At the earliest opportunity during the semester, we familiarize students with course requirements and outcomes using teaching plan examples published by the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR). Then we begin building the second key relationships: teams based upon the match between students and our community partners, who attend class as soon as possible after the start of the term. During this class meeting (described as mandatory in the course schedule), each community partner briefly presents the history and mission of the organization, the specific need that an educational presentation can meet, and any constraints (e.g., scheduling). After all of the partner presentations, students are allowed to form groups according to their perception of the best match.
In our experience, sometimes the match is based upon passion or interest in a topic and other times the match is pragmatic. For example, schedule compatibility plays a surprisingly important role in determining teams. We find that it is best to let students self-select for these reasons, because the students are the only ones who can determine how much effort and which particular sacrifices they will need to make to be successful in the course. In rare circumstances, we will encourage students who are ambivalent about their choices to move to a group that might not have enough members, but our community partners have always been able to find a team of 3-5 students on this important day.