Game-changing Leaders

Game-changing Leaders
Learning Brief

University of Cape Town - CHED

Promoting service learning and volunteering at higher education institutions

Category: Game-changing Leaders | Youth leadership pathways | 26 June, 2013 - 22:00


The Global Citizenship: Leading for Social Justice (‘GC’ for short), is a co-curricular programme open to all University of Cape Town (UCT) students. It is a higher education initiative aimed at exposing UCT students to global issues and debates, raising awareness of social justice issues, and recognising learning via community engagement activities.

The Global Citizenship course is a 2010 deliberate initiative, supported by the Vice Chancellor’s Strategic Fund, to fulfil the university’s revised 2009 mission to produce graduates “whose qualifications are internationally recognised and locally applicable, underpinned by values of engaged citizenship and social justice”. In response to this new mission and new strategic plan, the UCT Global Citizenship pilot was launched at the beginning of 2010, beginning with two extra-curricular short courses:

  1. Global debates, local voices (GC1), and
  2. Thinking about Volunteering: service, boundaries and power (GC2).

The pilot was the first step towards a broad-based course programme. In 2012 a third component was added, which included the requirement of 60 hours of community service volunteering.

The form and shape of the global citizenship programme

The GC programme is designed as a co-curricular programme that uses a ‘mixed mode’ curriculum, including online and face-to-face components. This approach allows for a degree of flexibility because students can participate in online activities with other students and fulfil the course requirements after hours in their own time.

We wanted as many students as possible, from across the academic disciplines, to take part in the Global Citizenship programme. Consequently we ran both GC1 and GC2 courses in the evenings so as not to clash with formal daytime course requirements. There were also no prerequisites for taking GC1; however for GC2 it was required that students already be involved in community service volunteering. The programme ran in this pilot format for 2 years – 2010 and 2011.  In 2011, we employed past GC students as tutors, who were contracted for both administrative and tutorial work.

Identifying programme challenges in 2011 and implementing solutions in 2012

At the end of 2011, we identified 3 main challenges that needed addressing, and that served as the impetus for a change strategy. The following year, 2012, we adopted these strategic changes, and also introduced a third component to the programme requiring 60 hours of self-organised community service volunteering. Following is a reflection on the challenges identified, the solutions implemented to address these challenges, and the outcomes deriving from these applied changes to the program.

Challenges -> Solutions -> Outcomes

GC1 – Global debates workshop series


  • A need for more flexibility in the time needed to complete course requirements.
  • A need for more flexible course time offerings.
  • This would make the course more attractive to students, and appeal to those with heavy workloads.


Introduced far more course flexibility in 2012.

  • Students were now able to complete the 4 workshop themes over the course of one whole year.
  • Allowed students to come in and out of the workshop series as best suited to their curriculum schedule and academic load.
  • We offered one workshop on a Saturday.

We set no time limit on course completion – students could complete all 4 workshops over their whole length of time at UCT.


The outcomes showed discouraging effects of these changes.

  • A far smaller number of students completed the workshop series
  • Students were confused about the new course requirements and found it hard to keep momentum over an extended time period.
  • From an administrative point of view, it proved extremely difficult to manage the 150 students using this flexible structure.
  • Saturday and evening sessions were poorly attended and are not sustainable.

Going forward, we need to rethink the extent and form of course flexibility that incorporates more structure and clearer, simpler instructions.

GC2 – Short course: service, citizenship and social justice


  • A need to attract students to the course who are not already involved in social and community service.
  • Improve the appeal and the reach of the course.


The solution was to introduce service requirements into the course in 2012.

  • We opened the course up to all kind of students, not only those already engaged in service activities.
  • We introduced 2 Saturday service days as part of the course requirements. Two in-class sessions accompanied these service days to cover theoretical and academic material.


The outcomes showed positive results.

  • Students enjoyed the 2 service days and felt that it helped with retention of the theoretical and academic material.
  • Students indicated that “learning with community” helped them to deconstruct some previously held assumptions such as: who has knowledge and where does it reside? Are communities always powerless? What does service really mean?

We will keep the course open to all students and retain the service days as part of the course as they worked so well.



Tutors were recruited from previous cohorts. However, in 2012 there were postgraduate students with heavy workloads themselves, and had difficulty completing many tasks.  Thus a need arose to recruit tutors at different levels of academic progress in order to ensure better succession.


The solution was to not hire new tutors and to employ the existing postgraduate tutors on a pay-per-hour basis.

  • We also excluded the annual tutor-training session at the beginning of the year.
  • We restructured the tutors tasking, focusing their time more on tutoring, and less on meetings, administration and recruitment.

The Project Manager, Convenor, and 2 GC staff members took up these extra administrative and recruitment tasks.


The outcomes of these changes showed unfavourable results on program implementation.

  • It became very difficult to know how students were doing academically, and to track their progress.
  • The flexible administrative and structural arrangement was ‘too loose’, and very little attention was given to students in the 2012 cohort.
  • We had trouble tracking what students were learning and gaining from the course and the service activities.
  • This left staff with a heavy administrative workload that was not sustainable. It also proved difficult at times to work out what was a ‘reasonable’ ask in terms of students’ involvement as tutors.

We need to bring in new tutors and re-instate the training programme, as well as having clearly defined roles and responsibilities outlined in a contract.

New course component: service involvement


A need for students to get exposure to service work, to commit to working with marginalized communities, to gain experience working in crosscutting social contexts with different kinds of people.


  • The solution was to introduce a third component to the course programme.
  • GC3 required students to complete 60 hours of community service volunteering in an area of their choice.
  • Students needed to organise a service activity themselves, as the GC programme
  • There were very few ‘learning’ requirements for this new component. Students simply needed to submit a report and reflection at the end.


GC program staff had difficulty tracking this component, completion and student’s progress.

In the future, we need more structure to keep students motivated and a visible reference person to whom students can direct questions and concerns


Planning and application in 2013

GC1: Students still have a degree of flexibility in terms of the online component, but the 4 themes are to be completed over 1 semester. Further work is being done on finding ways to help students monitor their own progress through the completion requirements.

GC2: We have continued with the required 2 service days.

Tutors: We recruited a new cohort of tutors from the previous GC students and we expected them to participate in a short training programme at the start of the year to orientate them to the program requirements. The tutors also have more clearly defined hours and responsibilities laid out in a contract.

GC3: We have implemented more structure and explicit learning activities for this component e.g. blogs, and reflection sessions. We have also tasked our Programme Assistant with overseeing this component and staying in touch with the students.


This learning brief has tried to capture our learning on the UCT Global Citizenship programme over the past 6 months. This has led to changes in all components of the programme – in the original 2 courses, in the new component of volunteering added last year, and in how we work with and relate to our tutors. 

University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, Level 6, Hlanganani Building, North Lane, Upper Campus 

 (021) 650 2894

In Short

This learning brief offers experienced-based lessons on developing a service learning course at a higher education institution. It emphasizes the need for a balance between structure and flexibility in the course scheduling, and the need to engage students critically about the volunteer service activities they engage in throughout the course. 

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