Service Learning Labs: Integrating experiential learning across a BSW Curriculum – #BPDTX16

BPD_ServiceLearningLab_Presentation_April2016Day 4 of #BPDTX16 for me and my last presentation will be at 9:30 AM today.  I will be talking about the work I have been doing with my colleague, Dr. Scott Batey, along with many other partners at UAB and in the Birmingham community.  Unfortunately, Scott was not able to attend BPD this year, but he feels confident I won’t mess up the presentation.  For our session, we really wanted to highlight the development of service learning labs in our BSW curriculum as a case study, hopefully offering tips and ideas for others wanting to incorporate more service learning into their assignments, courses & curricula.

Here are the learning objectives for the session:

1. Understand how to plan and engage multiple partners in developing a curriculum-based service learning project to support student and community outcomes.

2. Determine how educators can duplicate the planning process for curriculum-based service learning projects at their own institutions.

3. Appreciate the role of professional collaboration in the planning and development of service-learning projects across a curriculum.

You can access a copy of the slides here: 

Finally here is copy of our proposal abstract for the session:

Service learning is an important component of higher education (Jacoby, & Howard, 2014; Kuh, 2008).  In addition to building community investment among a new generation of emerging adults, service learning increases community capacity to meet varied local challenges.  These activities are aligned with the professional values of social work, and graduates of one undergraduate social work program have consistently voiced a desire for more practice opportunities.  Responding to these issues, we began a strategic planning process for integrating service learning into the professional undergraduate curriculum.

We reviewed existing social work courses to determine key junctures to practically infuse service learning activities across the curriculum.  Our goal was to create connections for students as they progressed through the program while addressing important community needs over time.  A clear linkage to service learning was identified for three practice courses:  the Social Work Values Lab (SW 222), Social Work Practice with Individuals and Families (SW 322), and Social Work Practices with Groups and Communities (SW 422).  This process also involved engaging our academic department, multiple partners within our university system, and community partners.  Ultimately, a proposal incorporating service learning labs into these courses was submitted and approved by our Departmental Curriculum Committee.

To date, service learning projects have been developed that match course objectives and the needs of our community partner.  For example, 32 hours of service learning observation has been incorporated into SW 222; implementation of a needs assessment of community partner clients is included in SW 322; and psycho-educational groups, held in the community and led by students, will be highlighted in SW 422.  Elucidating the synergy between service learning, community engagement, and social work education may result in streamlined training for undergraduate students and build capacity of community partnering agencies through partnership with multiple university entities skilled in addressing the most pressing social issues.

This workshop will inform participants about the development, implementation and assessment of service learning labs in three practice-based courses across an undergraduate social work curriculum.  The labs involve social work students engaging in a variety of experiential and community-based learning opportunities that are connected with classroom reflection and content-based assessments.  Through each lab, students actively engage in competency-based practice behaviors connected to professional behavior, practice and critical thinking (CSWE, 2015).  Student assessment of competency attainment is done through rubrics designed specifically for each service learning assignment at the course-level, and a final service learning portfolio compiled by students in the final practice course.  The presenters will share their experiences in designing and executing the service learning labs.  Lesson learned from the project will be shared and implications for the implicit curriculum will be reviewed.


Council on Social Work Education. (2015). Final 2015 Educational Policy (EP). Alexandria,VA: Council on Social Work Education. Retrieved from

Jacoby, B., & Howard, J. (2014). Service-Learning Essentials: Questions, Answers, and Lessons Learned. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges & Universities. Retrieved from

Author: Laurel Hitchcock

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