Community-based Learning

A Community-based Learning (CBL) course is a credit-bearing educational experience that integrates meaningful community service with guided reflection to enhance students’ understanding of course content as well as their sense of civic responsibility. More than 100 CBL courses are taught at UW–Madison every year.

Faculty and instructional staff can create a CBL course as a brand new offering or add a CBL component to an existing course. The Morgridge Center is here to help guide faculty and instructional staff through the process, answer any questions and offer funding opportunities.

Contact Interim Assistant Director of Community-Engaged Scholarship Cory Sprinkel to consult further on curriculum development, course designation process and community partnership-building.

For pedagogy, expectations, logistics and benefits and things to consider, see below.

To support high-quality CBL experiences for community partners and students, the Morgridge Center is now requiring that all courses with the CBL attribute preparation students prior to community engagement each semester through one of the following methods:

  • Working with Cory Sprinkel (community-engaged preparation specialist), a CBL intern, or another Morgridge Center intern who can provide such preparation in class, or
  • Utilizing our online training materials, or
  • Providing us with evidence of your own preparation materials and follow-up discussion prompts; we recognize that many instructors are already providing training for students around topics of systems of oppression and privilege, community-university relationships, and cultural humility, and as such would not need to alter their course since this training is currently embedded in it

Please consider which option is the best fit for your course. To access our online training materials, please contact Cory Sprinkel.

Also see our Community-based Learning resource guide if you want to incorporate CBL into your teaching.

As you make your decision about preparation methods, please reach out to Cory Sprinkel to move forward with your selection.

Take the following steps to officially designate your class as a Community-based Learning course. This allows students to find the course more easily, qualifies you for funding and transportation opportunities and qualifies you for assistance from a Community-based Learning intern. If you have any questions before or during the designation process, please contact Cory Sprinkel.

Step 1: Follow departmental procedures to get proper approval for a change in course content/new course

Step 2: Confirm proposed course meets definition of Community-based Learning or community-based research and UAPC criteria.

Step 3: Either you or your curricular representative can complete the course designation form.

Step 4: The Morgridge Center’s faculty Community-based Learning committee will review the request and notify the registrar to add the designation to the Course Guide, so students can see it when they filter their class search.

CBL Interns 2019-20Faculty and instruction staff incorporating community-based learning into their coursework may request an undergraduate Community-based Learning intern to assist them in the planning and implementation of their course for up to five hours a week.

Interns are assigned for at least one semester to, among other things, establish community placements, lead reflection exercises and maintain ongoing communication between the community organizations and the students or instructor. See guide for more details.

Criteria for Requesting a Community-based Learning intern
The engagement plan must meet all criteria and the course must be approved and designated as a Community-based Learning course in the Course Guide.

Request an Intern
Contact Cory Sprinkel to request a Community-based Learning intern.

The Community-based Learning Course Development Grant Program is intended to support courses that bring together a diverse group of UW–Madison students to engage in Community-based Learning with non-profit or community organizations.

Faculty or academic instructional staff can apply for up to $5,000 in funding per course. This grant can only be awarded once per course or course section. Learn more.

See all past Community-based Learning courses that have been offered since fall 2008.


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Types of CBL Courses

The varying models are listed below, alongside corresponding UW–Madison course examples:

Discipline-based Service-learning
The experiential, “direct service” learning is closely aligned with and complements the classroom learning in a discipline, as in tutoring students in a math class. Example: Rehab Psych & Special Education 300 – Individuals with Disabilities

Project-based/Consulting Service-learning
Students have an evolving skill to offer as a “deliverable” to community partners. Example: Civil Society and Community Studies 335 – Communicating with key audiences

At higher level of knowledge; students expected to bring several years of coursework to the project or service; e.g., designing curriculum for middle school programs. Example: Environmental Studies 600 – Last Child in the Park: How kids and birds can save the world

Community-based Learning Internship
Students spend considerable amount of time per week at an organization, but still incorporating classroom or online reflection with instructor in order to process the community learning. Example: Women’s Studies 660 – Internship in Women’s Studies

Community-based Research
With instructor and sometimes community members as participants, students engage in research of value to community partner. Example: Civil Society and Community Studies 570 – Community-based Research and Evaluation

Incorporation of Reflection

Reflection activities provide a method or methods for students to process what they learned through the service experience and how these experiences relate to academic course content. It is a thoughtfully-constructed process that challenges and guides students in:

  • examining critical issues related to their community-based learning project
  • connecting the service experience to coursework
  • enhancing the development of civic and ethical skills and values, and
  • finding personal relevance in the work

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Measuring Academic Success

Academic credit is awarded for the student’s demonstration of integrating their classroom and reading content with their community engagement.

While in traditional courses we assess students’ learning from traditional course resources, e.g., textbooks, class discussions, library research, etc., in CBL courses we evaluate students’ learning from the blending of traditional resources and community service.

Minimum Amount of Service

The Morgridge Center and other academic centers at peer institutions recommend at least 25 hours of service over the course of the semester in order for a direct-service course to be considered of value. This is borne out by studies showing less contact is less valuable for student learning, as well as of little value to community organizations except in certain “plug and play” volunteer situations (landscape clean-up day at the zoo, etc.)


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  • Set learning objectives
  • Identify and meet with potential service sites
  • Describe community-based learning activity and relation to course objectives in syllabus
  • Facilitate activities that will prepare students for service
  • Guide/foster in-class reflection
  • Review reflective journals and final papers
  • Give final letter grade


  • Fulfill all agreed upon duties and responsibilities at the placement site, as well as being prompt, willing, respectful and positive
  • Be open to learning about cultures and lifestyles different from their own
  • Communicate with site supervisor or instructor if uncomfortable or uncertain about role
  • Respect confidentiality of clients served
  • Complete necessary paperwork, provide feedback regarding service experience, participate in course discussions and participate in evaluation process


  • Orient students to the agency’s mission and goals so that they can better understand their role within the agency
  • Provide work that is relevant to course content and challenging to the student
  • Provide the training, supervision, feedback, and resources necessary for student success in the community-based learning experience
  • Ensure a safe work environment and reasonable hours for the student to perform service

Morgridge Center

  • Educate faculty/instructional staff about community-based learning/research pedagogies and best practices
  • Serve as an advisor on logistical, risk management, and troubleshooting issues
  • Maintain and share a current roster of CBL faculty and courses
  • Assist with finding community partner organizations, when appropriate
  • Connect new faculty with faculty mentors, and work to strengthen the community of community-based learning


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Designing a Course

Consult with the Morgridge Center
Our faculty and academic staff are available to meet one-on-one with faculty/ instructional staff to assist in the design, development and implementation of community-based learning courses.

Contact Assistant Director of Community-Engaged Scholarship Haley Madden.

Request a Community-based Learning Intern
Undergraduate interns are assigned to a special faculty/instructional staff member for at least one semester to assist in planning and implementation of a community-based learning course.

Apply for a Course Development Grant
The Morgridge Center provides grants up to $5,000 to assist faculty/instructional staff in the development and implementation of a new CBL course or to add a CBL component to an existing course.

Sample Syllabi & Other Resources

Click here to find sample Community-based Learning syllabi from Campus Compact.

Finding Community Partners

This local database lists over 300 local non-profit organizations and associated volunteer opportunities.

Community shares of Wisconsin
Community Shares of Wisconsin lists 52 member agencies dedicated to social, economic and environmental issues and is a great resource for finding a community partner.

The Wisconsin Idea Exchange
The WIE is an interactive database designed to help community groups and UW-Madison faculty and staff find collaborative community-based learning and research projects.

Morgridge Center Staff
Our staff can provide assistance identifying local organizations that may meet your particular needs.

Student Transportation

Transportation Options
Our transportation options provide community-based learning students with cab rides to eligible sites at no cost to the student.

Bus Pass
Every student has access to a free bus pass through the Associated Students of Madison. Please investigate bus opportunities before inquiring about cab options.

Benefits of CBL

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  • Facilitates interdisciplinary and collaborative projects; broadens outlets for presentations and publications of research
  • Demonstrates commitment to service by awarding academic credit for learning through community engagement; increases opportunities for professional recognition, publicity and awards
  • Extends the classroom into community for the development of co-creation of knowledge with community mentors; places faculty in alignment with the Wisconsin Idea
  • Student evaluations of CBL courses more favorable than ‘traditional’ courses


  • Greater motivation to learn; deeper understanding of subject matter; integration of concepts from class to authentic issues
  • Reduction of potential negative stereotyping; increase in cultural awareness
  • Greater self-knowledge; increased awareness of community and social issues
  • Enhanced interpersonal skills; improved leadership
  • Especially valuable for those who learn best through experience and teaching others
  • Encourages retention of first-generation students and students of color

Community Partners

  • Supports the work of community organizations which are often understaffed and under-funded
  • Creates new alliances and partnerships with the University; demystifies a large and complex institution; creates opportunities to learn about the latest research on practical questions for staff and clients
  • Infuses agencies with the excitement, enthusiasm, and energy of young college students, as well as more experienced students who can offer professional skills based on their educational and employment history
  • Creates opportunity to act as a co-educator, impart organizational mission, and identify prospective employees from interactions with students.

Publishing in the Field of CBL

  • Generator School Network’s National Service-Learning Clearinghouse provides a list of journals and other publications where you can submit research and articles on academic community-based learning across all levels.
  • The major journal in the field is the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning.
  • Another is the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement

Things to Consider

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Maintaining Academic Standards

Academic learning connected to community engagement is at the core of these classes. What students are learning in the classroom should inform and be informed by their engagement. If a CBL class is designed and carried out properly, we believe that it will be even more rigorous than traditionally-structured courses. In academic CBL courses, students are not only being asked to master course material, they are also being asked to take the information that they are being taught in the classroom and apply it to the experiences that they have in the community.

Using the Community-based Learning Pedagogy

Any time you incorporate new pedagogical strategies into your teaching, your competencies are going to be challenged—academic CBL is no different. Many educators will have to shift to a different way of thinking about the teaching-learning process, moving from that of teacher to the position of a “co-educator,” sharing that role with the community partner organization and your students.

Making the case for CBL

Are you considering using a community-based learning approach? Check out this document to learn more about the benefits of a CBL approach, as well as CBL best practices, from many peer-reviewed sources.

Finding Discipline-appropriate Community Engagement Projects

While finding a connection between classroom learning and service to the community may be easier in some subject areas and more difficult in others, it can be effective in any field. Some faculty/instructional staff in the biological or physical sciences or engineering may find it harder to imagine site placements directly related to their course content areas.

However, the Morgridge Center has resources available to help you integrate Community-based Learning or research into a course. Our library and our online resources contain extensive literature on how to utilize CBL pedagogy in different subject areas (including the biological sciences), and we offer personal consultations about incorporating community engagement.

Randy Stoecker in CALS and Andrea Hicks in Civil and Environmental Engineering are examples of the small but steadily-growing cadre of faculty/instructional staff members who have successfully utilized CBL in their teaching.

Professional Rewards

While different departments will give different weights to this kind of teaching methodologies, many faculty/instructional staff members from various disciplines at UW–Madison (and other institutions of higher education) have successfully integrated academic CBL into their scholarly work and been successful with using in their tenure consideration.

The Morgridge Center Faculty Director is available for consulting around this topic, and we have examples from faculty here who have received tenure while doing engaged scholarship. Additionally, there is a new Distinguished Teaching Award for Excellence in Community-Based Learning, which comes with a base pay raise. Find more information about that award here.

Planning for Course Time

Academic community-based learning is not an add-on to the current requirements of your course. As you begin to incorporate it into your teaching, some of your traditional teaching techniques may be replaced with more dynamic learning activities.

Instructors note that additional “prep time” is generally required for CBL courses; however, the higher levels of student engagement in their courses more than makes up for any extra time they spend doing the initial planning.

CBL interns can provide assistance with many of the initial administrative tasks associated with developing an academic CBL component or course. Instructors also report that once a course is up and running, it becomes easier to teach it each subsequent semester, because long-term community partnerships are developed and sustained.


Students enrolled in credit courses will have liability protection extended through the State of WI Self-Funded Liability Program following the below set of parameters established by State of WI Department of Justice and DOA.

University Course Requirements for Student Liability Coverage include –

  • The specific training or activity is approved by the university as meeting the objectives or requirements of a for-credit course that counts towards a university degree or professional certification
  • Such university-approved training or activity must be evidenced by documentations that identifies the objectives for the course and a means of evaluating the student (e.g., course description/syllabus)
  • The activities that the student performs must be within the scope of activities which the student is directed to perform by the university as part of his or her fulfillment of the requirements of the training or activity
  • If the training or activity takes place at a facility or site that is not operated by the university, the university’s relationship with that site should be evidenced by a written affiliation agreement or like documentation that sets for the responsibilities of the university and the training site

If you have questions regarding proper coverage, contact UW–Madison Risk Management.