Reflection Techniques

Reflection is a key component in quality SL/CE courses. This page explores some common techniques that can enhance students reflection. 

Be sure to consider your chosen Service SLOs as you consider implementing some of these techniques in your course. 


Discussions should bring together the service aspect of the students’ experiences and course concepts. Discussions offer a forum which encourage students to process and relate what they are studying, doing and learning, and is an opportunity for the instructor to emphasize key concepts through the examples provided by the students.

Discussions can happen in face-to-face conversations and via Blackboard. In either case, students should be encouraged to be thoughtful, reflective, and considerate of others. 

Journals and Blogs

While discussions are designed to promote interactivity, students appropriately guard what they say for larger groups more than they do when addressing their professors individually. It's great to offer students opportunities to engage in discussions (see above), private journals, and more public blogs.  

In journals and blogs, students should be encouraged to address objective events and subjective impressions with analytic responses.

Some students may be inclined to 'journal' by listing service events without commentary or connection to course content. Specific guiding questions assist students in integrating their experience with particular course concepts.  

Entries should be reviewed periodically by the faculty member during the semester. Blackboard allows faculty members leave comments and/or additional questions for the student, and can be notified via e-mail when the student responds to these questions or comments. 


For public reflection that is more like a monologue with comments than a discussion, consider using Wikis within Blackboard.

Wikis allow students to share, post and discuss photos, news articles and resources collected and created over a semester of service-learning. Students can post upcoming events at their agencies, share their experiences at their community agency, etc. Wikis give the opportunity for anyone in the community to contribute, including professors and community partners.


Compiling an array of materials related to their service, portfolios help contextualize students’ experiences. Some service learning portfolios consist of other reflection elements, such as a journal, a paper or a presentation. These can also hold artifacts from the service project such as pictures, brochures, newspaper clippings, articles, etc.

Both faculty and students can be very creative with the portfolio concept and find many ways to use it.

Analytical Papers

In contrast with traditional research papers, service-learners can incorporate examples from their service experiences with course material to demonstrate their learning.

Analytical papers might include:

  • a detailed description of the type of work they did, the environment and goals of the agency and/or project and a summary of their experiences.
  • an evaluation of the purpose and meaning of their service and the needs met, what they learned from their experience, the strengths and limitations of those addressing the issues and needs and changes and improvements they would make in their service and the project or agency.
  • an integration section in which students elaborate on how their service experience related to and /or conflicted with course concepts, affected their evaluation of or changed their assumptions about the material discussed in class, demonstrated ways in which academic learning is relevant and can be applied in the community and ways in which their experience impacted their educational and/or career goals.

Following the same format as the analytical paper, students can describe, evaluate and integrate their service with the course, while also using visual materials and responding to questions to convey their learning to the instructor and class.

Reading Responses

Students write about their service experience in relation to assigned course readings. The questions you formulate for their responses can be open-ended or pointed in helping students think critically about the academic material in a real-world context. This activity can be particularly valuable when the readings incorporate similar issues as those being confronted by the students in their service agencies and projects.


In the classroom, students explore a broad concept or issue by examining its impact on a local entity, incorporating the experience of the service-learning students whose service addresses the issue. For instance, students might study the availability of health care in the community in studying the local free clinic.

The information above is adapted from the Service-Learning
Faculty Handbook, The Service-Learning Center, Virginia Tech.