Service Learning During Coronavirus: Easy Ideas for Every Subject.

Help your students find meaning during these chaotic times.

Shannon Orr
Mar 30, 2020 · 5 min read

1) Finding Meaning in Empty Classrooms

As we scramble to adjust to the chaotic world of online learning during a pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of time reaching out to my students to find out what they need. Can I help them with technology? Do they need more time on assignments? Do they want to Zoom for office hours so I can walk them through material that they don’t understand?

But what I’ve learned is that while many of those things are important, what our students really want is to feel like they’re part of a community again, that they’re not alone; and that somehow in all of this turmoil, that they are doing SOMETHING that matters. While unfortunately, we can’t make all of those things better we can help to give them some meaningful assignments through quick and easy service learning.

Service-learning (or community-based learning) has always been an important part of my classes as a way to give students the chance to make meaningful contributions, expand their resumes, and practice their skills. In a time like now with a global pandemic and social distancing requirements, that kind of work is even more important for our students.

Below, I have compiled a list of easy and ready to go service-learning activities that instructors can add into their high school and post-secondary classes in 25 subject areas — everything from contributing to research on Alzheimer’s to helping NGOs prepare for disasters.

Most of them take about 30 minutes to an hour to complete. To make it a graded assignment, students could take a screenshot of their work, or write a quick summary of their experience.

For those of us used to doing service-learning on a grand scale, these are not quite the same; but hopefully, they can help you to liven up a few of your classes, and remind students that just because they are social distancing, they can still do some good in this world.

We’re all in this together.

2) Service Learning Activities and Projects

African American Studies

Freedom on the Move: Help to rediscover the stories of self-liberating people by documenting and transcribing the ads posted by enslavers trying to locate those who had escaped.

Astronomy and Physics

Gravity Spy: Help to classify sources of noise (glitches) so scientists can better understand gravitational waves.


Etch a Cell: Look at images of cells that were produced using an Electron Microscope and help segment the cell by drawing around structures of interest in the image such as mitochondria.

Child Development

Maturity of Baby Sounds: Help to classify very short recordings of babies’ speech sounds to better understand the first stages of language learning.

Criminal Justice

Criminal Characters: Transcribe the records of persons imprisoned from the 1850s-1940s in Australia.

Disability and Accessibility Studies

Be My Eyes: Provide visual assistance for people with visual impairments through a live video call (IO and Android app).


LibriVox: Read and record chapters of books in the public domain (e.g. published before 1923) to create free public domain audiobooks.

Bookshare: Proofread scanned books that have been created for people with reading barriers.

Environmental Studies

Elephant seals, sea lions, cormorants, oh my!: Help to identify and count marine mammals and birds in Año Nuevo Reserve

Western Shield Camera Watch: Help to protect Western Australia’s native wildlife by identifying species in camera images.

Penguin Watch: Count penguins in remote regions to help us understand their lives and environment

Foreign Languages

Translators without Borders: If you are fluent in more than one language, you can help with translating everything from medical texts to translating for crisis response.


Missing Map: Using satellite images trace out features like roads and buildings in vulnerable communities that have never been mapped. This work will help NGOs and governments to do the planning and respond faster if disaster strikes.

Building Inspector: Help Unlock New York City’s past by identifying buildings and other details on old maps.


Earthquake Detective: Listen for earthquakes by speeding up seismic waves to audible pitches and then classify seismic signs as either earthquakes or tremors.


The American Soldier: Help to transcribe 65,000 pages of uncensored personal commentaries written by U.S. soldiers stationed around the world in World War II.

African American Soldiers in the American Civil War: Help to transcribe the military records of African American soldiers in the American Civil War.

Anti-Slavery Manuscripts: Help to transcribe correspondence between anti-slavery activists from the 19th century.

Medical Sciences

Eye for Diabetes: Help to develop a computer model for diagnosing diabetic retinopathy by looking at photos of the back of the eye and marking abnormalities.

Stall Catchers: View short videos from the brains of mice and identify the catch points where the blood flow “stalls”. This work will help researchers understand how stalls contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and help to identify new possible treatments.


Old Weather: Help scientists transcribe the Arctic and worldwide weather observations recorded in ship’s logs since the mid 19th century.

Music History

The Man Who Recorded the World: Help to transcribe the notebooks and letters of folklorist Alan Lomax who documented most of the 20th century American and Caribbean folk music.


Clara Barton “Angel of the Battlefield”: Help to transcribe the papers and diaries of Clara Barton who provided relief services on battlefields during the American Civil War and founded the American Red Cross.


Fold it: Help researchers discover new antiviral drugs that might stop coronavirus by solving puzzles.


Eye Wire: Play a game to help map the human brain.


Media and Wikipedia: Add original media to Wikipedia articles to enhance the entries.

Political Science

SCOTUS Notes: Help to transcribe the handwritten conference notes left by Supreme Court justices, providing insight into how law and policy are made by the U.S. Supreme Court.


Age Guess: Investigate the difference between perceived age and chronological age as a potential aging biomarker.

Urban Planning

Sounds of New York: Help address urban noise pollution by listening to the sounds of New York City and identify city sounds to help train a sensor to automatically monitor and mitigate dangerous noise pollution.

Women and Gender Studies

Star Notes: Help to transcribe the groundbreaking work of early women astronomers.

Suffrage: Help to transcribe the personal papers of suffrage leaders like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and more.

All Subjects

Editing Wikipedia pages: Help to create and edit Wikipedia pages as a formal class exercise.

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Shannon Orr

Written by

Shannon Orr is Professor of Political Science at Bowling Green State University.

The Faculty

A community of academics and storytellers writing and sharing thoughts about teaching, learning, research, and life at the faculty.

Shannon Orr

Written by

Shannon Orr is Professor of Political Science at Bowling Green State University.

The Faculty

A community of academics and storytellers writing and sharing thoughts about teaching, learning, research, and life at the faculty.

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