Developing a Course

This page is designed to help you think through and plan out a course conversion or new course creation with a Service focus. This information is designed to be applicable to both Service Learning and Service Engagement and may help you decide which designation you should pursue.

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

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!
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.  
Instructional Mode

How will you offer your Service course?

  • Sectional Division
    • Uniform (single section – all students do Service)
    • Bi-Modal (2 sections/1 course – Students choose Service or Traditional)
    • 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)
Service Models

What kinds of community experiences will enhance learning in this course? (e.g. writing for an agency, community organizing, conversing with native Spanish-speakers, etc.)

Placement Model

Students choose from among several placements that have been pre-selected for their course. They work at these sites multiple times, usually throughout the semester. The service students provide is the conduit to their learning; they gain access to the populations or issues related to their courses. In turn, they provide needed assistance to the organizations and/or their clientele.

  • Typically, the student does not have a large project that they are working on for the community partner, but they tend to have direct contact with clients or issues.
  • Example: students in an honors course identify a social issue that they are interested in and work with community partners each week to address those community needs.
Project Model

Working in groups, the students collaborate with the community partners to devise and implement a project.

  • This model differs from the product model in that there is not a tangible item produced. The students work with the partner on a specific project and the student is not evaluated on the success or failure of the project, but rather their overall work with the community partner.
  • Example: Example: students in the accounting program work with the United Way to host a VITA program site in which the students complete tax returns for low-income individuals within the local community.
Product Model

Students — working alone or in groups — produce a tangible product for the community partners.

  • The product usually takes the student all semester to complete and is evaluated/reviewed multiple times by the community partner and faculty member before final submission.
  • Example: students in a grant writing class work with local community partners to identify and write grants that meet the agency's needs.
Presentation Model

Students in certain courses take material that they are learning in the class and create presentations for audiences in the community. The students work in small groups and choose from among several sites, which have been set up by the faculty member. Sometimes faculty members require students to do their presentations more than once; other have them present in class before going to the community.

  • This is a true presentation format. The students usually are presenting to those that the community partner serves (i.e. children at a school, community members, clients) and the presentation is educational/informational in nature.
  • Example: students in health class put together presentations on germs and washing your hands. Students then go to local elementary schools to present to the children.
Presentation Plus Model

This model is similar to the presentation model except all the students work with the same agency and put on a fair, mini-conference or expo that includes several learning stations or short workshops. The students work in several groups to coordinate all aspects of the event.

  • Typically, this is an all-day commitment from the students for the actual program and is usually held on a Saturday or during a school break (i.e. fall break, etc.)
  • Example: students in the nursing program put on a Teen Health Expo in which teenagers from the local community visit the various stations during the event to learn more about healthy behaviors.
Combined Approach

Any of the above may be combined to make a meaningful and memorable Service experience for your students! 

This material has been adapted from the service-learning resources
at Marquette University and Milwaukee Area Technical College.

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). 

What, So What, Now What?


What is the organization?
Why does this organization exist?
What was your role?
What were your initial expectations?
What happened? What did you observe? 
What learning for you occurred? 

So What? 

Did you learn a new skill or clarify an interest?
Did anything about your involvement surprise you?  -- If so, what? How, Why?
What impacts the way you view the situation/experience? 
What did you learn about the people/community?
What are some of the pressing needs/issues you've seen?
How does this service address those needs?

How does the experience relate to your coursework?
Has your understanding of the community changed as a result of your service? How?
Talk about any disappointments or successes in your service. What have you learned from it?

Now What? 

How can you apply what you have learned from your experience?
What would you like to learn more about, related to this project or issue?
What follow-up is needed to address any challenges or difficulties you discovered?
What information can you share with your peers or the community?
If you could do the project again, what would you do differently?
Have your career options been expanded by your service experience?
How can you continue your involvement with this group or social issue? 

DEAL Model
 -- Describe, Examine,

Describe a SL related experience
(objectively and in some detail)

  • When did this experience take place?
  • Where did it take place?
  • Who else was there?
  • Who wasn’t there?
  • What was communicated?
  • Who didn’t speak or act?
Examine that experience (academic learning)
  • What course material is relevant to this experience?
    Explain the concept, theory, etc clearly and concisely
  • How did the material connect to the experience
    What did you see or note as absent? When did this come to your attention?  
  • What academic (e.g., disciplinary, intellectual, professional) skills did you use / should you have used? 
  • How are your observations and understandings of course and experience connections the same as others (co-workers, instructors, community members, authors)? In what specific ways are they different?
  • What are the possible reasons for the difference(s) (e.g., bias, assumptions, lack of information on my part or on the part of others?)

Articulate Learning “I learned (something specific that links your service to course concepts)"

  • Express something important that you learned, not just a statement of fact
  • Provide a clear and concise explanation of one or more course concept(s) so that someone not in the experience could understand it.
  • Explain your enhanced understanding of one or more course concept(s) resulting from course materials together with reflection on the experience

“I learned this when” ….

  • Connect the learning to specific activities that gave rise to your new insight.
  • Making clear what happened in the context of that experience so that someone who wasn’t there could understand it.
  • Describe why what you learned matters. How can what you've learned be applied to other experiences?
  • How does what you've learned has value, both in terms of your situation and in broader terms, such as other organizations, communities, activities, issues, professional goals, courses, etc.

“In light of this learning” …

  • Set specific and assessable goals to address what you've learned. Consider the benefits and challenges involved in fulfilling these goals. Clearly tie your discussion back clearly to the original learning statement.
Reflection Styles

Here are some of the ways reflection can be meaningfully integrated into your Service course.


These need not be focused on the service aspect of the students’ experiences, but course concepts. Discussions offer a forum which encourage students (both traditional and service-learning) 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.

Journals and Blogs

It is important to guide students in their journals or blogs so that they are not simply logs of events. The students should be encouraged to address objective events, subjective impressions and an analytic response, at the very least, in each journal entry. In addition, some instructors include specific guided questions which assist students to integrate their experience with particular course concepts. Journals are reviewed periodically by the faculty member during the semester. If students are utilizing a blog, the faculty member is able to 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.


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.

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.


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. They 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.


A wiki is a website that allows all users to edit what appears on a website. This type of website is an excellent way for 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.


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).

Student Forums

Via electronic or in-class forum groups, students respond in writing to discussion questions and to each other. Each student should talk about or post a response to the week’s reflection question and a response to at least one other student’s entry. Some discussion questions may be directly related to course reading, others may be more open-ended regarding their service or personal perceptions and experiences. You respond to students as appropriate and can use their entries in the forum for future discussion topics.




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

Value? Integration? Evaluation?

This section contains a series of questions to help you flesh out practical issues in your Service course.

  • Academic Value:
    What discipline-specific content will students consider before, during, and after their service?
  • Integration: 
    How will you integrate service-learning into the classroom (discussions, work into lecture material, ask SL students to illustrate points being made, etc.)?
  • Evaluation:
    What demonstrations of learning will you have service learners produce? (journals, paper, oral reports, etc.)?
    What percentage of total grade will be based on Service?
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 recogntion, 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
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. 
Do we have a 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 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 Sample Common Assessment
  3. SLO Common Assessment Rubric 
  4. SLO Alignment with Strategic Plan
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.