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Service-learning FAQs

Service-Learning: Frequently asked questions

General Service-Learning FAQs

Fall 2020 Service-Learning

General Service-Learning FAQs


I’m interested in offering a service-learning class this year. What’s my first step?

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 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. 

Can service-learning classes be taught as online classes? 

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.

Where can I find ideas for creating high-quality reflection activities for my service-learning class? 

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. 

Can the Service-Learning Office help me find community partners?

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. 

Do I need to submit a partnership agreement or MOU for my service-learning classes? 

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 Fall 2020, there is a required COVID-19 notice to community partners that is described in the section below]. 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

What supports are available for service-learning faculty? 

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.

Fall 2020 Service-Learning


I’d like to make sure my students understand how to vote this fall. Can you point me to the resources I can use in my class?

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

I’m confused. Are students allowed to engage in face-to-face service or other community activities?

Yes, students can participate in experiential activities, including service-learning, but there are some additional requirements for them. As of the start of the Fall 2020 semester, 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. 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, even midway through the semester. (It’s probably also a good idea to plan for this high-flex situation for instruction too.) Check out this handy 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.

What guidelines should I follow if my students will be participating in face-to-face service this Fall 2020 semester?

If your service-learning students will be participating in face-to-face service this Fall 2020 semester, you will need to ensure that you, your students, and your community partners stay informed and up-to-date on VCU’s COVID-19 policies. These policies are regularly updated on the One VCU: Responsible Together website and specifically on the Staying Safe in Off-Campus Experiences subpage. Additionally, the Office of the Provost’s FAQs webpage provides answers to faculty-relevant questions related to Fall 2020 semester operations and COVID-19 processes. 

I am teaching a service-learning class this year but my service partners will not be offering face-to-face opportunities for volunteers this fall. Are there options for virtual service for my students? 

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. 

What should I do if one of my students or an individual at my community partner site tests positive for or shows symptoms of COVID?

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. A COVID-19 Call Center Hotline (804-MYCOVID / 804-692-6843) is also available to report COVID cases. As of August 2020, VCU’s policy is that contact tracing for VCU students and employees who test positive for COVID-19 will be conducted in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and that VCU will offer testing to exposed students and employees at no cost to the student or employee. Students, faculty and staff who have been exposed to someone who has a positive viral test or a clinical diagnosis for COVID-19, including individuals at a community partner site, are expected to self-quarantine for no less than 14 days after their last exposure in accordance with CDC recommendations or until they receive a negative test result. If they have no symptoms after 14 days, they may return in person to work, class, or other community or clinical engagements. 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. 

I’d like my students to reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-racism. What resources would you recommend? 

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 to 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 designing reflection activities for your students.

This coming semester will be challenging for both me and my students. What university resources are available to help us deal with this added stress and uncertainty? What resources are available to help students stay housed, fed, clothed, and engaged in their coursework? 

Such good questions, and ones that many of us are thinking about right now. 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 site as well as the Psychological Readiness & Return to Campus eLearning class on the Talent@VCU platform ( 
  • 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. 
  • 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.