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Community Engaged Learning

A page within CATL Instructor's Guide to Inclusive Excellence

Community Engaged Learning is a general term for a wide range of pedagogies that collaborate with the community. In the literature, these teaching methods are variously labeled "service learning" or "community-based learning". More than volunteering, Community Engaged Learning works best when it strikes a good balance between the learning needs of the student and the "common good" needs of the community partner. The "Instructors" button found on the UWL Community webpage provides resources to identify community partners and projects for all forms of Community Engaged Learning. Feel free to contact UWL's Community Engagement Coordinator with questions or ideas.

CEL Information

Types of Community Engaged Learning

Here are several types of Community Engaged Learning. Each requires a different type of preparation for students.

Type Examples of expectations for students
Community Engaged Learning Students are expected to work in collaboration with or for a community partner for at least 15 hours during the term; expected to apply and reflect on course content as basis for analysis + understanding ; can include intensive work with a community partner to define research questions; can be advocacy-inspired (e.g., action research), applied and/or basic research; can be project-based; can be program development; can be clinicals, etc.
Internships Intensive placement; reflection throughout internship using discipline-specific theories
Volunteering Students expected to have a presence in the community for at least 15 hours of the term; expected to apply and reflect on course content as basis for analysis + understanding

Adapted from:

Summary of Research

Community Engaged Learning, along with other forms of community-based learning, is a "high-impact practice." Research focuses on two facets of impactfulness: how it benefits students and communities, and what makes it effective.

Effectiveness: Community Engaged Learning works best when

  • all parties achieve reciprocity: the community activities and the course are both shaped through partnership
  • community activities fit well with the course
  • the course and the community activities develop students' civic competencies
  • students engage with a broad range of people across multiple types of interactions
  • student reflection is well integrated into learning activities (e.g., it functions as a metacognitive tool)
  • instructors assess for continual course improvement
  • students have a voice in the community components

Benefits: students may benefit in any or all of these ways, depending on the type of engagement

  • cognitive development
  • learning outcomes
  • problem-solving, critical thinking, problem analysis
  • retention
  • grades
  • personal growth
  • interpersonal and civic skills
  • cultural competency
  • reduction of stereotypes
  • career development and related skills

Implementing a Community Engaged Learning project takes time and patience. See Rubin (2001) below for a process that helps you integrate Community Engaged Learning into both your course and your own research. This downloadable worksheet is based on Rubin. 

Campus Compact: The website includes many resources. Gavin Luter, formerly of Wisconsin Campus Compact, conducted two workshops for UWL in April, 2018. His Linking Classroom and Community: Considerations for Planning, Implementing, and Institutionalizing Service-Learning (from powerpoint) covers a broad set of issues and includes dozens of citations.  Designing Effective Community-Based Learning (from powerpoint) delves more deeply into implementation and is also abundant with references.  Critical topics in both of these presentations include developing partnerships, and diversity issues (both for majority-group students working across social hierarchies, and for partners working effectively with all students). Luter's worksheet helps you think through the implementation process.  Part of this worksheet asks you to identify potential partners in the community; the best place to start looking for partners is at UWL Community website, Project Opportunities Board on the “Instructors” webpage.


Learning Outcomes

Your first step is always to define the outcomes. Miami Dade College, like many other institutions that have Community Engaged Learning centers, developed learning outcomes for their Community Engaged Learning programs.  They provide their list and then show a wide range of disciplines developing students' skills, insights, and knowledge through community-engaged learning in this 5 1/2 minute video.

Stanford University's Graduate School of Business offers its students life-changing Community Engaged Learning opportunities organized around social and environmental issues.  Students discover how useful -- vital, in fact -- business skills -- and listening skills -- are to solving complex and even intractable problems in this 5 1/2-minute video.


Guiding Student Reflection

Guiding student's reflection is a critical component of effective Community Engaged Learning.  Several of the resources below offer a wealth of ideas for weekly responses, discussion questions, journaling, and other assignments that help you integrate the community experience into your course.


Association of American Colleges & Universities, created from a previous Civic Learning website. Resources for building learning opportunities aimed at the needs of "or nation's diverse democracy and interdependent global community.".

Becker, Sarah, and Crystal Paul. ""It Didn't Seem Like Race Mattered": Exploring the Implications of Service-learning Pedagogy for Reproducing or Challenging Color-blind Racism." Teaching Sociology 43, no. 3 (2015): 184-200. Accessed May 7, 2020. 

Celio, Christine I., Joseph Durlak, and Allison Dymnicki. “A Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Service-Learning on Students.” Journal of Experiential Education 34, no. 2 (September 1, 2011): 164–81. 

Center for Community-Engaged Learning, University of Minnesota. “Reflection in Service-Learning Classes.” Accessed April 24, 2018.

Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, Indiana University. “Reflection Questions for Considering Service-Learning Experiences."  Accessed April 24, 2018.

Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University. “Best Practices in Community Engaged Teaching."  Accessed February 24, 2017.

Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University. “What Is Service Learning or Community Engagement?” Accessed April 24, 2018.

Coulson, D., & Harvey, M. (2013). Scaffolding student reflection for experience-based learning: A framework. Teaching in Higher Education18(4), 401–413. 

Hatcher, Julie A., Robert G. Bringle, and Patti H. Clayton. Research on Service Learning: Conceptual Frameworks and Assessment First edition. IUPUI Series on Service Learning Research ; v. 2A-B. Sterling, Va.: Stylus Pub, 2013.

Rubin, Maureen Shubow. “A Smart Start to Service-Learning.” New Directions for Higher Education 2001, no. 114 (Summer 2001): 15.,uid&db=ehh&AN=10210974&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Campus Compact. Many resources and consultants.