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Classroom management strategies that facilitate service-learning in a digital age

By June 25, 2020February 3rd, 2021No Comments

The recent Covid-19 pandemic has caused a shift in how learning and teaching are being conducted globally. Now, more than ever, it is important to look at the future of education and how online learning forms a big part of this. Online learning comes with many challenges which is why it is important to implement classroom management strategies that facilitate student learning and understanding of the course work. 

The shift towards online learning 

Online learning has become vital in many countries globally due to the pandemic, but in recent years there has been a shift and popularity towards online teaching and learning. Covid-19 has sent this into overdrive with many countries having to find a way for schooling to continue, despite lockdowns and social distancing. Online learning has become a solution to this and for many schools, elements of online teaching will form a big part of how we proceed with education in the future.

This process and the move towards online learning and teaching has been challenging for both teachers and students to adjust to. Teachers have to manage their virtual classrooms, and students have needed to adapt and learn in a new environment. This has been especially difficult when teaching service-learning, which is largely based on experiences, social interactions and being involved in the community. Luckily, there are several different classroom management strategies that can be implemented and used to facilitate service-learning. These strategies can be used for both online teaching and in actual classrooms and assists in providing students with different teaching and learning experiences that promote personal growth and development and that make learning more effective.

Online classroom management vs physical classroom management

Before we discuss these techniques, it is essential to look at the differences between online learning and learning in a classroom. There is no doubt that both of these look different, but each has its own set of benefits, challenges, and opportunities.

In a physical classroom, teachers have more control over their classes, there are fewer distractions to contend with and more social interaction that provides students with opportunities to participate and get involved.

Online learning is slightly different. Students are in a more relaxed environment, must contend with distractions at home and may feel disconnected from their class and what they are learning. This could pose a few challenges for teachers in terms of participation and engagement.

For online learning to be successful, teachers need to adapt their teaching styles to create a sense of community, facilitate social interaction and stimulate and engage students. One way of doing this is through service-learning and the implementation of classroom management strategies. There are many different classroom management strategies and techniques that can help facilitate service-learning online, all of which aim to enhance student interest, motivate students, and facilitate professional learning within a virtual classroom.

Why use service-learning?

Service-learning is a pedagogy used as part of a curriculum that focuses on creating student engagement within the community that will allow for personal growth, empathy development, tolerance and that will have a meaningful effect on the lives of students. This is usually facilitated through experiential learning and aims to connect what students are learning inside the classroom with what is happening outside the classroom and in their community to meet a need.

Service-learning is often paired with several different learning outcomes. Learning outcomes are defined as statements that describe the knowledge or skills students should acquire by the end of a particular assignment, class, course, or program, and help students understand why that knowledge and those skills will be useful to them. They focus on the context and potential applications of knowledge and skills, which helps students connect learning in various contexts, and guide assessments and evaluation[1].

Service-learning definition: Service-learning connects positive and meaningful action with the community to help meet the needs and apply learning for transfer, agency and reciprocity. 

It is important to note that good learning outcomes emphasize the application of integration of knowledge and do not just focus on the coverage of material. It is important that students understand what they are learning in class and that they can apply this to real-world situations. Service-learning outcomes include [2]:

  • Critical Thinking – this involves students identifying problems in the community and where they originated. Students are then challenged to generate solutions for the problem by researching and evaluating all information available ensuring that they look out for possible biases.
  • Communication – these activities promote communication and teach students to communicate effectively using writing and speaking skills, encourages them to practice listening skills, understand body language, and helps to teach them how to argue respectfully and effectively.
  • Career and Teamwork– service-learning helps to develop strong leadership skills, gives students the opportunity to work well in a team, and facilitates and teaches them how to have empathy and understanding towards others in relation to their roles and responsibilities.
  • Civic Responsibility – students are encouraged to get involved in the local community to gain insight into local issues, and are taught how to plan to improve the community. This shows them how to have a positive impact on society and encourages awareness.  
  • Global Understanding and Citizenship – these activities provide students with opportunities to learn about other cultures and fosters respect for those who are different to them. It provides students with opportunities to speak to people with different opinions and views that may be different from their own. This gives them a more inclusive and open view on the world around them. 
  • Academic Development and Educational Success – students are challenged to connect what is being learnt in a course to everyday life. These hands-on activities help students to learn better and encourage them to be more committed to their own educational goals.

Service-learning has many advantages and, in many cases, helps students retain their coursework. This is largely because students remember what they experience and the experience itself. The question remains, can service-learning work online without providing students with experiences in the physical world? The answer is yes. There are several different ways to facilitate service-learning online that help to create student experiences by using different classroom management strategies and techniques.

classroom management strategies

Integrating service-learning through an online teaching approach

Service-learning is one of the teaching tools that has been impacted by the global pandemic. Many schools who have service-learning programs have been worried about how to continue their acts of service virtually. Luckily there are many ways in which to still facilitate this online. Some of the ways in which this can be done include:

  • Connecting with your community partner – talk to your community partner and find out what they need and how they are doing. Then convey these needs to your students, challenge them to come up with an idea or plan to solve the need or problem identified. This can all be facilitated and done virtually where students research, plan and develop a solution to the problem.
  • Challenging students to identify causes that they could help with – students can work on a random act of kindness, or a public service announcement to raise awareness about the cause of the service partner/group. Advocacy plays a significant role in service-learning. Informing your community about global issues, and recognizing something is an issue, is the first step in making a difference.
  • Set up regular service-learning check-in and meetings – this will allow service-learning groups to remain active during the lockdown and closure of the school and will challenge them to get creative and problem solve. This can be done online by creating either a Zoom stream or another virtual platform.
  • Place service-learning responsibilities in the hands of students – encourage student leaders to take the initiative to reach out to their service groups, organize regular meetings, and stay in contact with the students in their service groups, while also updating the teacher regularly on what actions the group is taking. They can also start preparing for next year, mentoring peers and setting up goals with partners.

The integration of service-learning into a curriculum, inside the classroom or through online learning, not only creates student engagement, but it facilitates critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, responsibility, and citizenship. If your school does not have a service-learning program in place you are invited to join the Serve Learn Challenge. This challenge will allow your students to work collaboratively as a team or individually through the five stages of service-learning using the Serve Learn game board. This is just one way in which you are able to facilitate service-learning online. There are many other classroom management strategies that can be used to facilitate this type of learning experience which we will discuss below. 

Reciprocal Teaching Method as a classroom management strategy 

Reciprocal Teaching is a classroom management technique that you can use in your virtual classroom to facilitate service-learning. This is a method of reading comprehension instruction that was developed by Ann Brown and Annemarie Palincsar. In this teaching method, students are taught to use strategies, questioning, clarifying, summarizing and predicting, in a collaborative text-based dialogue[3]. This principle of teaching revolves around four global comprehension strategies: predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing. In the classroom the teacher explains these strategies to small groups using a shared text, first modeling their use, and then asking students to lead the groups[4]. This teaching method has been proven to be successful across several different teaching disciplines in a classroom setting.

Does this teaching method work in the same way for online learning? The answer is no, these techniques need to be adapted for online learning and have been adapted in the form of Online Reciprocal Teaching. Online Reciprocal Teaching builds on the same principles as Reciprocal Teaching, the difference being that the teacher first instructs students in a whole-class setting, which can be done using an online platform, with each person constructing his or her own text while building the online reading comprehension strategies of questioning, locating, evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating[5].

Both of these classroom management strategies aim to give students responsibility over their learning and encourage them to think critically about the material. These techniques allow the students to take control and take the lead, providing them with a unique and different learning experience where peer discussions, collaboration, and student-centered learning are at the forefront. This process can be easily facilitated online, in the form of virtual group discussions, meetings, working sections etc. conducted on platforms such as Zoom.

The Online Reciprocal Teaching technique is focused on inquiry and problem-based tasks, which makes service-learning a perfect pedagogy for pairing with this technique. Through service-learning, students are challenged to investigate and research problems within their community and formulate an action plan for a solution in ways this could assist. There are several service-learning projects that can be implemented both inside the classroom and online that fit into the Online Reciprocal Teaching technique that will take students through the “5 C’s of Change”. These include[6]:

  1. Creativity: Students use divergent-thinking skills to generate their own questions and keywords for online searches. Their final projects require them to creatively express their own point of view.
  2. Communication: Students share what they learn as they work in small groups and with the whole class. They communicate with a wider audience by posting on a class blog.
  3. Collaboration: Students create collaborative knowledge through Internet inquiry and social interactions. They comment on one another’s work using technologies such as VoiceThread and support one another through instant messaging.
  4. Critical Thinking: When using the Internet, students build the text they read, choosing which links to follow and which to ignore. The nonlinear nature of online reading helps support critical thinking. Students also learn to question the perspective and bias of online sources.
  5. Comprehension: Students learn important online reading skills, such as how to distinguish news articles from blog posts and editorials. They carefully read texts they encounter online to understand and evaluate different perspectives.

Online Reciprocal Teaching allows you to create an experience for your students that facilitates engagement with the coursework, ultimately helping them understand, apply and retain the information that they are learning. Using digital technology, this technique is straightforward to implement and is effective in assisting to manage your virtual classroom.

Collaborative Learning Method as a classroom management strategy 

Collaborative Learning is another classroom management strategy that can be used in your physical classroom as well as online. Not only does this technique facilitate different learning experiences but it allows learners to interact, collaborate and play a part in their own learning. In the digital age, we are seeing a migration of Collaborative Learning techniques being used to teach students online, this is aptly referred to as Online Collaborative Learning.

Harasim defined Online Collaborative Learning as a model of learning in which students are encouraged and supported to work together to create knowledge: to invent, to explore ways to innovate, and, by so doing, to seek the conceptual knowledge needed to solve problems rather than recite what they think is the right answer[7].

In simple terms, this teaching method uses different techniques in which students’ are able to work together and discuss the course material to learn. This process is based on three key phases of knowledge construction through discourse[8]:

  • Idea generating – this is literally brainstorming, to collect the divergent thinking within a group.
  • Idea organizing – this is where learners compare, analyze and categorize the different ideas previously generated, again through discussion and argument.
  • Intellectual convergence – the aim here is to reach a level of intellectual synthesis, understanding and consensus (including agreeing to disagree), usually through the joint construction of some artefact or piece of work, such as an essay or assignment.

There are several different techniques can be used online to facilitate collaborative learning, these include[9]:

  • Online Learning Activities – collaborative activities and group interactions have a positive outcome of student performance. These types of interactions facilitate active learning, shared knowledge, and promote social interaction while creating a supportive online learning community. This form of collaboration also teaches learners how to share ideas, express opinions, and manage their time.
  • Collaborative Group Activities – collaborative group activities can range from informal discussions to highly structured and collaborative group activities. These activities provide a way for learners to establish communication channels, provides them with a sense of community and allows them to play an active role in their learning. Online learners in well-designed learning environments experience meaningful learning and develop higher order thinking.
  • Group Discussions – When learners engage in discussions with other learners, instead of just the instructor, the opportunities for knowledge retention are far greater. In collaborative group discussions, learners learn to listen attentively to each other and value the efforts of shared knowledge and input. Online discussion technology also helps learners respond to questions, participate, and offer peer feedback to support the sharing of new information.
  • Feedback and Assessment Activities – Research overwhelmingly supports that online peer assessments can support a student-centered approach when assessments are implemented through collaborative peer-to-peer communication, active participation, and interactivities.

From the above, it is evident that collaborative discussions between students are at the heart of this technique, but teachers play a central and critical role in this process. Teachers need to facilitate the discussions and provide appropriate resources and learning activities to encourage learning of the course work. For this to be effective teachers need to ensure that the discussions are well organized and that the students have the necessary support to enable the development of ideas and the construction of new knowledge for the students[10]. There are several guiding principles to ensure that this is done effectively, which include[11]:

  • Setting out clear guidelines on student online behavior: this could include student generated written codes of conduct for participating in discussions, and how that they are enforced.
  • Student orientation and preparation: this includes technology orientation (what program will be used, how to navigate, locate, link sharing etc.), and explaining the purpose of discussion.
  • Set clear goals and time for the discussions that are understood by the students: these goals should relate to the objectives of the course work. The time should allow for all participants to communicate.
  • Choose appropriate topics to discuss:  topics should complement and expand issues in the study materials, and should be relevant to assessment questions.
  • Set an appropriate tone or requirements for the discussion: ensure that the students always respect each other in the discussion and base their arguments on evidence, not emotion.
  • Clearly define learner roles and expectations: ensure that your students know what is expected of them during the discussions and what preparation needs to be done for the discussions.
  • Monitoring the participation of individual learners and responding accordingly: provide support and structure for students such as different comments that could help develop their thinking around the topics, referring them back to study materials if necessary, or by questioning or explaining when students seem to be confused or misinformed.
  •  Ensure that you are providing an ongoing presence: specifically, to monitor their discussions to prevent them from going off-topic, getting too personal and to encourage them to make contributions to the discussions and ask questions.

Collaborative Teaching creates innovative learning environments within a digital space. Even though a class may not be physically together, lessons and discussions can be adapted and structured in a way that facilitates deep, academic learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.  Online Collaborative Learning classroom management strategies offer new and different ways for students to connect and provide different ways to create a sense of community and social engagement within a virtual classroom. Each of these elements is vital for a student to have the best possible learning experience that facilitates personal growth and development.

classroom management strategies

5 Learning Outcomes 

These online classroom management strategies provide learners with different learning experiences which enhance their overall schooling experience. Using these techniques to facilitate service-learning also assists in facilitating and tracking students personal growth and development through the 5 Learning Outcomes. These outcomes include[12]:

  1. Children have a strong sense of identity – children feel safe, secure and supported, they show interdependence, autonomy, resilience, respect for others, care and empathy.
  2. Children are connected with and contribute to their world – children develop a sense of belonging, respond to diversity with respect, become aware of fairness, show respect for the environment and become socially responsible. 
  3. Children have a strong sense of wellbeing – children become strong in their social and emotional wellbeing and take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. 
  4. Children are confident and involved learners – Children develop dispositions for learning such as curiosity, cooperation, confidence, creativity, commitment, enthusiasm, persistence, imagination and reflexivity. They focus on skills that include problem solving, inquiry, experimentation, hypothesising, researching and investigating. They are able to transfer and adapt what they have learned from one context to another and learn through connecting with people, places, technologies and natural and processed materials.
  5. Children are effective communicators – Children interact verbally and non-verbally with others for a range of purposes and express ideas and make meaning using a range of media. They also use information and communication technologies to access information, investigate ideas and represent their thinking.


These 5 learning outcomes help to track and manage a student’s progress not just from knowledge and work retention level but on a level of personal growth and development. 


Digital transformation is changing how teaching and learning are being facilitated. It is evident that online learning is going to play a significant role in how education is conducted in the future. This can be seen in how teachers and students have adapted their learning and teaching styles during the global pandemic. Education is the center of many societies and is essential, which is why it is so important to adapt to how we teach to give students the best possible experience. Service-learning is one of the ways in which to do this. By using different classroom management strategies that incorporate reciprocal and collaborative teaching techniques, you can provide students with an innovative learning environment online, one that encourages discussion, teamwork, responsibility, critical thinking, problem-solving. This ultimately helps students reach the 5 learning outcomes and assists in building a well-rounded person who can lead, communicate, adapt and work together with others despite any challenges – a leader and global citizen.


[1] Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, University of Toronto. What Are Learning Outcomes?.Viewed on the 20 May 2020.

[2] The University of Nebraska. 2010. Improving Student Learning Outcomes with Service Learning. Viewed on the 20 May 2020.

[3] Lubliner, S. 2001. Reciprocal Teaching: An Alternative to Gatekeeping Practices.Classroom Leadership. Volume 5. Number 3. Viewed on 20 May 2020.

[4] J. G. McVerry, L, Zawilinski, W. I.O’Byrne. 2009. Navigating the Cs of Change.Teaching for the 21st Century. Educational Leadership. Viewed on 20 May 2020.

[5] J. G. McVerry, L, Zawilinski, W. I.O’Byrne. 2009. Navigating the Cs of Change.Teaching for the 21st Century. Educational Leadership. Viewed on 20 May 2020.

[6] J. G. McVerry, L, Zawilinski, W. I.O’Byrne. 2009. Navigating the Cs of Change.Teaching for the 21st Century. Educational Leadership. Viewed on 20 May 2020.

[7] A.W. Bates. 2019. Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning. Viewed on 20 of May 2020.

[8] A.W. Bates. 2019. Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning. Viewed on 20 of May 2020. 

[9] M,Higley.2018. Reasons Why Collaborative Online Learning Activities Are Effective. eLearning Industry. Viewed on 20 May 2020.

[10] A.W. Bates. 2019. Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning. Viewed on 20 of May 2020. 

[11] A.W. Bates. 2019. Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning. Viewed on 20 of May 2020. 

[12] Aussie Childcare Network. 2015. EYLF Learning Outcomes. Viewed on: 25 May 2020.

Tara Barton

Tara brings passion and a deep understanding of service learning, rooted in years of experience, to her training. Her training builds bridges from theory to implementation while generously sharing her resources and knowledge to ensure our success. Tara works with the whole school (administration, teachers, students, and SL leaders) to build a sustainable program that is embedded in the curriculum and tied to the mission. She energized a faculty on a Friday afternoon, no easy feat, leaving them with a desire to learn more about SL and to become more involved. I cannot recommend Tara highly enough.

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