Assessment of Service Learning Projects

Content compiled by Monica Bruckner and largely derived from discussions at the 2010 Service Learning Workshop

Assessing Student Performance:

Student assessment for service learning can be tricky, especially in large classes where it is not practical to monitor each student's efforts and contributions to the project. The cooperative learning pedagogic website provides strategies for assessment as well as advice and tips to help students work together in groups successfully. Several ideas gleaned from the workshop for assessing student participation and learning are listed below.
  • Have students write a project report and have the TA read the first draft or have students peer review each other's work. More information about peer review is available from the Pedagogy in Action project.
  • Have students give a project presentation and assess the presentation with strong rubrics with points assigned to each part of the presentation. Example rubrics can be found in each of the professional communication project activies and tips for creating rubrics for poster presentations are also available.
  • Use problem sets to assess students' knowledge, skills, and comprehension.
  • Have students keep a reflection journal during the project - with this method, students may be able to assess themselves. Part of this reflection project can involve metacognition (more information on metacognition), or self monitoring, where students identify the problems they faced. You can give credit for completing the journal or have an evaluation scale. An example of assessment via student journals can be found in the Lifestyle Project assessment page
  • Conservation poster
  • Assign a reflection paper at the end of the project. Some guiding questions may include: "How do you feel about the project and why?" and "How did you feel about the outcome of project?" Be sure to provide students with specific directions and tailor this paper to your students with as much guidance as they will accept. (Example reflective writing assignment)
  • For students who struggle with writing, assistance from a writing tutor can help them develop their writing. Tutors or peer review can be used to review drafts. Students should be encouraged and assisted with their writing, as writing is an essential job skill.
  • Assign an end of semester/project student presentation (such as a poster or talk,) to the class and/or community.
  • It may be useful, especially in large classes, to replace the final exam with a service learning report or presentation to minimize the grading workload.
  • You may be able to meet with individual members of the small groups to see if everyone is pulling their weight. More information on this method of assessment is available from the cooperative learning module.

General Project Assessment:

In addition to assessing student performance, you may also want to determine the effectiveness of the overall project. One way to evaluate your project content is by its ability to meet state education requirements for Earth science, environmental science, or other applicable topic. You can also assess the project by its ability to meet the course goals, as defined within the course catalog or syllabus. Lastly, student evaluations or pre-post tests can be used to measure the impact of service learning in your course.

Other useful tips:

  • Understanding metacognition may help us better define questions we ask the students (more information on metacognition is available from this Cutting Edge site). One Service Learning workshop participant read a question ( 32kB Feb5 10) she used asking students to relate paper recycling with concepts the students have studied. To get the answers you want: specify topics, with formative assessment; do it as a group; be neutral on the value of the "project"; ask students to develop the final reflection questions.
  • The State Your Case project website may provide you with ideas for teaching specific topics or for assessing student work.
  • In big classes, you may choose to down-weight the lowest performance by 5% as a safety factor. Student's best work gets emphasized in the event that one type of assessment doesn't work well for a particular student.
  • Service Learning projects may be confusing as they are not the "norm" for teaching and learning. So, try to be aware of and point out learning moments that are applicable to the course content in real-time during the project so that students are better able to grasp why the course material and the project "matter" in the real world.
  • Real-time reorganization and accountability are good professional skills. Try to assess students' ability to work in groups to manage their project. More information about working in groups (and why it's beneficial) can be found on this cooperative learning website, which is part of SERC's Pedagogy in Action project.
  • Keep in mind that student uncertainty has a negative impact on student performance. Try to encourage students and to highlight the positive outcomes of their project along the way, no matter how big or small they are.
  • If a group is having difficult time with a particular aspect of their project or staying on track, consider having short-term formative rewards as opposed to punishing them. This will also reduce student uncertainty and will potentially increase students' motivation to carry out their service learning project to their best potential.