What is ASL

The Academic Service Learning Advisory Board has set the following vision for academic service learning at Northern Michigan University:

  • For academic service learning to be accepted as an excellent, innovative teaching method that facilitates teaching students with a variety of learning styles.
  • For academic service learning to be viewed as a means of connecting with students who are not as engaged with their coursework as they should be.
  • For academic service learning to become a teaching methodology that enhances the teaching/learning experience for students and faculty, and in the process provides meaningful service to the communities surrounding Northern Michigan University.

Benefits of Academic Service Learning

The ideal academic service learning project benefits all of the involved parties: the students, the faculty, the community and the university. The following is a brief list of student outcomes and faculty benefits from participation in a successful ASL project (Based on Eastern Michigan University and Colorado State University).

Outcomes for Students Involved in Academic Service Learning

Personal Growth

• Increased self-esteem and confidence

• Increased personal responsibility

• Increased sense of personal worth

Career Development

• Active exploration of career interests

• Understanding of the work force

• Specific job skills

• Greater confidence in career choices

Social Development

• Improved interpersonal skills

• Increased tolerance/support for diversity

• Propensity to engage in other volunteer activities


• View service as a positive learning experience

• Strengthened persistence to graduate

• Improved problem solving/critical thinking skills

Faculty Benefits

As students succeed, faculty also benefit. The realization that they are providing experience, facilitating discussions and providing knowledge can be a revitalizing moment.

Here are some other faculty benefits of using an academic service learning model:

  • ASL activities can motivate students because they will be applying classroom knowledge to relevant activities in the world around them.
  • Faculty will be able to make connections throughout the community.
  • Engaging students who are different types of learners, such as:
    • showing ownership of learning and teaching
    • increasing student civic responsibility
    • helping students to structure and act on knowledge
    • making a difference in the community.

Academic Service Learning Teaching Methodology

Criteria have been developed by the NMU Academic Service Learning Advisory Board to allow for the designation of classes that contain academic service learning content in course catalogs. This will benefit students in choosing courses. To have an academic service learning designation, classes must include the following five common elements:

  • Community partners or agencies must be involved in the planning of the service projects.
  • There must be a clearly conceptualized connection between course objectives and service activities.
  • Service projects must enrich the learning experience.
  • All parties involved in the service projects must benefit.
  • There must be time built into the syllabus for formal active reflection, which enables students to synthesize and derive new meaning from their experiences. Examples would include activities such as directed writings, small group discussions and class presentations.

Principles of Good Practice for Combining Service and Learning

In 1989, the Johnson Foundation hosted the Wingspread Conference that led to the establishment of the principles of good practice for combining service and learning. The principles were created by experienced practitioners and have been adopted by Academic Service Learning professionals across the country (National Service Learning Clearinghouse). Good practice for academic service learning includes:

  • Engages people in responsible and challenging actions for the common good.
  • Provides structured opportunities for people to reflect critically on their service experience.
  • Articulates clear service and learning goals for everyone involved.
  • Allows for those with needs to define those needs.
  • Clarifies the responsibilities of each person and organization involved.
  • Matches service providers and service needs through a process that recognizes changing circumstances.
  • Expects genuine, active, and sustained organizational commitment.
  • Includes training, supervision, monitoring, support, recognition, and evaluation to meet service and learning goals.
  • Insures that the time commitment for service and learning is flexible, appropriate, and in the best interests of all involved.
  • Is committed to program participation by and with diverse populations (Colorado State University)