What is it?
We are using the term “community engagement,” but other folks will call similar work “service learning” or “civic engagement” or “community based learning.”
It is a pedagogical practice that combines academic content and work in a community outside of the classroom in such a way that promotes learning and the common good.
Community-engaged learning is a “high impact” pedagogical strategy, and is being embraced in many universities, across disciplines, for that reason.
Who should do it?
Faculty who think an “outside of the classroom” or “outside of the usual curriculum” experience could be good for their classes!
Classes across ALL disciplines could incorporate this kind of experience – don’t think it is limited to social work-type experiences! In fact, doing a Google search of “community engagement” or “service learning” and the name of your discipline will turn up many different resources on how to incorporate this pedagogy.
The AAC&U publication Peer Review special issue on “Civic Learning in the Major” is a good resource for ideas.
Some additional examples are provided below for:
- Information Technology-related courses
- Cell & molecular biology courses
- Art (and also this report)
What does it look like?
Approaches to community-engaged classes vary enormously. Even within the courses at UMW that incorporate community-engaged learning, there is a beautiful diversity of strategies, including the examples below.
In some classes, like Kim Gower’s Leadership & Social Justice course in the College of Business, students find their own community engaged experiences. They work to find partners THEY are passionate about, create projects to benefit the partner, and construct creative reflection strategies (vlogs, for example).
In other classes, students may find community engagement opportunities on their own, but limited to the specific content focus of the course. For example, in Miriam Liss and Mindy Erchull’s Psychology of Women and Gender class, the community-engaged experience MUST relate to experiences of women. Students complete a set number of hours of work in the community, and reflect on it through the course. All CE-designated courses are expected to have a set of learning outcomes.
Some courses have a project-based focus. For many Historic Preservation courses, faculty partner with community offices or organizations to identify a project of interest. They then work with students to help them build the skills they need to complete the project. View this list of courses with the CE designation to learn more.
Why do it?
Community-engaged teaching and learning strategies provide benefits to students, faculty, and community.
- It helps students understand “real world applications” of course material.
- It gives students experience with problem solving, communicating across differences, and working through complexity and ambiguity.
- It helps increased personal efficacy as well as networking skills.
- It can result in greater satisfaction with quality of student learning
- It can increase increased networking outside the university
- It can improve student retention.
- For many faculty, research and other professional development opportunities can also be a benefit.
For the Community:
- It can provide increased resources to address their mission.
- It can improve improved relations with university
- It can provide new perspectives and energy from students – and stronger relationships with students.