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    The Value of Visiting Your Service-Learning Partner

    How often should a faculty member visit their service-learning partners’ site/s during the semester?  While some instructors like to make at least one site visit during the semester (Everett, 1998), others try to make two visits over the course of a term (Pringle, 1998).  There is no stock answer, but educators who report making occasional visits to their partners during the semester suggest several advantages to the practice.

    Due to the hectic pace of faculty life, visiting sites is difficult to do, yet I have found it to be an invaluable experience for both myself and my students.” (Hammer, 2008)

    Denis Collins is a faculty member who learned the value of visiting his partners:  “I did not personally visit any of the shelters for two reasons.  First, I had previously worked with low-income people prior to becoming a professor and felt secure about the project.  Second, I lacked time to volunteer at all five shelters so I didn’t volunteer at any” (Collins, 1996).  When Collins’ students had unpleasant experiences at several shelters, he said, “. . . my lack of personal experience with these particular shelters was a mistake.”  Through spending time at the shelters, his experience helped him to understand his students’ experiences.  “I just showed up, served food, watched television and played cards with the residents so that I would experience what my students were experiencing” (Collins, 1996).  Collins' visit also allowed him to connect with agency staff in ways that helped the overall project.

    What are the benefits of site visits?

    1. A visit to your community partner while students are present “gives you insight into the experience of the students and allows you to more skillfully integrate it into class” (Hammer, 2008). 
    2. Site visits create teachable moments.  They allow “you to integrate course content on the spot in interacting with students” (Hammer, 2008).
    3. Site visits give you “direct feedback from students and agency staff as to what is and what is not working” (Pringle, 1998). When you address problems quickly during the course of the term, you assure the success of the service-learning project and the students’ learning experience.
    4. Visitations to the site give you a more enlightened approach to grading students’ service-learning reflections and assignments (Pringle, 1998)

    Let your students know that you will not be at the site every time that they are.  You might want to explain why it is not feasible for you to be at every site for every student visit.  However, if you assure students that you will occasionally visit the partnership yourself, you allow students to realize that you have a stake in the service project. Visiting your service-learning partner/s is valuable for relating to students’ experiences, bridging the students’ service to course content, improving the partnership and assessing students’ projects and reflections.

    Resources:

    Collins, Denis. (1996). “Serving the Homeless and Low-Income Communities through Business & Society / Business Ethics Class Projects: The University of Wisconsin-Madison Plan.” Journal of Business 15: 67-85.

    Kevin R. Everett. (1998). “Understanding Social Inequality through Service-Learning.” Teaching Sociology 26 (4), 299-309.

    Elizabeth Yost Hammer. (2008). “Using Service-Learning to Promote Critical Thinking in the Psychology Curriculum”  In Dana Dunn, Jane S. Halonen, Randolph A. Smith (Ed.), Teaching critical thinking in psychology: a handbook of best practices.  Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Lynn M. Pringle, (1998). “Expanding the Boundaries of Accounting Education through Service-Learning.”  In Dasaratha Rama (Ed.),  Learning by doing: concepts and models of service-learning accounting.  Sterling, VA: Stylus.