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Service-Learning Teaching Guidelines

Service-learning integrates community service with academic coursework, making community service. Community partners become co-educators, teaching students about community, diversity, justice, and social responsibility, and faculty integrate these lessons with their course aims, aided by ongoing personal and in-class reflection activities.

Service-learning courses and other forms of community-engaged teaching at Loyola provide students with opportunities to make contact with the Baltimore community, collaborate and share knowledge, and reflect on their experiences. In doing so, we follow Jesuit Superior General Peter Kolvenbach, S.J., in his call for every field of study to engage with human society, human life, and the environment. Through structured, ongoing reflection, students come to understand the contributions they can make to our diverse, changing world.

Service-Learning Designation

The service-learning course designation is a hallmark of Loyola’s approach to community-engaged learning and scholarship and reflects nationally recognized standards of best practice. Designated courses demonstrate strong integration between community service and course learning aims, in-depth instructor and student preparation, a strong reflection component, and careful attention to partnership. To receive designation, courses must include the following components:

  1. Instructor training in service-learning pedagogy
  2. Integration of service and learning in course goals and activities

  3. Service activities planned and carried out in partnership with off-campus organizations and communities, including those facilitated by CCSJ

  4. Promotion of justice, diversity, and leadership

  5. Preparation of students for service

  6. Inclusion of structured reflection in course design

  7. Assessment mechanisms to measure the effectiveness of service-learning pedagogy and partnerships


Service-learning courses are designated "SL - Service-Learning" in WebAdvisor. These classes use one of the two following approaches:

  • Service mandatory where service is required for all students in the class
  • Service optional where students may self-select to participate in the service-learning activities of the class

Pedagogically, service-learning courses may be designed to include the following:

  • Program-based (or direct service): students participate in established direct service programs, often on a weekly or biweekly bases, organized by community partners
  • Project-based (or creation of a deliverable): students complete a class project with a defined end-date and deliverable or report created with the community partner
  • Mixed (direct service with deliverable): students complete work that includes aspects of both approaches outlined above

Class Size

Designated service-learning course sections should be capped at 80% of the usual enrollment for non-designated sections of the same (or comparable) course. Faculty members teaching designated service-learning courses and their department chairs or program/division directors are responsible for setting appropriate course enrollment caps for designated service-learning courses.

Instructor Training in Service-Learning Pedagogy

All service-learning designated courses require that instructors complete the Faculty Fellows Service-Learning Seminar or equivalent training approved by the Faculty Director for Community-Engaged Learning and Scholarship. To learn more about this seminar, visit the Faculty Fellows for Service-Learning page. For non-designated courses, we recommend that instructors participate in a 90-minute “Basics of Community-Engaged Teaching” workshop offered by CCSJ.

The requirements defined below are further explored and unpacked in the Faculty Fellows Service-Learning Seminar. Faculty members integrating service into non-service-learning designated classes should also work to follow the principles as outlined below. 

Integration of Service and Learning in Course Goals and Activities

Loyola University Maryland strives for pedagogical excellence in the use of service-learning. To that end, service-learning designated courses at Loyola must fulfill the following criteria:

Learning aims

  • Service should be incorporated into course learning aims
  • All service activities and placements should enhance student learning and contribute to specific learning objectives of the course

Content and Focus

  • Service should relate to content of class and should be relevant to content and theory being introduced, in other words, the class content should set the framework for the service and the service experience should deepen the students understanding of and engagement with the course content
  • Course content should inform and deepen student engagement in service activities and help students be of greater service with and for community partner

Service-Optional Course Balance

  • Courses that do not require service for all students should strive to make the course requirements and experience of students opting to do service equal in weight (in terms of time, effort, and grading) to students who choose not to do service
  • The course should include activities that will allow all students in the course to have the opportunity to learn through the experiences of students who engage in service

Service activities planned and carried out in partnership with off-campus organizations and communities, including those facilitated by CCSJ

Service Activities

What it is. Service activities benefit the partner on the partner’s own terms, building on assets and supporting community-defined projects and needs.

What it is not. Examples of non-service that could look similar to service-learning are as follows:

  • Observation in a public school classroom or shadowing a public defender
  • Interviews, oral histories, or research that the partner has not asked for or that is not appropriately shared back to the partner

Community Partnership

What it is. Reciprocity is the defining principle of service-learning partnerships; therefore, collaborative planning of the service part of the course is necessary. Partners should be selected prior to syllabus completion and the beginning of the semester. Partners should be invited to help identify ways the course can prepare, support, and deepen students’ service contribution, for example, intentional selection of readings on relevant issues of justice or designing assignments that are of use to the partner.

Communication with partners is expected throughout the duration of the partnership, including appropriate closure. To ensure effective communication and to set appropriate expectations, faculty members should work with the community partner to design and sign a service-agreement

What it is not. Examples of non- or partial partnership that could look like service-learning are below:

  • Students are allowed to choose any community partner to serve with, and the faculty member never speak with partners.
  • Faculty select partners but send students to serve without partners receiving any explicit connection between the course and the partner’s work.

Place-Based Service

What it is. We believe that the value of a community partner is to connect a class to the experience, knowledge, and challenges of people living in a community. We encourage faculty members to look for community partners within the York Road Corridor. As part of the 2008-2013 strategic vision, the University committed to "take a leadership role in the development of a multi-dimensional plan to improve the quality of life for all persons living, working, and learning in the York Road corridor." Loyola's York Road Initiative is a place-based community development strategy geographically focused in the Greater Govans/ York Road corridor communities of north Baltimore City adjacent to our Evergreen campus.

The York Road Initiative is geographically focused in the Govans community of north Baltimore City, specifically, Cold Spring Lane (Loyola Evergreen Campus) to Northern Parkway (Loyola Clinical Centers at Belvedere Square) and involves community constituencies, including neighborhood residents and associations, faith-based, civic and business organizations, public and private leaders.

Partnering with neighbors and others, the York Road Initiative focuses on the educational development, health, and well-being of community residents, as well as upon the economic viability of our neighborhoods, including our residential and retail establishments. The mission is to collaborate with neighbors and partners to produce positive change for all residents in the York Road community that improves the area education and youth development, builds civic capacity and strengthens the York Road commercial corridor. 

Service-learning classes should work with partners along the York Road corridor to advance the joint goals of the York Road Initiative, the community partner, and the class learning goals and outcomes. 

What it is not. We believe that our Center’s mission to connect campus and community is not fulfilled when we serve internally or allow ourselves to be the starting point for ideas. Examples that wouldn’t meet the criteria for service-learning partnership include the following:

  • Students partner with a Loyola office/entity, such as doing justice programming for WLOY, or researching in the Loyola Arboretum with Loyola’s Office of Sustainability.
  • Students do student- or faculty-initiated service/projects that benefits the larger community, such as leading stream cleanups, organizing a program to take sandwiches to feed people downtown, or doing direct advocacy, such as attending a rally in support of extending Temporary Protected Status to groups of immigrants.
  • Students do student- or faculty-initiated work that only benefits the Loyola community, such as starting a new composting program or organizing a sit-in in the President’s office to argue for allowing staff to unionize.

While these approaches are not considered service-learning, they do work toward social justice goals maintained by the CCSJ and Loyola. If you are interested in participating in social justice activities that are not service-learning designated please go to the Get Involved page

Promotion of Justice, Diversity and Leadership

What it is. Service-learning intrinsically contributes to many of the Undergraduate Educational Aims of Loyola that are central to the mission of the University: e.g., the promotion of justice, diversity, and leadership. Service-learning courses should be designed to advance social justice. Faculty members should think about the service activities and work to ensure they help address structural issues contributing to poverty, unfair access to health care and education, ongoing residential segregation, etc. To the extent possible, service should promote a justice approach to community work rather than a charity approach. 

What it is not. Service-learning should not be viewed in a silo or separated from the larger educational aims of the institution or the class.

Preparation of Students for Service

What it is. Orientations to specific service sites and logistical support are available through the Center for Community, Service, and Justice. It is essential, however, for course instructors to provide additional preparation for students. Instructors should prepare students to engage in service-learning by including the following information on the syllabus and presenting it in class, at the beginning of the semester and at points throughout.

Why? The syllabus and class introduction should discuss the rationale for using service-learning in the course. Faculty members should address the connection between the service, the community partner, and the class content. Ideally, faculty members will take a structural approach and underscore how the service activities work towards the creation of a more just and equitable world.

What? The syllabus should clearly denote the requirements for service-learning, assignments, and activities and how they contribute to the course grade. It should also include the following:

  • Information on how service-learning helps develop service orientation and skills (interpersonal communication, cultural awareness, understanding of privilege, etc.).
  • Background instruction on Baltimore community and historical context, including race-based and economic inequity. Instructors my wish to contact Dr. Allen Brizee, who can help them curate a list of resources for use in their class. 
  • Structured reflection on the service activities and its relationship to course content. Students should also be encouraged to reflect on the personal impact of the service.
  • Reciprocity as concept and practice should be defined and discussed frequently in the context of the class.
  • Instructions on expected behavior and ways to engage with the community partner. Instructors may wish to use the following service contract with their students: service contract.
  • Connections between course learning objectives and service-learning/service requirements.

What it is not. Service-learning should not be viewed as an "add-on" activity. Nor should it be viewed in the same light as volunteering as one might do as part of a church or social club. 

Structured Reflections in Course Design

What it is. Meaningful, structured reflection is one link between service and learning. It is how students make the experience of service educative and connect it to course content. According to Eyler, Giles, and Schmiede (1996), meaningful, structured reflection is:

  • Continuous over the course of each event or experience. Continuous reflection includes reflection before the experience, during the experience, and after the experience.
  • Connected in that it links service to the intellectual and academic pursuits of the students at two levels: (1) service experiences illustrate theories and concepts, making academics real and vivid, and (2) through classroom work, students begin to develop conceptual frameworks that explain service experiences.
  • Challenging to assumptions and complacency in a way that produces new understanding, raises new questions, and moves toward new frameworks for undertaking social change, correcting systemic inequality, and achieving inclusivity and solidarity.
  • Contextualized within the setting and context of a particular course and service; the environment and method of reflection corresponds in a meaningful way to the topics and experiences that form the material for reflection, including recognizing relevant policy and social issues. (Adapted from Eyler, J., Giles, D. E., & Schmiede, A. A Practitioner's Guide to Reflection in Service-Learning: Student Voices and Reflections, Vanderbilt University, 1996, Chapter 1)

What it is not. Structured reflections are not free-form, "dear-diary" type entries. Students should be challenged to evaluate their ideas and assumptions.


What it is. Assessment of the service-learning aspects of the course is essential to the maintenance and improvement of service-learning pedagogy and practice at Loyola. Service-learning assessments should be completed by: (1) the instructor, (2) the community partner(s), and (3) students in the course.  CCSJ administers survey tools each semester for students and at least annually for partners to assess their experience. In addition, we encourage faculty to explore the web-based Assessment Toolkit for Faculty, a resource bank of assessment tools and articles. 

What it is not. Assessment may use reflections from students, instructor, and the community partner. However, reflections and self-assessment should not be the only tool used to assess the effectiveness of the class and its impact.