Forms of Service Engagement and Integration

Integrating service into a course or program

Project type

The scope of projects will vary based on the learning and service objectives established for the course. Some projects may involve ongoing direct interaction with those served (e.g., tutoring programs, participatory action research, program evaluation). Projects of this type are referred to as direct service. By contrast, indirect service projects (e.g., communication or small business plan development, fundraising, issue advocacy, tree survey) demand little face-to-face interaction with residents or clients, but rather engage students in creating products, generating resources, or producing knowledge vital to a community organization, neighborhood, or group. Such projects may also involve raising public awareness or stimulating dialogue on an issue of public or social concern.

View examples of each type of engagement activity


Service projects can be situated in a wide range of physical settings and contexts domestically and internationally. Similarly, the use of service projects as examples of active and collaborative learning may occur in any number of academic contexts, including:

  • First-year courses
  • Capstone courses
  • Themed learning communities
  • International service learning programs
  • Civic internships
  • Service learning practica
  • Community-based research projects
  • Graduate and professional courses

Dosage and periodicity

Depending on the scope of the task, service projects also vary in the amount of time students spend on the project and the frequency of their contributions. In some cases, an instructor may want to expose students to an issue by developing a mini-immersion or single-day service project. Such projects are commonly used in first-year courses both to create a sense of camaraderie among the students and to introduce the civic engagement as a dimension of the collegiate learning experience.

There is no single correct answer to the question of how much service is required for learning to happen. Researchers and practitioners contend that single-day immersive experiences, while a valuable learning tool, are insufficient to support authentic relationship building among students and community residents. Instead, engaging students in regular cycles of contact with community members over the course of a semester (or longer if possible), particularly when coupled with intentional analysis of the experience, increases the likelihood that students will expand their capacity to demonstrate empathy and examine issues from multiple standpoints.

Required or optional

Best practice indicates that service should be integrated deeply into the course architecture to minimize the perception among students that the service is an add-on rather than an integral component of the learning to be generated through the course. However, integration does not necessarily translate into required. Indeed, course designers can choose to integrate the service project and associated assignments as just one option for students to select from to practice their learning of a core course concept in context.