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Service-Learning FAQs

General Service-Learning Questions

Great! We’re glad you’re interested in incorporating community-engaged teaching and learning into your classes. Your first step should be to review the materials in this Faculty Resources folder, particularly those in this ‘Getting Started’ folder, then to schedule a consultation with the Service-Learning Office staff. (A one-on-one conversation is totally optional, but also highly encouraged.) When you’re ready to apply for the service-learning designation, just complete the application form and email us your syllabus. (Those steps are also outlined here.) We will review your materials and get back in touch with any questions or requests for additional information.

Absolutely! Service-learning classes can be taught online, in synchronous or asynchronous formats. If you’re interested in designing an online service-learning course, check out these guides for teaching community-based and service-learning courses online and take this self-paced learning module, which introduces the basics of designing a service-learning course, explores the types of online service-learning courses, and helps participants create community-engaged learning objectives and assessments.

High-quality reflection deepens student learning and is an essential component of service-learning pedagogy. This folder of reflection resources is a good place to start if you want to learn more about reflection and to see reflection ideas and examples, especially the VCU Reflection Handbook (2019).

You may also, of course, schedule a consultation with the Service-Learning Office staff to problem solve and to discuss your reflection ideas.

Though we do not match or manage partnerships, we are always happy to help connect faculty members and community partners and to help you find community organizations whose needs and focus align with your learning objectives and students’ skills. You can schedule a consultation with the Service-Learning Office staff to talk more. You might also check out the HandsOn RVA database and our Keep on Partnering page to learn about organizations interested in working with volunteers.

It is always a good idea to clearly articulate the components of a service-learning partnership in an informal written agreement at the beginning of each semester. At this time, however, there is no requirement for all VCU service-learning classes to create such a written agreement [NOTE: For the 2020-21 academic year, there is a required COVID-19 notice to community partners that is described in the section below and available here]. If you would like to draft a service-learning partnership agreement with your community partner, you can adapt one of our sample partnership agreement forms.

The Service-Learning Office offers a variety of supports for faculty members teaching service-learning classes, including funding opportunities, targeted orientation materials, Service-Learning Teaching Assistants, and access to a network of community-engaged practitioners. We share additional support and announce upcoming workshops in our newsletter; you can read past issues or join the mailing list.

  • Student Orientation Videos: These short student orientation videos and optional quizzes can be incorporated into your service-learning course syllabus to ensure that your students are ready for their volunteer experiences in the community.
  • Service-Learning Grants Programs: Service-learning instructors are eligible for mini grants including Project Small Grants, Partnership Awards, and Travel Grants. 
  • Service-Learning Teaching Assistants. Instructors teaching service-learning classes may nominate a graduate or undergraduate student to work alongside them as a SLTA and support the service-learning instruction.

Support network of community-engaged faculty: There is a robust network of support for faculty doing community-engaged teaching and scholarship. Check out the national Higher Education Service-learning Listserv and our statewide VA Engage network.

Spring 2021 Service-Learning Questions

As you know, plans and policies have continued to evolve through the pandemic. Policies are regularly updated on the One VCU: Responsible Together website and specifically on the Spring 2021 Information and the Staying Safe in Off-Campus Experiences subpages. Additionally, the Office of the Provost’s FAQs webpage provides answers to faculty-relevant questions related to university operations and COVID-19 processes. 

All students enrolled in classes this spring must complete mandatory safety training, which will inform them about safety protocols, expectations, and policies. In addition, all students who plan to engage in face-to-face activities (including such things as service-learning, internships, field placements, and all other off-campus activities) are required to submit an acknowledgement of risk form

Finally, for information related to university COVID testing protocols, contact tracing, quarantining and isolation and more, visit the One VCU: Responsible Together FAQs subpage and the VCU Return to Campus Plan (12/18/20). A COVID-19 Call Center Hotline (804-MYCOVID / 804-692-6843) is also available to report COVID cases. Specific questions related to COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, isolation or quarantine should be directed to the COVID Call Center Hotline and/or to your department chair or dean. 

Yes, students can participate in experiential activities, including service-learning, but there are some additional requirements for them. In the 2020-21 academic year, university policies allow for face-to-face experiential components, both on- and off-campus, as long as all VCU-approved safety protocols are followed onsite. Students engaging in face-to-face activities must complete mandatory safety training and submit an acknowledgement of risk form; details on both are included in the question below.

However, faculty will also need to accommodate students who need to opt out of face-to-face service activities. This means that, while you can plan for in-person service options, you’ll also need to plan for virtual or remote options too--and students will need to be able to switch or move between those modalities without penalty, even midway through the semester. (It’s probably a good idea to plan for this high-flex situation for instruction too.) Check out this infographic to help visualize the options, and feel free to schedule a consultation with us to help you plan for the option that best suits you, your students, and your partners.

Yes, there are several additional university requirements in place this year for students and faculty aimed at managing safety and sharing information during the pandemic. First, all students enrolled in classes this spring must complete mandatory safety training, whether or not they are engaging in face-to-face service activities.

Second, all students engaging in face-to-face activities (including such things as service-learning, internships, field placements, and all other off-campus activities) are required to submit an acknowledgement of risk form.

Third, faculty members whose students are engaging in face-to-face activities are asked to share the VCU Partner Health and Safety Notice with their off-campus community partners. We have drafted some community-focused language for service-learning instructors that may be helpful to include in your message to partners; while our additions are not required, we recommend incorporating this language when you send the required VCU Partner Health and Safety Notice. More information about all of these policies and requirements is available here

 

There definitely are! While many of our community partner organizations have suspended face-to-face opportunities for student involvement, the community needs have certainly not disappeared; indeed, our partners and our communities may need support now more than ever. Your partners may have opportunities for students to serve virtually, and we recommend that you reach out to them to talk about remote service options and needs. (This infographic may help you visualize the options, and the Service-Learning Office staff is always happy to consult with you to help you plan for the option that best suits you, your students, and your partners!) If your existing partners don’t have the need or capacity for your students to serve remotely, there are a wide variety of online service opportunities available; check the “Virtual Volunteering” section of our Keep on Partnering page for ideas. 

According to the university’s One VCU: Responsible Together Testing and Screening webpage, VCU students and employees are responsible for daily monitoring of their personal health and for reporting symptoms associated with COVID-19 to either the VCU Student Health Services or to the VCU Employee Health Services. Consider adding: “VCU’s University Student Health Services provides a helpful COVID Updates page that you may want to share with your students). The One VCU: Responsible Together FAQs subpage and the VCU Return to Campus Plan (12/18/20)  provide information related to university COVID testing protocols, contact tracing, quarantining and isolation and more. 

We’ve been thinking about this too and are curating an ongoing list of ideas. As educators, a critical initial step is for us to focus on our own learning and critical reflection, and also to invest time in cultivating the inclusive learning environments that enable students to honestly, authentically, and openly reflect on social justice and public health. When you’re ready to start adding reflection and research activities for your students, check out this curated list of community-engaged teaching and reflection in times of crisis tools, which contains great resources, guides, and “ready to use” ideas centered around the COVID-19 pandemic and the current fight for social and racial justice. The Educators for Anti-Racism website houses a remarkable wealth of resources too.  We are also available to consult with you about creating an inclusive learning environment and designing reflection activities for your students.

Such good questions, and ones that many of us are also thinking about. Here are some of the resources we turn to again and again:

  • For ideas that can help you and your students keep mentally and physically well during stressful times check out VCU’s Keep on Being Well 2.0 site as well as the optional Psychological Readiness & Return to Campus eLearning class on the Talent@VCU platform (go.vcu.edu/talentatvcu). 
  • The VCU Keep on Learning site provides information to students on how to manage online learning as well as how to address their housing and financial needs. 
  • VCU’s RAM Pantry, which operates on both the Monroe Park and Health Sciences campuses, provides food to VCU students who are food insecure. The pantry’s hours of operation and process for receiving food are shown on their website.
  • 211 Virginia is a free 24/7 service that helps Virginia residents find the resources they need.  
  • The staff at University Counseling Services (UCS) is available to consult with students about mental and emotional health issues through telehealth appointments. Students can schedule a Referral and Assessment Meeting (RAM) by calling the UCS office at 804-828-6200, Monday through Friday between 8:00a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Students experiencing mental health emergencies and want to speak with a crisis clinician can call that number day or night. Students no longer need to call VCU police for mental health emergencies. 
  • And finally, this form for faculty to refer a student for support is also important to know about.

We applaud your commitment to helping your students establish this important citizenship skill. Research shows that young adults who establish the habit of voting while in college are more likely to become lifetime voters; and in Virginia, every year is a voting year! You can find up-to-date information regarding voter registration and voter engagement to share with your students on the VCU Votes website and there are suggestions for teaching resources related to voting on the Welcome to Community Engagement website.

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