Best Practices

Involvement with community organizations can unquestionably provide rich learning experiences for students, and opportunities for faculty and staff to develop projects that advance professional practice and scholarship, while providing service of value to the community. Entering into a partnership with a community organization, however, represents a commitment on the part of the HKUST faculty, staff, and students involved, and should be undertaken thoughtfully to ensure that the relationship is built on trust and mutual respect.   

The following principles of good practice are drawn from a wide body of research on service learning and community engagement and are intended to provide faculty, staff and students with guidelines for developing authentic partnerships with community organizations, and for effectively integrating the learning from community experience into students’ academic and personal development.

Develop collaborative relationships with community partners:
The relationship between HKUST participants and community partners provides the foundation for mutually beneficial outcomes. Thoughtful selection of partners and intentional development of the relationship, over a long term, if possible, will provide the basis for student learning and positive contributions to the partner. Basic principles include:

  • Allow community partners to define their need for service.
  • Recognize the role of community partners in educating student participants.
  • Establish clear communication channels and mechanisms for feedback and accountability between HKUST participants and community partners. Clarify expectations and time frame of service.
  • Include community partners in the design of service learning courses or community-based learning programs, and involve them in the training and orientation of students.

Prepare students to enter the community experience with sensitivity and openness :
Experience in a community organization can be enlightening—sometimes transformative—for students, but can also be confusing and disorienting if they approach it unprepared. Likewise, students who go into a community experience with an attitude of superiority or insensitivity to community members communicate a lack of respect and are less likely to learn from the experience. Intentional preparation of students and provision of ongoing opportunities for reflection ensure the greatest learning and most effective service. Basic principles include:

  • Prepare students in advance for all aspects of their community experience, including the skills, knowledge and attitudes they will need to serve ethically and effectively. Provide historical, cultural, social and political context of the community and specific issues being addressed by the service.
  • Model and emphasize the importance of keeping commitments made to community partners.
  • Support students to develop an attitude of humility in approaching their experience in the community, keeping an open mind to what they can learn from all aspects of the experience, including those that are frustrating, disappointing or challenging. 
  • Follow university risk management procedures to ensure the safety of all participants involved in the community experience.
Maximize student learning from community engagement:
Student learning from community experience is enhanced when opportunities for critical reflection and connection between theory and practice are structured into course or program design.  Reflection is a key principle of service learning pedagogy and is the mechanism through which students connect experience with theory and arrive at deeper understanding. Basic principles include:
  • Emphasize that credit is given for the learning, not for the community experience alone.  Use a variety of methods to promote student reflection on their experience, including essays, journals, and oral presentation in class or to the community partner.
  • Provide classroom time for reflection and analysis of community experience. Give assignments that allow students to process the relationship between the work they are doing in the community with the academic content of the course.
  • Provide students with opportunities to share insights and new knowledge gained from their experience in the community.

Useful Links
Many institutions have developed their own guiding principles of best practice. Links to several of these are provided below:

Principles of Ethical and Effective Service
Developed by the staff of the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University through a collaborative process involving faculty, students, staff and community partners, this document includes examples and reflection questions.

10 Principles of Good Service-Learning Pedagogical Practice
This set of principles was developed by Jeffrey Howard, Former Associate Director for Service-Learning at the Ginsberg Center for Public Service at the University of Michigan.

Principles of Good Practices
Developed by the Center for Service and Community Engagement at Seattle University, these principles for academic service learning include guidelines for faculty engagement with community partners.