Sharing & Reflecting: Can Technology Facilitate Service Learning?

I am taking some risks here. This is a T&LI blog so most of our entries deal with technology, but I have another passion in the classroom, and that it is Service Learning. So when brainstorming to write this entry,  I was wondering how much interest can Service Learning elicit among technology “inclined” instructors reading this blog, especially if the writing about SL is coming from a business professor. Well, I found a nexus and that’s what I am ready to share.

For those new to Service Learning (SL), SL is considered a high-impact educational practice defined by our University as a “teaching and learning approach that integrates community service with academic study to enrich learning, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities, while engaging students in reflection upon what was learned and experienced, and how the community benefited.” (Guide to Service Learning, 2015). The CSU in general and our campus in particular have a strong commitment to this pedagogy*.

What type of SL projects do my students work on? I define my SL projects as “outcome-based” in which teams of students work with a local (or international) non-profit organization or social entrepreneur to identify and analyze the viability of a new social business/social enterprise. For instance, students have worked on..

  • Farmer for a Day (Community Roots Garden): Under the guidance of Angela Schultz and Fern Perusse- Filzen, SCORE Counselor, students designed and implemented a team-building workshop for all sorts of organizations. Through a series of gardening stations such as composting, seed planting, plant care, and harvesting; teams can learn how the principles of small-scale farming can be implemented to grow a healthy work environment.
Farmer for a Day - Service Learning Project
CI Students at CRG
  • Black Sheep Kitchen: Cindy Liu, the founder, aims to reduce food waste and to increase job opportunities for disabled individuals, by selling yummy food products.

Wait!…. isn’t this a #highered #edtech blog? Why are you telling us all of this? Here we go… a few semesters ago, I decided to share our working Google Folder with our Community Partners. Most of our CI students had mastered by now the use of the Google Drive suite of tools and I regularly accessed their work in order to provide feedback or comments. However, it took some thinking, and later on, I actually had to STOP overthinking and just take a leap of faith. I let our Community Partners access and read in real time our live, organic, always changing, “work in progress” documents. Previously, the CPs were just attending a formal (usually) “pretty” final presentation at the end of the semester. Now they get to actually read the “not-so pretty” documents, my “not-always-nice” comments (but always constructive, ;->), and the back and forth between the team members (including some laggards). It is also worth noting that students’ personal or grading related information is never shared via Google Docs. After a few semesters, these are some of my initial reflections about engaging with CP’s this way.


  • Real time feedback
  • No waitin/ idle time between formal presentations
  • Some community Partners have their “brain dump” document in our Folder (thanks Cindy!). It is priceless for the students (and me) to read firsthand ideas/reflections from a social entrepreneur.
  • Increased efficiency of data sharing (especially when using secondary sources)


  • If the community Partner hasn’t used Google Docs before, there is a learning curve
  • It usually means more work for the Community Partner
  • Potential lack of focus, as the students may be pulled in different directions

It is very powerful to think that different stakeholders, including our SCORE counselors, are able to come together and collaborate in real time via Google Docs; once again, technology builds the scaffolds that allow a better learning experience for my students and our Community Partners.

A second key piece of simple technology that has facilitated my SL courses is the online Journals available in CI Learn. For many years, this lonely Journal option displayed in that long list of “Tools”, but a few semesters ago driven by the need to encourage a more formal reflection, I saw an opportunity to use it. While not all the students happily embrace that weekly “encounter” with their own learning and with their instructor, these weekly Journal entries have become a remarkable opportunity to give a voice to the “silent” students so they can express openly how they are the feeling about the course content, the project, their involvement in the community and their own learning. These journals strengthen my individual connection with each student as we engage in one-on-one conversations that are hard to have face-to-face on a weekly basis.

A lot of CI instructors are using even fancier technology to enhance their Service Learning projects, let’s share and keep this conversation going  @TLInnovations

I hope to see you all in our next Online & Blended Community Gathering (March 11th,  12 pm @FIT).

Thanks for reading and happy Leap Day!

Maria Ballesteros-Sola

*Special thanks to our Center for Community Engagement (CCE) team (Pilar, Dennis and Kaitlyn) for sharing SL resources and connecting us with our Community Partners!.

photo credit:Giuseppe Milo via Flickr (CC BY-SA-2)