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Community-engaged learning

Community-engaged course development

The Institute for Community Engagement and Scholarship provides consultations with faculty who are designing or redesigning community-engaged courses. One-to-one consultations provide resources and expertise on best practices for high quality community-engaged learning including equitable partnership development, syllabi integration, student preparedness, critical reflection, risk and liability, and evaluation and assessment.

An effectively designed community-engaged course represents a high-impact teaching practice that promotes deep, integrative learning.

Faculty can consult with an Institute for Community Engagement and Scholarship team member by emailing

Benefits of community engaged courses

For students:

  • Engages different learning styles
  • Provides an opportunity for students to identify and dissect biases and stereotypes, empowering them to develop new understanding
  • Enhances work-force development and students’ employability through applied learning and professional network development
  • Encourages civic engagement and social responsibility, and decreases effects of cultural and political apathy
  • Offers opportunities for students to learn and practice leadership, communication, critical thinking, and problem solving
  • Integrates new ways of thinking and community knowledge
  • Expands meaning and understanding of disciplinary knowledge

For community partners:

  • Supports the organization’s mission and goals and increases visibility
  • Provides access to university resources
  • Meets community-identified needs
  • Allows organizations to play a role in educating and challenging students
  • Engages the community in mutually beneficial work

For faculty:

  • Enlivens and invigorates teaching
  • Generates new avenues of community-based research, scholarly projects, and publication
  • Supports professional development by engagement of faculty and students as both teachers and learners in creative and innovative practice
  • Enhances potential for strong faculty/student relationships
  • Increases engaged student participation in class, and increases students’ ability to internalize course material through application of objectives.

Resources for faculty

To provide assistance to faculty who incorporate community-engaged learning into current or new university courses, the Institute for Community Engagement and Scholarship will:

  • Connect faculty to a broad network of relationships in diverse communities and organizations
  • Organize site visits with prospective partners to discuss shared interests and collaboration
  • Assist faculty in selecting appropriate community-based sites for courses, faculty-designed and student-designed independent studies, scholarly research, and capstone projects
  • Provide community-based learning course models and assistance with syllabus design
  • Share ideas and methods for integrating reflection into the learning process
  • Act as liaison between faculty, community organizations/agencies and students
  • Orient students to, and, if needed, provide/facilitate training for community-based projects
  • Disseminate assessment and evaluation tools
  • Inform faculty of funding opportunities for course development and other community-engaged scholarship
  • Link faculty to national, regional, and local resources and professional development options such as training, conferences, and speakers

Types of academic community engagement

Community-engaged learning isn’t one type of pedagogy, but an umbrella term for a broad set of teaching and learning methods that typically combine mutually beneficial relationships with community organizations, academic learning, critical reflection, and civic skill development. 

Community-engaged research: An opportunity for students to collaborate with a community partner to conduct research. Community organizations often determine the research question and co-collaborate on the analysis and dissemination of findings. 

Clinical: An experience where students apply and practice academic skills in a professional setting, often health-related or legal fields. Typically, the experience is offered in a credit-bearing course related to other more theoretical courses, or is offered as a culminating experience after a sequence of theoretical courses.

Critical service-learning: An optional or required out-of-classroom service experiences or projects connected to the learning goals of the course and asks students to interrogate systems of inequality, question the distribution of and their relationship to power, and develop authentic relationships with community partners.

Disciplinary capstone projects: A culminating course where students demonstrate the integration of disciplinary knowledge through a project that is of benefit to the community. 

Entrepreneurship: Students explore and build skills in planning and/or developing businesses, enterprises, or social ventures that address a societal need.

Field study: Students practice skills, conduct research, and/or explore academic content in an off-campus setting. The setting is primarily a context to benefit and enhance student learning.

Internship/co-op: An uncompensated or compensated off-campus activity in a student’s field of study in which the student explores industry-related or work-related issues and/or develops professional and para-professional knowledge and skills. Typically, the student’s work is supervised and evaluated by a site coordinator or the instructor.

Practicum: A course involving practical experience in a professional or other work-related setting in which the student applies learning gained from theoretical or other academic study. Activity might include supervised opportunity as part of a pre-service professional experience.

Student teaching: Pre-professional and/or pre-service experience, usually as part of a teacher education program though which a student conducts experiential learning within a formal education school setting. The student participates in supervised teaching that is evaluated by a supervising teacher or instructor.

*adapted from University of Minnesota’s Office for Public Engagement and Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching.