Service Learning

Cal Poly Community Based Learning


Want to teach a Service Learning Course?

Apply in the Fall term to join the Service Learning Faculty Fellows. 
Click here for more details


Learning Outcomes

The key student learning outcomes of a Service Learning course are that the service

  • provides the students with newly acquired knowledge and skills
  • enhances their values and views


An effective Service Learning course should be able to provide answers to the following questions:

  • How has the Service Learning experience supported the students’ development as individuals and members of the community?
  • Has the student acquired specific knowledge and skills?
  • What do they know now that they didn’t know before?
  • What can they do now that they couldn’t do before?
  • How has the service project impacted students’ lives?
  • How has it shaped their values, goals, attitudes, self-concepts, world views, and behaviors?
  • How has it enhanced their value of themselves and their community?


Risk Management

Risk management is the planning and organizing of cautionary measures aimed at minimizing the adverse effects of accidental and avoidable losses.

Why is managing risk important when teaching a Service Learning course?

There are many groups involved in a Service Learning class: faculty members, students, community members, and the university. Managing risk ensures that the safety and well-being of all parties is taken into account during the service portion of the course. It is important for the faculty member to practice risk management to prevent injury, property damage, and other liability issues.


Risk Management Resources

Human Subject and Service-Learning

To ensure Cal Poly's commitment to protecting human subjects in research, the University's Institutional Review Board (IRB) evaluates research projects for compliance with ethical standards regarding the treatment of human subjects.

Reason for Guideline

  • Involvement of community members for community-engaged research occurs during the development of the research questions, through the development of the study design, and throughout the research process.  Therefore, it can be challenging to determine when the approval of the Cal Poly Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval should be sought and when changes in protocols must be reported and approved.  

  • Second, community members are often involved as a collaborator and as research subjects, making it difficult to know when to ensure consent to participate in the research.

To assist researchers at Cal Poly engaged in community-engaged research, we have created a list of FAQs here. Additional information is available at Cal Poly’s Human Subjects website and by contacting the Cal Poly IRB at or 805-756-1508.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Service Learning?

Service Learning is a teaching and learning method that links course content to the community through involvement in organized service activities intended to enhance the academic experience and encourage participation in the community. The terms "community-based learning" and "service learning" can be used interchangeably.

How does service learning differ from traditional community service projects or internships?

Service learning is devoted to connecting coursework with real world service projects to enhance the effectiveness of the learning experience. Volunteerism provides service to the community, but does not offer opportunities to reflect upon the service. Internships are academically driven, making the community service the second priority. Service learning combines academic focus with community service and provides time for reflection, creating a fulfilling learning experience.

What courses can have service learning components?

Service learning can be integrated into most courses. The Academic Senate considers a course to be a service learning course if the community service component relates to the academic learning objectives of the course and is integrated with the academic content through reflection.

Why should I incorporate community-based learning into my curriculum?

See the "Benefits and Incentives" section of the overview.

Where can I go for help with planning and creating a Service Learning course?

The Center for Teaching and Learning offers workshops that can assist you in many areas of teaching. They will soon be offering community-based learning workshops which will offer help with planning and developing your Service Learning course. For more information, contact the Center for Teaching and Learning.

How do I execute my Service Learning course?

Contact the Center for Service in Action. They can answer any questions you have about starting up your Service Learning course and help you register and finalize your course.

How do you prepare students to serve?

It is important for students to know what to expect before they begin their service assignments. Make time for training sessions and role-playing activities to prepare them for the service. Invite the community partner contact to speak to the students about what is expected of them.

How do I find a community partner?

Local non-profit organizations make excellent community partners. When choosing a community partner, consider the type of experience you want the students to be a part of. A list of current community partners can be found here. If you have any questions or need help finding a community partner, contact the Center for Service in Action.

External Resources

National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC)

Service Leaning Course Syllabi (Search by Discipline)

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