Academic Guidelines for Service-Learning Courses

While service learning involves community service, it is important to distinguish between engaging in community service and taking a service-learning course for academic credit. Academic credit is not offered for performing community service, no matter how valuable this service might be in itself for the student and for the community. In service-learning courses, community engagement is utilized as a tool to advance and deepen the students’ knowledge of an academic field of study. While promoted and supported by the Office for Service Learning, service-learning courses are part of the regular curricular offerings of academic departments. There is, for example, no Service Learning 101, but rather Sociology 311 (Community Research Seminar), or Psychology 266 (Community Psychology). 

(a) Criteria for Course Approval 

To be approved, service-learning courses must go through the same process as any other course and be approved by the relevant academic dean (acting on behalf of the Educational Policy Committee). A service-learning course is authorized only if the course proposal includes sufficient formal academic content in addition to the practical work done in the field. In light of this requirement, service-learning courses often require a substantial research paper or other appropriate project.  Such papers and projects typically connect practical work done in the field with theoretical and/or methodological issues raised by this work. Moreover, service-learning courses require enrolled students to engage with the relevant academic literature in the field. Service-learning faculty are expected to meet regularly with enrolled students to supervise the academic as well as the practical side of the course. The number, hours, and purpose of such meetings are spelled out in the course proposal.

(b) Evaluation of Student Performance 

Student performance in the service learning courses is evaluated entirely by the faculty member(s) teaching the course. Students are graded on their performance in meeting the academic demands of the course, the determination of which will be done by employing the standard academic criteria for typical academic courses, i.e., evaluations are based on the learning in the course, not just the service component.  Because the service aspect of the course is an important ingredient in the learning process, faculty may consult with those involved with the service dimension of the course for their assessment of the student’s performance. The final evaluation is always made by the faculty member teaching the course.

(c) Limits on the Number of Service-Learning Courses

Service-learning courses are regular academic courses, comparable to lecture-plus-lab courses in the Natural Sciences, and as such are different from independent study courses and from education-in-the-field courses. There is no limit to the number of service-learning courses a student can count toward the thirty-two required for graduation.

(d) Repeat of Service-Learning Courses 

Like all other Wesleyan courses, a service-learning course cannot be repeated for academic credit (unless the student failed the course, and is taking it again). Note, however, that a course that was audited can be repeated for credit.

Note: For further information about service-learning courses as approved by the Educational Policy Committee, see EPC Proceedings, February 12, 2002.