Best Practices for Implementing Academic Service-Learning within the Hybrid and Online Learning Environments

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Brief Abstract

The purpose of this Discovery Session is to better understand if and how academic service-learning components were reconfigured to online formats in response to the COVID-19 crisis. From this information, we intend to explore various models of service-learning and best practices for implementation within the hybrid and online course formats.


Dr. Christine M. Angel is an Associate Professor within the Division of Library and Information Science (DLIS) at St. John’s University. Christine earned her Doctor of Philosophy with a Certification in Museum Management from the University of South Carolina in 2012. In 2007 she received an M.S. in Library Science from North Carolina Central University and an M.S. in Instructional Technology, a Certificate in Distance Education, and a Certificate in Library Media from East Carolina University.
Anna Zak is a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the School of Education at St. John’s University in New York. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University and has completed a Teaching Certification Program as part of The College of New Jersey’s Global Program in Cairo, Egypt. Anna has 19 years of progressive experience in the nonprofit, government and education sectors. Currently, she is the Associate Director of Academic Service-Learning at the Vincentian Institute for Social Action at St. John’s University in New York. She loves to travel and has great passion for learning foreign languages, experiences informed by studying, working, serving and living abroad.

Extended Abstract

The events of COVID-19 forced many faculty members to reconceptualize course delivery from the traditional face-to-face (F2F) learning environment to the online environment. For those faculty with academic service-learning as a required component of their course, the question for many became one of how do we salvage this? For some faculty teaching within the more traditional face-to-face environment the service-learning requirement had to be removed from their courses. However, a few faculty members were able to continue with their service-learning component despite institutional shutdown. Within this context, four main themes emerged:

A – Faculty continued with service-learning but scaled the project down

B – Faculty reconceptualized their service-learning projects from an onsite to an online model

C – Faculty reconfigured their service-learning assessment activities

D – Faculty made no changes as they have always taught online service-learning courses

The purpose of this collaborative Discovery Session project is to obtain a better understanding of the factors that contributed to educators’ implementation of academic service-learning by exploring if and how AS-L components were successfully reconfigured from the face-to-face (F2F) learning environment to hybrid and online formats in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Two research questions are posed: (a) How do we adjust our academic service-learning teaching pedagogy to an online model? And, (b) What are the best practices on how to convert or adjust an existing onsite service-learning project to the online learning environment. Answers to these questions will enable us to collect more information pertaining to the various types of hybrid and online service-learning models that are currently incorporated within institutions of higher education. From these pedagogical models, a series of case studies from a variety of academic disciplines outlining best practices for implementing service-learning within the online and/or hybrid course formats will be developed. But we need to gather more information.

With the uncertainty of COVID-19 many institutions of higher education are currently constructing plans on how to respond to potential future spikes amid the pandemic. Operating under the premise that a second wave of the pandemic will occur (such as in South Korea information gleaned from this collaborative Discovery Session project may provide others within the community, such as faculty and school administers, with additional ideas on how to make a positive impact on their local community by incorporating service-learning projects with the hybrid and online classroom environments. More importantly, attendees participating in this collaborative Discovery Session project will have the opportunity to contribute their own experiences and service-learning design considerations within the hybrid and/or online service-learning pedagogies by participating in an online survey, thereby creating a more robust resource of hybrid and online service-learning best practices. The ultimate goal in collecting these case studies is to move beyond best practices and develop a program theory of online academic service-learning within higher education.

The construction of an explicit program theory (Chen & Rossi, 1989) will be developed by evaluating the collected case studies through the lens of a theory-driven approach (Renger, 2010). The intent is to craft a new program theory within the context of the hybrid and online academic service-learning environments of higher education.

Viewed through the lens of program theory (Baldwin, Hutchinson, & Magnuson, 2004) this Discovery Session will focus on best practices in developing online service-learning opportunities on a course-be-course basis and how these are weaved together into effective policies for improved programmatic evaluation and student achievement. The value in developing a program theory for online academic service-learning within higher education is that it will provide a framework for practitioners to evaluate their own hybrid and online service-learning programs and improve upon desired student learning outcomes (Chen & Rossi, 1989; Sindani & Sechrest, 2011).


Baldwin, C., Hutchinson, S., & Magnuson, D. (2004). Program theory: A framework for theory-driven programming and evaluation. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 38(1), 16-31.

BBC World News – Asia. (2020). Coronavirus: South Korea closes schools again after biggest spike in weeks. May 29, 2020. Retrieved from

Chen, H.-T., & Rossi, P. H. (1989). Issues in the theory-driven perspective. Evaluation and Program Planning12(4), 299–306.

Renger, R. (2010). Constructing and verifying program theory using source

documentation. The Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, 25(1), 51-67.

Sidani, S. & Sechrest, L. (1999). Putting program theory into operation. American Journal of Evaluation20(2), 227–238.