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The Service-Learning (S) course designation is intended to allow departments to demonstrate alignment of proposed service-learning courses with University of Tennessee, Knoxville standards for effectiveness. The process was developed by the Service-Learning Steering Committee in 2012 and approved for implementation by the Undergraduate Council and Faculty Senate in Fall 2016. The UT Service-Learning Course Design Guide and accompanying Workbook are available for use by faculty in developing and implementing service-learning courses.

Please refer to the Undergraduate Council EL Subcommittee webpage for information on approval processes and catalogue policies regarding the designation.



Download Past Successful S-Designation Applications here.

The “S” designation is intended to identify courses in which service-learning is implemented in accordance with the below standards.

  1. The course includes clear and specific student learning outcomes, which reflect what students should be able to demonstrate, know, or do by the end of the course. Student learning outcomes should reflect the presence of service in the course, and the service should enhance the academic learning.

The course should include clear and specific student learning outcomes, which reflect what students should be able to demonstrate, know, or do by the end of the course. Outcomes should reflect enhanced academic learning from the service project.

Enhanced academic learning refers to the added value the service experience brings to the students’ learning. Generally there are two ways that the integration of service can enhance learning: 1) through complementing more traditional classroom- and book-based pedagogies (e.g. students improving Spanish speaking abilities by serving in a Latino/a community organization), or 2) through enabling learning possibilities precluded in more traditional pedagogies (e.g. the same students learning about Latino/a culture as a complement to their language learning). The instructor should be purposeful to design the service experience and accompanying coursework in a way that enhances the students’ academic learning in one or both of these ways. The instructor should communicate these provisions to the community partner during the planning stage.

2. At least one of the student learning outcomes addresses civic learning.

One or more of the student learning outcomes should address civic learning. (This may be the same outcome or outcomes as those described in Standard 1 above.) Civic learning involves the personalizing of the learning experience in light of the student’s role as a citizen, scholar, or professional. The civic knowledge, skills, values, or propensities to be advanced through the service-learning should be determined by the instructor, and should be reflected in the student learning outcomes and content of the course. Civic learning can range in its level of intensity from a general focus on responsible citizenship (e.g. democratic preparedness or professional ethics) to an emphasis on change-making (e.g. political or social action).

3. The course includes a service project that has reflects mutual benefit between community and university partners such that it is meaningful to the community partner and relevant to the course. The service project includes significant student-community interaction, with a recommended minimum of 30 hours. The roles and expectations of all involved have been clarified in the service project design.

A service-learning community partner can be 1) any nonprofit or public sector organization, agency, or institution, or 2) a private sector business or establishment that is under-served in the traditional market economy. In cases such as university-operated legal or veterinary clinics, the community partner can also be the client.

If students are charged with identifying a service project with a community partner themselves there should be guidance and oversight from the instructor. The service project should reflect mutual benefit between community and university partners such that it is meaningful to the community partner and relevant to the course. The roles and responsibilities of all involved should be clear.

4. The course includes structured student reflection upon the service project in light of intended student learning outcomes. Reflection is continuous throughout the course, connected to the learning outcomes, and challenging–building upon higher-order thinking skills.

Reflection is the purposeful consideration of the service project or experience by students in light of intended academic and civic learning outcomes. Through ongoing reflection, the service should continually inform the learning and the learning should continually inform the service so that each adds value to the other. Reflection assignments might incorporate analysis of issues observed in the community in light of structural systems of inequality, synthesis of new ideas, self and/or peer evaluation, development of recommendations or policy proposals, etc. Reflection activities can include guided discussion, structured journals, blog entries, oral presentations, or written essays. Reflection questions should be rooted in course content, and should prompt students to consider their roles and responsibilities as citizens, academics, and professionals in a complex and diverse society.

* Service-learning is defined at UT as a course-based experiential learning strategy that engages students in meaningful and relevant service with a community partner while employing ongoing reflection to draw connections between the service and course content. When implemented according to the below standards of best practice, service-learning can enhance academic learning, promote civic responsiveness, and strengthen communities. (Definition adapted from Learn & Serve America)

The S-designation standards have been adapted from Jeffrey Howard’s (2001) “Service-Learning Course Design Workbook,” published by the Michigan Journal for Community Service-Learning.

S Designation Application

General Course Information

Course Number and Title:
Credit Hours:
Course Description:
Credit Restrictions (if any):
Frequency of Course Offering:
Course Capacity per Semester: (per course & total if multiple sections)
Contact Name, Phone, Email:

Demonstration of Standards

  • Please list the student learning outcomes from your course. The outcomes should be clear and specific, and should reflect what students should be able to demonstrate, know, or do by the end of the course. Student learning outcomes should reflect the presence of service in the course, and the service should enhance the academic learning. At least one of the student learning outcomes should address civic learning. See Standards #1 and #2 above for more detailed information and examples.
  • Please describe how the service project reflects mutual benefit such that it is meaningful to the community partner and relevant to the course. Describe how the roles and responsibilities of those involved will be clarified. If students will be charged with identifying service projects with a community partner themselves, indicate how the instructor will guide and oversee students during this process. See Standards #3 above and corresponding footnotes for more detailed information and examples. (Resources are available on the “Forms” page of this website to assist faculty and/or students in developing service projects in partnership with community partners.)
  • Explain how the service project constitutes significant student-community interaction. (The recommended minimum number of hours is 30. If the required amount of interaction is less, include a justification of how the service project nonetheless constitutes significant community interaction.)
  • Please describe how reflection will be structured within the course to prompt students to consider the service project in light of course learning. Reflection should be continuous throughout the course, connected to student learning outcomes, and challenging—demanding higher-order thinking skills. See Standards #4 above for more detailed information and examples.
  • If the designated course will be taught by multiple instructors, please describe the program, department, and/or college’s plan for ensuring that the “S” designation standards are maintained when the course changes hands.


Submission Instructions

Colleges seeking approval for courses to receive S-designation must follow the curricular submission guidelines for new courses. After the course add is approved at the College level, the Chair or designee of the College Curriculum Committee shall submit the course proposal with a statement of purpose to Molly Sullivan (see below) along with the following:

  1. S Designation Application: Should include both General Course Information and completed Demonstration of Standards.
  2. A representative course syllabus: Should include a course description, clear indication that the course is a Service-Learning course, and course objectives defined in Standards 1 and 2 in the approval form. If available, please attach one or more samples of student work produced in conjunction with a service-learning project or experience from this course.
  3. Documentation of approval of new course at the department and college levels. (Note that the addition of the “S” designation to a course number constitutes the proposal of a new course, even if developed from an existing course, and must follow the standard approval process for new courses.)
  4. Indication as to whether the department would like to learn more about support available to this course through the campus’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), Experience Learning. Courses that receive the “S” designation will become eligible to receive support through the QEP.

The college representative should email material to Molly Sullivan, Coordinator for Curriculum and Catalogue, at Catalog proposal information must be sent as a Microsoft Word file; application material may be sent as Microsoft Word or PDF.


Proposals must be submitted by October 15, 2017 for consideration of inclusion in the 2018-19 catalogue. Teaching & Learning Innovation encourages applicants to consult with Kelly Ellenburg (, director of service-learning, well in advance of submission to preview the process and expectations for course designations. Upon submission, S Designation applications will be reviewed by the Service-Learning Subcommittee, and successful applications routed to the Curriculum Committee of the Undergraduate Council.

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