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Informing, Enlisting, Recruiting Students

Informing, Enlisting, Recruiting Students

In planning to offer a service-learning course, there is always a question about how to inform students about both the existence of the course and the nature of the service-learning model. Aside from last minute fliers, ads in the student newspaper, and word of mouth, there are the more formal approaches of designating a course in the schedule of classes and/or the university course catalogue. Both of these latter approaches require some advance planning and, depending on the degree of stability on your campus, may not be possible. At USC, courses that partner with JEP can include a "JEP" designation in the semester course listing. For more information about this, please see the "General Information" section of the Schedule of Classes. In addition, we have found that it is very helpful to get the word out about service-learning courses to departmental and academic advisors.

Often, however, a faculty member may only find out that she or he is teaching a course only a few days before the semester begins. While this poses huge problems in terms of preparing a well organized service-learning course and syllabus, we see nothing wrong with informing students of the service-learning requirement on the first day of class, as long as it is a fair and accurate description that allows students to make informed decisions about staying in the course.

For pilot courses where there is concern about adequate enrollment, we have found word of mouth to be an excellent recruitment tool. For a capstone course created in psychology, we simply got the word out that this was going to be a wonderful opportunity for psychology majors to summarize their course work and scope out the job market. The course required 12 students to prevent cancellation. The faculty member closed enrollment at 25. Generally we believe that a service-learning format for a course is more likely to attract than repel students.

Student Recognition

We believe that much of the power of service-learning comes from the personal changes that students experience when they venture into communities with new responsibilities. Students are used to being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Community work often allows them to take on roles where they are seen as people who have something to contribute and, in many cases, to be admired for their skills and accomplishments. The campus community can reinforce this positive role by recognizing student accomplishments through public events including:

  • Presentations of plans, projects, or other outcomes to classmates and invited guests and/or representatives from community agencies;
  • Formal presentations of student developed initiatives to an appropriate public body such as a city council;
  • An awards ceremony that marks some of the term's or year's major accomplishments by students engaged in service-learning/community volunteerism;
  • Coverage of student contributions by the campus or community media, preferably print media. The USC Community-based Learning Collaborative's website is an excellent place to post students' term papers or presentations (with their permission, of course) and to generally highlight the course's successes.