Teaching Responsible Computing Playbook

Teaching Responsible Computing Playbook

Service Learning

Authors: Oliver Bonham-Carter, Antonio Delgado, George Gabb, Joshua Young

Author Barbara Jacoby defines service-learning as “…a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities for reflection to achieve desired learning outcomes.”

Service learning combines community service with experiential learning, where educational experience in the classroom is integrated with a related community service experience. It is based on “learning by doing” by engaging students in service while at the same time intentionally connecting their service to civic and course learning outcomes. To achieve these learning outcomes, it is critical to include a structured reflection component to service learning, this is what makes it distinct from a volunteer experience. Service learning can take many different forms. It can be integrated into a regular course, an internship course, or a capstone/research project; involve a single course assignment or be woven throughout the course; concentrate on a single project or broader needs of a specific organization.

Service learning creates a sense of community and citizenship among students and it also allows students to develop an understanding and appreciation for people from backgrounds different from their own. This is especially important as the computing curriculum attempts to build learning experiences related to sensitivity to the needs of the different user groups, experiences working with users who come from different backgrounds, issues of accessibility, usability, and so on. With guidance from their professor, students can learn to work through important social and ethical issues while engaging in service through a course. Students also tend to take more responsibility for their learning when their learning engages with the needs of a community and has real-world applications. Courses that incorporate service learning provide a benefit not only to students in those courses but also to the service recipients (organization or users of developed technological solutions) and the university and the community at large. High-quality service learning has been proven to contribute to student success including retention, engagement, graduation, and workforce preparation, and others.

The challenges associated with service learning include:

  • Integration with the curriculum - it requires additional preparation and careful planning to incorporate service learning into the curriculum to ensure the service and reflection assignments directly support and reinforce course content and achieve required learning objectives.
  • Partner relationship - a successful service-learning experience requires a strong partnership and commitment of the community partner, again, it takes time and effort to build those relationships and to align the goals of both parties.
  • Control - since some learning takes place outside of the classroom, service learning is less predictable than the standard in-class instruction, which may present challenges with maintaining control over the learning and assessment of such learning.

Key Questions:

  • Who are the partners? Can long term relations be facilitated? Develop partnership early. Communicate frequently and consistently.
  • How does the partnership benefit the partner? Avoid “I am doing you a favor” type mind-set. Take the feedback from the partners. Service learning should be a reciprocal partnership – start with the needs of the partner in mind.
  • How does the partnership benefit the learning objectives of the course?
  • How will ethics and social responsibility be incorporated into the students, service and learning experiences?
  • What steps should be taken to prepare students for engagement with the community partner/members? Have a conversation with students about “civic identity” and civic contexts and structures. Prepare your students for engaging with the specific community/partner. Give them an overview of the partner organization (or better yet, have students research the partner and issue on their own), explain the value of civic learning and engagement, discuss proper behavior and social and ethical issues that might arise.
  • What reflection assignments will be developed to connect the service with your other course objectives? Ensure reflection is ongoing. Some things to consider: (i) prepare students prior to service, (ii) ensure on-going reflection during the course, and (iii) including a final reflection for students to demonstrate what they learned from the experience in relation to the course and their role as engaged citizens.
  • What is the actual service the students will provide? For example, what is the number of hours and duration of the commitment?
  • How will the service-learning component of the course be assessed? For example, adopt AAC&U’s VALUE rubric for your course. Also, see the related section on learning outcomes and assessment for more details.


☐ Identify the partners.

☐ Identify benefits of the partnership to the partner.

☐ Build the service component into the learning objectives of the course.

☐ Introduce the topic of ethics and social responsibility to your students.

☐ Prepare students for engagement with the community partner/members.

☐ Prepare and implement reflection assignments tied to your course and civic learning outcomes.

☐ Figure out the logistics of the actual service your students will provide.

☐ Assess the service-learning component of the course.


Allegheny College

At Allegheny College, service learning was incorporated in CMPSC 311 Robotic Agents and CMPSC 481: Software Innovation II.

Checklist walk-through (In the rest of the example, we show how some of the checklist items in the previous section of this document could be used for the Robotics Agents course. The checklist did not exist when the activities below were conducted/planned, so this walk-through is meant only for illustrative purposes.)

  • Identify the partners.
    • “Robotic Agents” course has a partnership with the Crawford Central school district, where students in the course engage with students in the school district and provide demonstrations, workshops, lessons, projects, etc.
  • Identify benefits of the partnership to the partner.
    • The program has been running for six years and it involves going into the community (lessons, projects in the school district) and inviting the community into the college (giving demonstrations for a larger community). It exposes local school district’s students to the idea of computational and STEAM in general.
  • Build the service component into the learning objectives of the course.
  • Assess the service-learning component of the course.
    • In 2016, this course was tagged as a “Civic Learning” and “Community Engagement” course at Allegheny (see descriptions of these tags below), which helped to make the civic learning aspect of the course more visible.
      • CL: Civic Learning (CL). Civic Learning develops the political, ethical, and social capacities citizens need to address the challenges facing local, regional, national, and international communities through community engagement and/or through the cultivation of civic knowledge, skills, motivations, and behaviors. Learning Outcome: Students who successfully complete this requirement will demonstrate an understanding of economic, political, legal, cultural, natural, historical, or social forces that affect public problems or civic issues.
      • Allegheny College designates “community engagement” (“E”) any course that incorporates a required community engagement component that meets specific criteria outlined by the Civic Engagement Office at https://sites.allegheny.edu/civicengagement/faculty-resources/

CMPSC 481: Software Innovation II

In this course, working in a team, students make contributions to open-source projects on GitHub.

  • Identify the partners.
    • Students in the software Innovation course partner with the open-source community. Each team engages with the authors of a specific open-source project and works with them to make contributions to that project.
  • Identify benefits of the partnership to the partner.
    • Students often make valuable contributions to partner’s open-source projects.
  • Prepare students for engagement with the community partner/members.
    • Discussions and readings on the open-source community and virtual service learning.
  • Assess the service-learning component of the course.
    • Civic Learning rubric is used for assessment (https://www.aacu.org/civic-engagement-value-rubric).
    • Feedback from the partner can also be used for assessment. For open-source project partners, feedback often comes in the form of pull requests and merge discussions.

Miami Dade College

At Miami Dade College (MDC), we incorporated service learning into a class project as well as a capstone project.

In the rest of the example, we present more details on these projects as well as a checklist walk-through (we show how some of the checklist items in the previous section of this document could be used. The checklist did not exist when the activities below were conducted/planned, so this walk-through is meant only for illustrative purposes.)

Class Project: Introduction to Computer Technologies and Applications (CGS1060C), Database Concepts and Design (CGS1540C), Java Programming (COP2800)

The objective of this project was to raise awareness of the health benefits and environmental impact of a plant-based diet.

  • Identify the partners
  • Introduce the topic of ethics and social responsibility to your students.
  • Prepare and implement reflection assignments tied to your course and civic learning outcomes.
    • The project was designed to expose students to social consciousness within the context of a software development project. Three classes each played the user, modeler, and application developer roles. The user role was assumed by a general education computer literacy class, the data modeler by a database design class, and the application developer by a Java programming class. GSELS provided a synergistic platform where a diverse group of students experienced the application development process from different perspectives through the language of Sustainability.
      • User Role: Students in the computer literacy class each selected a vegan recipe then researched and collected a minimum set of information including its ingredients and their production and health benefits, recipe preparation, the cost to the consumer, etc. They submitted their findings in the required class presentation. Students made their recipe and had a vegan-tasting day where the food was shared with students, faculty, and staff.
      • Data Modeler: This is a group project for the database design class. Students in the computer literacy class were randomly assigned to form matching groups to the database class. Database groups interviewed their assigned computer literacy student group. The database class project was to design and implement a database using only the information received from their respective group. Their solutions were required to be capable of storing all information collected for the project. These databases were to be used as the backend for a Java application to be completed by the Java programming students.
      • Application Developer: This is a group project for the Java programming class. Students in the programming class will design and implement an application to store, manage, and present the vegan dish information. Their application used the database that the students from the Database design class projects. The groups from each class were paired to facilitate the completion of the assignment.
  • Figure out the logistics of the actual service your students will provide.
    • Figuring out the timing in this project was essential. Students in the database and Java courses typically begin focusing on their class projects after the midterm given that their completion is due near the end of term. The data collection performed and shared by the computer literacy class was completed before midterm. The programming classes needed the database design before they could commit to coding. To overcome this constraint, the classes were paired so they worked in tandem to complete the project at the same time.
  • Build the service component into the learning objectives of the course.
  • Assess the service learning component of the course.
    • We created a worksheet that is being used by MDC faculty members to include service learning in their courses (including which course objectives and learning outcomes can be strengthened by incorporating service learning). Please see the end of this section for the worksheet.

CIS4891 Capstone Project: “School in a Box”

This project meets the GSELS goals “to explore global citizenship, ecological sustainability, and civic engagement, through understanding planetary challenges and limits and by developing values, skills, and behaviors that promote prosperity and communities of well-being.” In countries across the globe access to the internet can be scarce. Residents who live in rural, or remote, areas may have long commutes to gain access to a cellular or internet connection. The web application we aim to build will address the problem of providing equal and adequate e-learning resources to communities that lack or have limited network infrastructure.

Our solution is to use the pervasiveness of the smartphone to our advantage and develop an educational hub whereby teachers/faculty can curate free online educational resources by grade level and subject, effectively designing custom curricula from free e-learning materials that are distributable. Students may “enroll” in these curricula thereby gaining access to a structured learning experience. This web-based hub will have a companion smartphone application to provide students with the right platform to retrieve educational resources that may be customized for any educational system.

This senior project will concentrate on building the core curriculum creation and curation components. The smartphone app will be implemented based upon these functionalities and provide avenues for other application development and computer security seniors to participate in this project.

We also developed a worksheet at MDC to incorporate service learning into courses:

Miami Dade College’s Academic Service-Learning Course Development Worksheet

Name of Course:___________________________________

Which course learning objectives could be reinforced/deepened/broadened by adding a service component?

Which MDC learning outcomes could be addressed by adding a service-learning component?

ACTION – What types of service activities would be appropriate for your learning objectives? Describe the service activities through which students will learn and/or apply the course objectives, skills, and/or behaviors.

PREPARATION – How will you prepare your students for the service-learning experience(pre-reflection)? Include examples of preparation assignments such as creating learning and service objectives, conducting research (about social issue and policies related to the issue, about non-profit partner, etc.), interviewing, identifying community partners and stakeholders, etc.

REFLECTION – What on-going reflection techniques will you use to ensure student learning and meaningful service with the community? (readings, written assignments, journals, class discussions, presentations, guest speakers, creating educational materials, podcasts, teaching, performance, public art about the project, products, student evaluation of the project, portfolios, etc.)

COURSE INTEGRATION – Will service-learning be required of all students, optional, extra credit, etc? How many hours of service will they complete? What are your deadlines for confirming their placement, reflective assignments, turning in hours and end of service survey, etc.?

ASSESSMENT – How will you evaluate/assess/grade the service-learning component? (class participation, grades for each reflection assignment, final presentation, portfolio, etc.) What evidence will demonstrate that students have met learning objectives?

PURPOSEFUL CIVIC LEARNING – How will you intentionally prepare students for active civic participation in a diverse democratic society? What reflection activities will you utilize that prepare students with knowledge, skills, values, and propensities for active involvement in their future communities? (E.g., helping students understand root causes of social problems, developing cross cultural communication skills, helping students understand the qualities of a good citizen and why that is important, learning how citizen groups have effected change in their communities, understanding how individuals in a particular profession act in socially responsible ways, exploring the balance between rights and responsibilities in a democracy, etc.)

DEMONSTRATION – How will students provide evidence of what they have gained and accomplished through service-learning? What public presentations might they do – displays, performances, letters to the editor, class lessons, portfolios – that draw on the preparation, action, and reflection stages of their experience?

RECOGNITION – How will you recognize your students?

DEVELOPING CHANGEMAKERS – MDC is an Ashoka U Changemaker college. Through purposeful curricular and co-curricular experiences, MDC’s goal is to empower students with changemaker skills including empathy, resilience, reflection, and action. With this in mind, what will you specifically do in your course to build these four essential skills (and others related to changemaking)?






Related Pages

Authors and Contributors

Image of Oliver Bonham-Carter

Oliver Bonham-Carter (author)

Image of Antonio Delgado

Antonio Delgado (author)

Image of George Gabb

George Gabb (author)

Image of Joshua Young

Joshua Young (author)