Every SL course must emphasize ethics as a critical component of the course. In keeping with the SL Objectives and Assessment Strategy, every course must meet the following ethics objective:

 Identify complex ethical issues, entertain different perspectives on them, and evaluate one’s own position

This objective is elaborated in the second row of the VALUE-style rubric used for Service Learning Assessment, click here: SL Assessment Rubric 2014.

Getting students to engage ethical issues can be a bit daunting, and things that seem obvious to us are often not obvious to them. The goal of this packet is to provide helpful tools as you get your students to think ethically!

Here are some strategies our SL faculty have used to get students thinking ethically.


To help students understand their own core beliefs, you might consider:

  1. Plato’s Meno and ensuing reflections (click here for more)
  2. Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and ensuing reflections (click here for more)
  3. Aristotle’s writing on friendship and ensuing reflections (click here for more)
  4. A series of regular reflections throughout the semester, followed by a capstone meta-reflection in which students have to discuss how they have changed over the semester. The Kolb model of reflection is helpful here (many other examples online).


Students often struggle with simply recognizing what is an ethical question and what isn’t. To help students better identify ethical issues you might try:

  1. David Brook’s essay “If it feels right” and ensuing reflection
  2. Using case studies regularly throughout the course that challenge students to distinguish the morally relevant facts of the case. Dr. McDermott, for instance, has students bring in the most egregious cases of research malpractice they can find and present on the cases in her Research Methods class. Students must explain why the cases are so problematic as a why of highlighting why we have the research guidelines today that we do. This exercise is an easy first step for students into the difficult landscape of identifying complex ethical issues.
  3. An essay assignment or test question, like Heather Ahn-Redding’s:

Question #2: According to Joycelyn Pollock (2007), an ethical issue is one that involves broad social questions and often relates to how the government enforces social control. She asserts that “ethical issues that arise in relation to criminal justice are serious, difficult, and affect people’s lives in fundamental ways.” Discuss, then, three distinct ethical issues that relate to our country’s use of jails. Further, you should discuss how the three different issues are interrelated and interconnected to each other.

Your response should draw upon at least FOUR of the articles/readings listed below [Reading list deleted]. In other words, in identifying and discussing the three ethical issues, you should discuss the readings in sufficient depth to demonstrate to me that you have not only read that material, but that you have a strong understanding of the content and its implications.

The material from the readings should be strongly integrated into your response. You should cite the authors as you discuss each reading and insert page numbers as well.


Another strategy to get students to recognize ethical issues and their own biases is to push them to compare and contrast different ethical perspectives on an issue. This might involve:

  1. In class debates where each side represents a different ethical perspective
  2. Regular reflections that challenge students to contrast their perspective to a different ethical perspective
  3. Using case studies (preferably ones that come from the SL experience) and pushing students to solve them from multiple perspectives, like Joe Blosser’s:

Students will be required to submit three SL Case Studies via Blackboard during the semester.  The SL Case Studies are 1000 word papers that do four things:

  1. Briefly describes a case the student finds compelling that he/she has heard from one of the interview subjects. The description should convey the relevant ethical facts of the case.
  2. Describe which ethical approach covered in class the interviewee used to deal with the issue (this will likely not be an exact match, but the paper should make a case for which view is most similar to the interviewee’s).
  3. Contrast the interviewee’s approach with a different ethical approach covered in class to illustrate a different way to approach the problem.
  4. Finally, the student should articulate his or her approach to the case, saying why it is preferable to or compatible with the other approaches already described.

The SL Case Study will be graded on these four areas as well as on a fifth area of grammar.  Each of the five areas will be worth 20% of the overall grade.


Here are some great provocative readings that can also get students thinking ethically:

  1. Read “Starfish Hurling and Community Service” by Keith Morton
  2. Read “Why Service Learning is Bad” by John Eby
  3. Read “Why ‘Servanthood’ is Bad” by John McKnight
  4. Read “Does Service Learning Really Help”
  5. Ask students to write their first reflection on something like:

For your first reflection, I want you to write about your initial reactions to the SL partner and location. What did you think or feel as you went off campus to their site? What did you think of the physical surroundings? The partner’s facilities? Are these what you expected or different from expectations? What does your initial reaction say about the partner? What does it say about you?