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Service-Learning Within Applied Ethics Courses. Gary Levvis, Ph.D. Philosophy Department/Service Learning Fellow University of Connecticut. Definition of Service Learning.

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Service learning within applied ethics courses

Service-Learning Within Applied Ethics Courses

Gary Levvis, Ph.D.

Philosophy Department/Service Learning Fellow

University of Connecticut

Definition of service learning
Definition of Service Learning

  • A method of instruction that involves the coordination of service to the community with one’s course content and objectives. The three essential components are:

    • Meaningful activities that are well-prepared by the instructor and community partner such that the partner understands and facilitates the course goals;

    • The service or community engagement activity;

    • Course content related reflection pertaining to the service activity.

Alternative names
Alternative Names

  • Service Learning

  • Experiential Learning

  • Community Engagement

Distinguish from
Distinguish from:

  • Volunteerism

  • Advocacy of teacher’s ‘causes’

Research indicates
Research Indicates:

SL is claimed to have positive effect on:

  • Student personal development

    • Sense of personal efficacy

    • Personal identity

    • Moral growth

    • Spiritual development

  • Interpersonal Development

    • Ability to work well with others

    • Leadership

    • Communication Skills

Research indicates1
Research Indicates:

  • Reduces Stereotypes and facilitates cultural and racial understanding.

  • Positive effect on sense of social responsibility and citizenship skills.

  • Improves students ability to apply abstract concepts to real world situations.

  • Improves complexity of understanding, problem analysis, critical thinking, cognitive development.

  • Positive effect on student’s career development.

    Eyler (et. all.), “At a Glance: What We Know about the Effects of Servicce Learning on College Students, Institutions, and Communities 1993 - 2000 (Corp for National Service, 2001).

Sl goals for ethics courses
SL Goals for Ethics Courses

  • To provide a context for applying as well as critiquing normative ethical theories (e.g., Libertarianism, Egalitarianism, etc.) and methodologies (cost-benefit analyses, contractualism, etc.).

  • To demonstrate the relevance of ethical theories and methodologies to contemporary social/ethical problems.

  • To expose students to the deeper complexity of contemporary moral issues: the interplay between ethical theory and public policy/law, problems with implementation and enforcement, the ‘meta-ethics’ of resolving conflicting public policy objectives, etc.

  • To motivate and empower students to apply the theoretical knowledge and critical thinking skills acquired in philosophy to their lives and the moral issues they deem important.

Presentation outline

  • A. Course Design

  • B. Course Preparation and Management

  • C. Course Assessment

  • D. Group Discussion of Possible SL Topics and Projects

A course design
A. Course Design

  • 1. Conflict-based or problem-based?

  • 2. Developing the reflection component.

  • 3. Topics & Activities.

A course design 1 conflict based or problem based
A. Course Design: (1) Conflict-based or Problem-based?

[a]. Conflict-Based

Example. “Is Abortion Morally Permissible?”

Starting Point: A question about the permissibility of an action.

Method: Proceed toward more abstract philosophical disagreements over the possible rights of the fetus, personhood, comparative rights of fetus and mother.

Result: Students exit the course believing philosophical ‘solutions’ require ever more abstract reasoning and professional expertise.

Two weeks and out!

Course design 1 conflict based or problem based
Course Design: (1) Conflict-based or Problem-based?

[b]. Problem-Based.

Example: Sex Trafficking (Genocide, Domestic Violence…) is wrong.”

Starting point: Thesis upon which all students agree.

Method: Proceed toward concrete solutions to the problem; policy recommendations.

“How ought we remedy/resolve/lessen the problem?”

A course design 1 conflict based or problem based1
A. Course Design (1) Conflict-based or Problem-based?

How are normative and meta-ethical theory introduced?

[a] Conflict-based:

  • Normative and meta-ethical theories are introduced as higher-level disputes BUT once a correct theory is settled upon, DEDUCE solutions at the applied ethical level.

  • Emphasis given to different (empiricist, rationalist) forms of theoretical justification.

  • Practical ethical dispute --> normative theoretical dispute --> meta-ethical dispute.

  • Major student outcome: “There are no real philosophical answers!” OR “I need to keep climbing the ladder to find a solution.”

A course design 1 conflict based or problem based2
A. Course Design: (1) Conflict-based or Problem-based?

How are normative and meta-ethical theory introduced?

[b] Problem-Based.

  • Normative ethical theories are:

    • Introduced as frameworks for:

      • DESCRIBING the moral problem

      • PRESCRIBING social policy

    • Tested in lieu of experience with community partner

    • Their justification is discussed within the context of student disagreements over the methods and content of policy formation. Meta-ethical epistemology appears in this context.

A course design 1 conflict based or problem based3
A. Course Design: (1) Conflict-based or Problem-based?

How are normative and meta-ethical theory introduced?

[b] Problem-Based.

  • Students are provided an overview of different theoretical frameworks w/emphasis on principles and procedures rather than underlying justification.

  • Students give a DESCRIPTION of the moral problem using whatever framework they tend to favor (reveals students’ basic moral assumptions)

  • Students develop a set of PRESCRIPTIONS regarding how to remedy some element of the problem.

  • Students offer REVISIONS based on experience with community partner.

    • Outcome: Students critique their own assumptions

A course design 1 conflict based or problem based4
A. Course Design: (1) Conflict-based or Problem-based?

[b] Problem-based:

Example: Human (Sex/Labor) Trafficking.

  • Students receive information about human trafficking: causes, extent, effects on victims, laws and policies.

  • Overview of ethical theories

    • Virtue Theories

    • Theories of Right Conduct

    • Rights (Harms)Theories

    • Justice Theories

A course design 1 conflict based or problem based5
A. Course Design: (1) Conflict-based or Problem-based?

[b] Problem-based:

Example: Human (Sex/Labor) Trafficking.

3. Generate list of ethical issues.

(i) Virtue: Possible implications for programmatic features of treatment facility? (Minor emphasis.)

(ii) Right Conduct: Who is responsible for the wrongdoing?



Corrupt officials




Service learning within applied ethics courses

Course Design: (1) Conflict-based

or Problem-based?

[b] Problem-based:

Example: Human (Sex/Labor) Trafficking.

3. Generate list of ethical issues.

(iii) Rights/Harms What rights of the victim are being violated/what

harms created?

Life, liberty property

psychological integrity

reproductive freedom

sexual freedom

capacity for intimacy, trust

(iv) Justice:

Distributive Justice Question:Who pays for victims services?

Libertarian (charity)

Egalitarian (government programs)

Utilitarian (balance cost- effectiveness/prioritizevictims’ needs)

Service learning within applied ethics courses

[b] Problem-based:

Example: Human (Sex/Labor) Trafficking.

Generate list of ethical issues.

(iv) Justice:

Retributive Justice Questions:Are existing laws/treaties adequate?

Are sentencing guidelines adequate?

Is there a role for restorative justice or therapeutic jurisprudence?

A. Course Design: (1) Conflict-based or Problem-based?

A course design 1 conflict based or problem based6
A. Course Design: (1) Conflict-based or Problem-based?

[b] Problem-based:

Example: Human (Sex/Labor) Trafficking.

  • Students Apply Chosen Moral Framework to Specific Question:

    • E.g., To what sorts of health-related services (if any) are victims entitled, and how should these services be paid for?

      A. Rights-based/Libertarian

      B. Rights-based/Egalitarian

      C. Rights-Based/Nussbaum

      D. Utilitarian/Prioritize Harms, Assess Costs

      12-bed facility@$220,000 per year X # of victims.

A course design 1 conflict based or problem based7
A. Course Design: (1) Conflict-based or Problem-based?

[b] Problem-based:

Example: Human (Sex/Labor) Trafficking.

5. Students propose/prescribe policy initiatives.

E.g., Distributive Justice Question re financing care facilities: “Let private organizations dependent upon charitable donations provide care for survivors. Oversight on quality of care will be provided by state officials.

6. Students work with community partner.

Students encounter the pros and cons of utilizing charitable donations to fund programs for survivors and the pros and cons of relying upon state standards and agencies for oversight.

Service learning within applied ethics courses

Course Design: (1) Conflict-based or Problem-based?

[b] Problem-based:

Example: Human (Sex/Labor) Trafficking.

Students reflect on proposals and

underlying theoretical assumptions.

“Given the extent of the problem, the cost of treatment, and the

difficulty our community partner had in receiving funding,

the basic rights to life, liberty and property require additional protections:

in terms of prevention and prosecution, consistent federal oversight, and

through the availabilty of grant funding for private organizations.”

A course design 2 the reflection assignment
A. Course Design (2): The Reflection Assignment

  • Distinguishes service learning from volunteerism;

  • Integrates service with course content and objectives.

A course design 2 the reflection assignment1
A. Course Design (2): The Reflection Assignment

  • Types of Assignments:

    I. 3-Part Project Paper

    a. Normative Description of Moral Problem;

    b. Prescription/Critique of Status Quo

    c. Revision of Prescriptions after community engagement.

A course design 2 the reflection assignment2
A. Course Design (2): The Reflection Assignment

  • Types of Assignments:

    II. Other.

    a. Journal; Weekly writing assignment applying course readings.

    b. Capstone projects.

    c. Oral presentations to schools, businesses, hospitals, community leaders, legislators.

A course design 2 the reflection assignment3
A. Course Design (2): The Reflection Assignment

Core Elements of Reflection:

  • Simple --> Complex Analysis of Problems. (Expose Stereotypes)

  • Increase in empathetic understanding of community’s needs

  • Knowledge of the difficulties pertaining to resolving the problem

    a + b + c --> opportunity for student to reflect on his/her moral assumptions.

A course design 3 topics activities
A. Course Design (3)Topics & Activities

  • Constrained only by the topics you are interested in teaching & the needs of your community.

  • CREP Projects Initiated in Philosophy Courses & Extended to Other Departments:

    • Domestic sex trafficking

    • Labor Trafficking/Make UCONN Slave-Free

    • Homelessness/Foster Care for LGBTQ Youth

    • Children’s Rights/Children’s Rights Education

A course design 3 topics activities1
A. Course Design (3)Topics & Activities

Domestic Sex Trafficking (Moral Issues; Health Care Ethics; Phil & Gender)

  • Partners: Ahava Kids; CTCAT: Int’l Institute of CR, Paul & Lisa Project, Love 146, CT Dept. of Children & Families.

  • Activities: Police Chief interviews; Safe Harbor Bill Info & Rescue Kits; Cybervention; Hospital Training Seminar; Statistical Research; Website Design Public Service Announcements; Fund raising*.

    Child Labor/Slavery (Moral Issues)

  • Partner: Free the Slaves.

  • Activities: Make UCONN Slave Free (Follow the supply line)

    Foster Care for LGBTQ Youth (Philosophy and Gender)

  • Partner: American Bar Association, True Colors

  • Activities: Interview Judges and lawyers, provide info about ABA Opening Doors Project; interview LGBTQ adults formerly involved in foster care, assemble autobiographies for ABA.

A course design 3 topics activities2
A. Course Design (3)Topics & Activities

Children’s Rights and Children’s Rights Education (Phil Issues in Human Rights, under development; offered to Political Science.)

  • Partner: CT Consortium for Citizenship and Legal Education.

  • Activities: Coach middle school mock trial and debate.

Service learning within applied ethics courses

A. Course Design (3)Topics & Activities

Hybrid Project: The Service/Research Project

  • CREP Service - Research Projects:

  • Interviews of Police Chiefs: “How can trust be built between law

    enforcement and NGOs providing victim services?”

  • Interviews of NGO Victims Service Providers: “Provide detailed

    descriptions of your services, staff, and references.”

  • Interviews with ER Nurses: “How well can you identify trafficking

    victims and respond to their needs?”

  • Interviews with Judges re Foster Care Placement of LGBTQ Youth.

  • Interviews with LGBTQ youth who have “aged out” of

    the Foster Care Program.

    Information provided to state agencies and watchdog organizations.

A course design 3 topics activities3
A. Course Design (3)Topics & Activities

Other Possible Ethical Topics/Social Problems to be discussed during workshop:

Hunger, Poverty, homelessness

Abortion, pregnancy

Refugee/Asylum issues

Environmental ethics

Business/professional ethics

Health Care ethics

A course design 3 topics activities4
A. Course Design (3)Topics & Activities

  • Number of Topics/Issues Per Course?

    SL will leave less time to cover a multitude of topics.

  • Philosophy & Gender: Theory, Sex Trafficking/Prostitution, Domestic Violence, LGBTQ Discrimination.

  • Phil & Social Ethics: Theory, Human Trafficking, Genocide, Asylum/Refugee Issues, Women’s Inequality.

  • Health Care Ethics: Health Care of Trafficking Victims, Adolescent Decision-Making, Confidentiality & Truth-Telling, Mandatory HPV Vaccinations for Teens, Abortion, Mother’s Responsibility for Risks to Fetus, HC ethics during disaster relief, HC ethics during war.

B course preparation and management
B. Course Preparation and Management

  • DO begin preparing 4-6 months prior to the semester.

    • Select your community partner(s) prior to the semester, begin to plan projects.

    • If you are working hospitals, schools or clinics, you may need their Institutional Review Board approval.

    • Your institution may require IRB approval and student liability forms.

B course preparation and management1
B. Course Preparation and Management

  • DO investigate any charitable organization prior to establishing contact with it!

    • Examine the claims on their website concerning services (when was website last updated?). Locate their budget.

    • (IRS Forms)

    • Your state Attorney General’s Charities Division.

B course preparation and management2
B. Course Preparation and Management

  • DO clarify expectations for both students and partners! Provide:

  • Student-Community Partner Contract

  • Partner --> Student Evaluation Form

  • Student --> Partner Evaluation Form

  • Student SL Course Evaluation Form

  • Specification of requirements in syllabus

  • Pre-semester contact with students

B course preparation and management3
B. Course Preparation and Management

  • Do keep records of all communications.

    • Students must provide hard copies of all emails and letters.

    • Students should keep log of all telephone communications and meetings.

      Updating weekly forces students to keep to any project schedule.

B course preparation and management4
B. Course Preparation and Management

  • Do stay on schedule! Hit the ground running.

  • Have partners meet with students at earliest opportunity (classroom visit)

  • Give students deadlines; expect reports; make this part of their grade.

  • Expect delays from partners; be firm yet diplomatic.

B course preparation and management5
B. Course Preparation and Management

  • Do delegate authority (or prepare to go nuts).

  • Consider using student mentors.

B course preparation and management6
B. Course Preparation and Management

  • DO stress professionalism.

    Your reputation

    Your institution’s reputation

    Your community partner’s reputation


B course preparation and management7
B. Course Preparation and Management

  • A bit more on professionalism:

    • Proper attire

    • Proper speech

    • Proper Voicemail

    • Punctuality

    • Prompt reply to emails/voicemails

      • Email/voicemail checks

B course preparation and management8
B. Course Preparation and Management

  • DO NOT assume student expertise!

    Whether it’s writing a business letter, swinging a hammer, or tying a tie, DON’T assume they know how to do it. (Don’t loan your chain saw to a student.)

B course preparation and management9
B. Course Preparation and Management

  • DO monitor and clarify students’ roles for community partner.


    Although a traditional aspect of SL, check university policy on the

    handling of funds.

    Restrictions on Time/Mobility.

    Partners must not have unreasonable expectations. 20 hours is sufficient.

B course preparation and management10
B. Course Preparation and Management

  • Adapt projects for special needs students

    • On-line activities (website design, statistical analysis, etc.)

    • On-campus activities (skits, etc.)

C course assessment
C. Course Assessment

  • Prepare special SL course evaluation and distribute it to students at beginning of the semester.

  • Or use specialized Office of Service Learning evaluation form (Uconn).

C course assessment1
C. Course Assessment

  • SL Evaluations provide the students with a means to guide future course development.

    • Suggest projects and partnerships.

    • Assess integration of classroom goals/non-classroom activities; offer recommendations.

    • Assess community partner.

C course assessment2
C. Course Assessment

Community Partner/Student Assessment Form

Philosophy & Social Ethics

University of Connecticut

To be completed by community partner

Student’s Name__________________


Proposed/Completed Hours____

Task(s) Completed:

Rating System:

1 = Excellent 2 = Good 3 = Fair 4 = Poor 5 = Failing 6 = Does not apply

Using the above scale from 1 to 6, please rate the student on the following:

1. Reports regularly and punctually_____

2. Attends to tasks proposed by/assigned to him/her____

3. Comports himself/herself in a professional manner (attire, grooming, speech)_____

4. Has made an effort to learn about the agency and its clients_____

5. Establishes good rapport with staff, clients, and others_____

6. Is capable of independent work_____

7. Responds positively to criticism_____

8. Handles problem situations well_____

9. Performs tasks with a positive and willing attitude_____

10. Rating of student’s performance overall_____

Additional Comments:

I understand that my comments will be used to aid in grading the student’s performance.


Student evaluation form
Student Evaluation Form

Service-Learning Evaluation Form

Philosophy & Social Ethics

University of Connecticut

To be completed by student

In addition to the regular UCONN course evaluation form, please complete this supplemental form pertaining to the service learning aspect of

Philosophy1104. Your comments will be a valuable resource in the development of this course.

Course/Semester: Philosophy 1104/Fall 2008

Name of Professor: G. Levvis

Name of Community Partner: Ahava Kids (Raymond Bechard, Director)

Today’s Date:

Number of Service Hours Provided: _____

Tasks Completed:

I. Using this rating scale, please answer the following:

1 = Very extensively 2 = Extensively 3 = Somewhat 4 = Very Little 5 = None

To what extent has your work with Ahava Kids enabled you to:

1. Learn about the ethical problems/issues associated with human trafficking and exploitation_____

2. Critically reflect on your own values or moral beliefs_____

3. Develop critical skills that will allow you to analyze and assess contemporary social/ethical problems_____

4. Improve your written communication skills_____

5. Improve your oral communication skills_____

6. Improve your problem-solving skills_____

Student evaluation form cont
Student Evaluation Form, cont.

Comments on the above:

II. Course Relatedness.

1. What is the most important thing you learned from your service learning experience?

2. How did this service learning experience compare to doing the more traditional library term paper for a course?

3. Did your experiences help you gain a better insight into the philosophical theories of rights and justice with which this course is concerned? Please explain.

4. Do you think that community service/civic engagement is a valuable and appropriate learning component within this course? Please explain.

_____yes _____no

5. Given your understanding of the cluster of issues surrounding child trafficking and exploitation, and your understanding of the nature of this course and the Children’s Rights Education Project,

(a) How might the project tasks within Philosophy 1104 be expanded so as to contribute to your educational and career goals?

Student evaluation form cont1
Student Evaluation Form, cont.

(b) What courses in your major do you feel might benefit from a service-learning component related to the issues with which Philosophy 1104 and CREP deals?

III. Course Organization.

1. Were the goals of the service-learning component of Philosophy 1104 (i.e., how the course goals would be furthered through service-learning)

adequately explained to you by the professor?

2. Did you receive ample notification and adequate time to complete specific tasks on behalf of Ahava Kids?

3. Was communication between all parties (Professor—Student---Community Partner/Ahava Kids – Other (Police Departments and other officials))


4. In regard to the writingassignment, was the 3-phase nature of the assignment (with its specific deadlines and professor feedback) effective in

achieving course goals (including the development of writing skills, critical thinking skills, and knowledge of the ethical issue(s))?

5. Although this course using service-learning as a tool to give you an in-depth look at a cluster of ethical issues surrounding the problem of human

trafficking and exploitation, it is also designed to expose you (though to a lesser degree) to other contemporary moral problems as well as to various

philosophical approaches to justice and rights. Do you think these other components of the course received adequate treatment? Did your

service-learning experiences enhance your ability to critically examine these issues and theories?

Student partner contract
Student-Partner Contract

Service-Learning Contract

Philosophy 1104/Ahava Kids

Fall Semester 2008


_____ I have read and understood the syllabus for Philosophy 1104/University of Connecticut/Torrington – Fall Semester 2008.

_____I have reviewed the Ahava Kids website <> and understand the nature of its work.

_____I understand that Ahava Kids works with victims, many of whom have undergone traumatic experiences and are at risk for their safety; therefore I will do my utmost to be sensitive to and protective of their needs and interests.

_____In all activities involving the University of Connecticut and Ahava Kids, I shall conduct myself with the utmost professionalism. This includes dressing and speaking in a professional manner, arriving early for appointments, and providing 24 hours notice if unable to keep an appointment.

_____I will actively communicate to my professor and the Director of Ahava Kids any concerns or problems that arise or that I anticipate in the course of my service.

_____I will keep my contact information updated, and I have activated (and will daily check) my UCONN huskymail account.

_____I will devote hours [6, 12. or 18] to this project.

_____I will keep a record of my service time. (Project Time Record Sheet)

Student partner contract cont
Student-Partner Contract, cont.

_____At the completion of the semester, I will obtain the supervisor’s evaluation of my service. (Supervisor Evaluation Form)

_____At the completion of the semester I will evaluate the service-learning component of this course and the Children’s Rights Education Project. (Student Evaluation Form) I understand that this Project will evolve over future semesters and that my input and suggestions are valuable to its growth.

Briefly summarize the activity you shall engage in. Also, please list any special skills, talents and interests that may be of use to the organization you are assisting.

Student Signature Date

Service learning within applied ethics courses

D. Workshop

Course Title:

SL Topic:

Possible Partner(s):



Main Assessment Question: