Digital Service-Learning

This page has several resources for exploring Digital Service-Learning.

The first section (Digital Service-Learning Continuums) illustrates a framework for thinking about and working on digital service-learning projects that service-learning folks, faculty, and educational-technology staff may find useful to think through. These continuums have been co-created between myself and Dr. Danielle Leek. The second section highlights resources online where people can find digital service-learning projects or ideas about what and how to do them. The final section is an ongoing bibliography of works on digital service-learning that might be useful.

If you are interested in joining others doing work on Digital Service Learning, we encourage you to sign up for the Google Group: Digital Service-Learning.

Digital Service-Learning Continuums

by Lance Eaton & Danielle Leek

Each continuum described below frames a digital component in our service-learning work and spotlight how technology intersects with community and service. The continuums are grouped into three broad categories: technology, community and service. Community continuums focus attention on the relationships and connections that are built between individuals who are impacted through digital service-learning. Service continuums feature issues related to the time, place and space of service work. 

We anticipate that this list of continuums will continue to evolve and grow. As the landscape of technology in higher education is dynamic and changing, so too is the experience of participants in digital service-learning.

Technology Continuums

Leveraging Technology

The leveraging technology continuum determines the degree to which a DSL project needs specific digital tools and platforms in order to succeed. To the left of the spectrum, the use of digital technology is minimum or peripheral. On the right of the continuum, digital technology is essential for the service-learning to happen at all. 

For instance, when service-learning employs email as a means to provide limited information to students in a service-learning course, technology is of limited significance to DSL outcomes. In contrast, a college-wide service-learning requirement that asks students to make use of multimedia editing and collaboration tools may also require a campus cloud storage solution.  Therefore, identifying digital technology’s centrality to service-learning activities ignites the discussion about which institutional and available tools might appropriately be used, and what new technologies may need to be acquired.  

Digital Literacy

The digital literacy continuum focuses on the digital competencies students, faculty and community partners may have or need to develop in order to successfully complete a DSL project. On the left of the continuum, participants will have little difficulty moving from a purely face-to-face service-learning experience to the digital environment because limited digital knowledge is needed to engage. On the right side of the continuum, a DSL experience may ask participants to use a new or advanced tool that requires training prior to adoption.

For example, when a DSL experience moves from a face-to-face classroom to the online environment and does so using only the campus LMS, it can be a relatively painless experience for faculty and students already familiar with the platform. For a faculty member with no experience in the LMS, the same DSL experience may rank far to the right on this continuum.

Community Continuums


The permeability continuum speaks to the extent to which a DSL experience, or the artifact(s) produced from DSL experiences, may or may not be directly re-used, reproduced, or upcycled for future learning or service-learning opportunities. On the left of the spectrum, a DSL experience happens once, or within a contained time-frame, and is tied to its direct participants. On the right of the spectrum, service-learning is open for reuse and upcycling in the future, with the potential to reach and extend community connections. 

As an illustration, an online virtual tutoring experience between students and a community organization would fall on the left of the permeability continuum. A DSL project where students created openly licensed content, that was then published online, would fall on the right of this continuum. 


The geography continuum directs attention to the proximity of the participants in a DSL experience. In DSL, students, faculty and community partners may be across the street or across the world. On the left of the spectrum, participants are located more closely together and may share similar access to technology networks. On the right of the continuum, participants are disaggregated by time zones, space and communication infrastructure.

Geography introduces many considerations for how communities engage together through technology. For example, faculty and students working with a local community partner can engage in some forms of hands-on activities, such as taking photographs, or dropping off materials, even during the pandemic. In contrast, students engaged in DSL at an American University working on a project with a community partner in China will need to understand the restrictions put in place on Chinese access to US websites in order for the project to be successful. 

Crossing borders opens up opportunities to explore a range of understandings about the use of technology. How students, partners and faculty use technology as part of the DSL experience will determine the role cultural understandings play in this continuum.

Service Continuums


The immediacy continuum positions DSL activities on a spectrum of synchronous and asynchronous service interactions. On the left of the continuum, the interactions between student, faculty and community partner are entirely synchronous. This would be the case in a remote course that uses a web-conferencing tool to facilitate the synchronous communication and exchange for DSL participants. On the far right of the spectrum, digital technology would create an entirely asynchronous DSL experience where students, faculty, community partners and even future service recipients may never act in concert.


The togetherness continuum speaks to the closeness of the community that students are working with for their DSL experience. On the left of the continuum, there is high-touch and direct engagement between the community, students and faculty. Community partners are easily identified and the recipients of service are here and now, receiving immediate benefits from the service experience. On the right of the continuum is an extended community which is far more indirect. 

For example, a live-virtual translation experience conducted as a part of a DSL course would fall on the left side of the togetherness spectrum. A campus DSL program that calls for conducting oral histories to store in time capsules for future generations would be much further to the right of this continuum. A DSL experience that is conducted on a grand scale, employing digital technology to reach beyond the present time and/or to such a large number of people as to make the range of possible recipients unquantifiable, would also be an aspect to consider as part of the “togetherness” continuum.


Resources From Lance Eaton and Danielle Leek

Sample Opportunities for Digital Service-Learning and Volunteering

Working Bibliography

Arthur, D. S., & Newton-Calvert, Z. (2015). Online Community-Based Learning as the Practice of Freedom: The Online Capstone Experience at Portland State University. Metropolitan Universities, 26.

Becnel, K., & Moeller, R. A. (2017). Community-embedded learning experiences: putting the pedagogy of service-learning to work in online courses. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 32(1), 56-65.

Beirne, H. K. (2018). A Storied Tale: Melding Digital Storytelling, Service-Learning, and Digital and Information Literacy Skills for Pre-Service Teachers.

Belland, B. R., Vaithinathan, V., Garcia, B., & Huang, W. H. Collaborative and Sustainable Instructional Design Model for Service Learning. 2007 Annual Proceedings-Anaheim: Volume# 2, 35.

Bennett, G., & Green, F. P. (2001). Promoting service learning via online instruction. College Student Journal, 491.

Budhai, S. S., & Grant, K. S. L. (2018). First Encounters, Service Experience, Parting Impressions: Examining the Dynamics of Service-Learning Relationships. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 22(3), 69-92.

Butchey, D. (2014). Tools to Make Online Students and Community Partners in a Service Learning Project More” AT-EASE”–Evidence from a Finance Class. Metropolitan Universities, 25(1), 125-146.

Caliendo, S. M., & Muck, W. J. (2016). Technology and Civic Engagement in the College Classroom: Engaging the Unengaged. Springer.

Carver, R., King, R., Hannum, W., & Fowler, B. (2007). Toward a model of experiential e-learning. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 3(3), 247-256.

Curtis, V. (2018). Online citizen science and the widening of academia : Distributed engagement with research and knowledge production(Palgrave studies in alternative education). Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Eaton, L. & Leek, D. (2021). Supporting Digital Service-Learning through Campus Collaboration. EDUCAUSE Review, April 21.

Eubanks, V. (2018). Automating Innovation: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 

Goertzen, B. J., & Greenleaf, J. (2016). A student-led approach to eService-learning: A case study on service project effectiveness within a fieldwork in leadership studies course. The International Journal of Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement, 4(1).

Guthrie, K. L., & McCracken, H. (2010). Making a difference online: Facilitating service-learning through distance education. The Internet and Higher Education, 13(3), 153-157.

Guthrie, K. L., & McCracken, H. (2010). Teaching and learning social justice through online service-learning courses. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 11(3), 78-94.

Guthrie, K. L., & McCracken, H. (2014). Reflection: the importance of making meaning in e-service-learning courses. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 26(3), 238-252.

Helms, M. M., Rutti, R. M., Hervani, A. A., LaBonte, J., & Sarkarat, S. (2015). Implementing and evaluating online service learning projects. Journal of Education for Business, 90(7), 369-378.

Kelly, R. (2012). Lessons learned from an online service-learning pilot. Online Classroom, 12(3), 1-8.

Kerrigan, S., Reitenauer, V. L., & Arevalo-Meier, N. (2015). Enacting true partnerships within community-based learning: faculty and community partners reflect on the challenges of engagement. Metropolitan Universities.

Lee, J. W., Kane, J. J., & Gregg, E. A. (2016). A Happy Marriage: The Union of Online Instruction and Community-Based Learning. Strategies, 29(5), 16-21.

Lowe, H. (2017, November 13). How students’ use ‘service-learning’ to cover diverse communities. MediaShift. Available at:

Maddrell, J. (2014). Service-learning instructional design considerations. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 26(3), 213-226.

McGorry, S. Y. (2012). No significant difference in service learning online. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(4), 45-54.

McWhorter, R., Delello, J., & Roberts, P. (2016).  Giving Back: Exploring Service-Learning in an Online Learning Environment.  Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 14(2), 80-99

Messner, M., Medina-Messner, V., & Guidry, J. (2016). Global health and social media: using Instagram and Twitter in an open online class for global service-learning projects. Communication Teacher, 30(4), 185-189.

Mironesco, M. (2014). Using Service Learning to Enhance a Hybrid Course Curriculum in the” Politics of Food”. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(3), 524.

Nielsen, D. (2016). Facilitating service learning in the online technical communication classroom. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 46(2), 236-256.

Odom-Bartel, B., & Wright, V. (2012, March). Distance Education and Students’ Community Engagement: A Faculty Perspective. In Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 736-739). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

O’Neil, C. (2017). Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. New York: Broadway Books.

Pearce, J. M. (2009). Appropedia as a tool for service learning in sustainable development. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 3(1), 45-53.

Pope, A., Cohen, A. K., & Duarte, C. D. (2018). Making civic engagement go viral: Applying social epidemiology principles to civic education. Journal of Public Affairs, e1857.

Purcell, J. W. (2017), Community‐Engaged Pedagogy in the Virtual Classroom: Integrating eService‐Learning Into Online Leadership Education. J Ldrship Studies, 11: 65-70.

Sandy, M. G., & Franco, Z. E. (2014). Grounding Service-Learning in the Digital Age: Exploring a Virtual Sense of Geographic Place through Online Collaborative Mapping and Mixed Media. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 18(4), 201-232.

Schwehm, J. S., Lasker-Scott, T., & Elufiede, O. (2017). A Comparison of Learning Outcomes for Adult Students in On-Site and Online Service-Learning. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 20(1), n1.

Shaw, T. (2018). Student Perceptions of Service-Learning Efficacy in a Hybrid I Online Undergraduate Writing Class. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal, 11(2).

Sorensen, J., Sams, A., & Soehner, C. (2019). Remembering Our Past to Keep from Repeating It: Using Technology to Continue the Role of Libraries in Collecting and Disseminating Local Historical Data and Stories. Journal of New Librarianship, 4(1), 156-170.

Strait, J., & Nordyke, K. (Eds.). (2015). Eservice-learning : Creating experiential learning and civic engagement through online and hybrid courses(First ed.). Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing.

Strait, J., & Sauer, T. (2004). Constructing experiential learning for online courses: The birth of e-Service. Educause Quarterly, 27(1), 62-65.

Valle, N., Brishke, J., Ritzhaupt, A. D., Evans, C., Nelson, D. R., & Shenkman, E. (2018). Using Instructional Design to Support Community Engagement in Clinical and Translational Research: a Design and Development Case. Journal of Formative Design in Learning, 2(1), 20-35.

Waldner, L., McGorry, S., & Widener, M. (2010). Extreme e-service learning (XE-SL): E-service learning in the 100% online course. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning & Teaching, 6(4), 839-851.

Waldner, L. S., Widener, M. C., & McGorry, S. Y. (2012). E-service learning: The evolution of service-learning to engage a growing online student population. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 16(2), 123-150.