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Project Design

Project design is the process of planning your service-learning project to ensure that the desired learning objectives are achieved and that the students have a quality experience. Clarity of purpose is very useful for project design, taking into account the course objectives, the institution's objectives, student capacities and objectives, and community partner needs. What is it that you want to learn or do? Why? How? Goal setting gives direction and focus for the development of a plan of action and resource management. The goals set at this stage later become the basis for later assessment and reflection.

  • General goals may be supplemented by more specific objectives, which include time frames, established milestones, specific actions, and specific products that are realistic and will achieve the stated goals.
  • On-going assessment, or 'checking-in' can help ensure that your goals and objectives are being achieved, and can be done using positive reinforcement, positive and negative feedback from discussions, and shared responsibility among students.

Some project design guidelines described by Rick Gordon*:

  • Address a real problem or challenge and frame it for students as problem-solving.
  • Keep it 'doable' within your time frame.
  • Attempt to define or develop a tangible product.
  • Identify your desired learning outcomes.
  • Keep it appropriate to the level of the students.
  • Plan ways to build student capacities and knowledge for problem-solving.
  • Establish checkpoints for progress.
  • Motivate students and give them ownership of the problem.
  • Plan for assessment methods and reflection techniques.
  • Avoid unrealistic projects (size, time frame, scope, etc.)
  • Consider resource constraints- inventor all available resources and do not assume the availability of any.
  • Do not underestimate the possibilities
  • Avoid failing to address student needs and concerns
  • Avoid mismatches between desired outcomes and community partner needs
  • Allow adequate time in a course for a meaningful service-learning experience

Click here to view the project design form for more guidance with designing your project.



*Gordon, Rick. 2000. Problem Based Service Learning: a field guide for making a difference in higher education. NH: Education By Design, Antioch New England Graduate School.

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