Reflection: An Essential Component for a Quality Academic Service Learning Experience

Reflection helps improve basic academic skills and promotes a deeper understanding of course subject matter and its relation to the non-academic world, improves higher level thinking and problem solving and enhances students’ ability to learn from an experience. Reflection allows the participants to look back on the positive and negative aspects of the actions taken, determine what has been gained, lost, or achieved and connect these conclusions to future actions and larger societal contexts. Reflection can also promote personal development by enhancing students’ self-awareness, their sense of community and their sense of their own capacity (Colorado State).

Activities (Hatcher & Bringle)

  • Structured Class Discussions
    • Faculty creates questions to guide the group discussion in the classroom. This method can be used throughout the course during regular class time. Students can learn about the diversity of services, see connections between different populations and agencies, collectively share successes and problem-solve challenges and learn about societal patterns.
  • Class Presentations
    • This effective technique can be used during the middle and at the end of a course and can be designed for individuals or groups. Clear and well-defined criteria and expectations should be available so students will understand how their project will be evaluated. This is an opportunity for students to summarize their learning over the entire course and connect classroom knowledge and out-of-class learning.
  • Community Mural
    • This nontraditional technique enables students to express feelings and learning from the service experience and also allows for a creative collective statement about an issue facing the community. Students can use various sources (magazines, newspapers, photographs, etc.) to build their mural. The criteria for this project needs to be well defined but also allow freedom for means of expression.
  • Directed Writings
    • Directed writings can be used throughout the course to prompt students to reflect on their service experiences within the framework of the course. The instructor can identify a specific section from a text book or class reading and structure questions for students to answer. Directed writings allow students to critically analyze course content and apply it to current problems and issues.
  • Ethical Case Studies
    • Students can be required to create a case study based on their experiences at their service site, and use these case studies in the middle or at the end of the course. The case study should include a description of the context, the individuals involved (respecting confidentiality) and the controversy or event that caused the ethical dilemma. Students can then present their case study to the class and the class then discusses the situation, identifies issues, discusses how they would respond to the situation and gives reasons for their responses.
  • Journals
    • Personal journal. Weekly, students write freely about their experiences. The journal entries are submitted periodically to faculty or kept as a reference to use as the end of the experience when putting together an academic essay reflecting their experience.
    • Critical incident journal. Students analyze a particular event that occurred during the week by answering a prompt such as, why is this significant to you? What underlying issues surfaced as a result of this experience? How will this incident influence your future behavior? Students are asked to consider their thoughts and reactions and actions they plan to take in the future.
    • Three-part journal. Students should divide each page of their journal into thirds and write weekly entries throughout the course. In the top section students describe some aspect of the service experience. In the middle section they should analyze how course content relates to the service experience. The final section should have students comment on how the experience and course content can be applied to their personal or professional life.
  • Photo Essay
    • Students use photographs to reflect on their service experience and can weave a main theme or concept learned in class to actual photo documents. These projects are also excellent ones to share with the campus community, the service sites, for year-end celebrations, or college and other local publications.
  • Portfolios
    • Portfolios can contain any of the following: service learning contract, weekly log, personal journal, directed writings and photo essay. Also any products completed during the service experience (i.e., agency brochures, lesson plans, advocacy letters) should be submitted for review. Students can include a written evaluation essay providing a self-assessment of how effectively they met their learning objectives.