Should I make service learning required or optional in my class?
There are pros and cons with each approach. Professors should choose what works best for the class. No two classes are alike, but it may help to consider the following:
Pros of requiring service learning:
- Professors can "teach to" the service learning more directly and more frequently, incorporating it into lectures, discussions, and writing assignments.
- Service learning becomes more central to the class.
- There is no need to create an equivalent non-service learning option.
Cons of requiring service learning:
- There are always students with special needs, extenuating circumstances, or complicated schedules. These students may require alternative arrangements anyway.
- Some students may simply be non-compliant. The consequences and penalties for not completing a required service learning component need to be clear and communicated in advance.
- Some students may approach service activities as a reluctant chore, rather than with enthusiasm, motivation and desire.
Pros of making service learning optional:
- Students with complicated schedules, extenuating circumstances, or special needs can simply choose the non-service learning alternative at the outset, making the class smoother for them.
- Students who may resist service learning are not foisted on the community.
- Students who autonomously choose the service learning option are likelier to make better volunteers, approaching the work with enthusiasm, motivation and desire.
Cons of making service learning optional:
- It decreases a professor's ability to "teach to" the service learning directly and frequently. When incorporating service learning into lectures, discussions, and writing assignments, students pursuing the non-service learning option may feel lost or left out.
- Service learning may become peripheral or marginal to the class and students may wonder why it's included.
- Planning can be more difficult for community partners because of uncertainties about the number of students who will opt into service learning.
- Professors may end up running two parallel courses, one for service learners and one for non-service learners.
- Professors must create SL and non-service learning options which are approximately equivalent in terms of time and effort.