response to and reflection about their service.
    • Classroom time may be exchanged for Service time (up to a 1 for 1 exchange)
      • Example: A class schedule for MWF may meet only on MW with F time dedicated to Service
  • Course projects may be adjusted to compensate for Service time  
    • Example: In a bi-modal design, students in the Service section may be expected to attend all class meetings, but produce an alternate final project with more reflection, fewer words, and less rigorous research requirements
    • Service = Out-of-Class Work (generally associated with “Service Engagement”)
      • Service is expected to supplement and reinforce learning on a level roughly equivalent to homework.
      • Examples Instructional vs. Out-of-Class Service:
        • Out of Class Time:
          Students in a Global Studies course volunteer to assist with the Spartanburg International Festival through 
        • Instructional Time: 
          Following in-class preparation, students in a Global Studies Course work with internationally focused organizers of the Spartanburg International Festival, including outreach to stakeholders representing at least one international country and working with these stakeholders to maximize the impact of their booth through materials provided, activities offered, and booth design. 
Templates - Service Documents

These templates are provided for your convenience. Please feel free to edit them to best fit the needs of your course. 

Service Agreement Template
Most general. Sets the stage for commitment and collaboration amongst students, community partners, and instructors. 

Service Course Commitment Template
More specific. Focuses on providing students information they need and encouraging them to think about outcomes from the course from the start.  

Service Verification Template
Most specific. Provides electronic and print-ready forms for students to use in asking their community partners to confirm the duration and less quantitative aspects of their service. 

I still have questions!

We have provided a FAQ page where many answers can be found, but we are always happy to address your questions indivicdually. Please email to ask a question or set up an appointment to talk face to face.