Benefits and Concerns

Benefits for Instructors 

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

Benefits for Students

  • Greater motivation to learn; deeper understanding of subject matter; integration of concepts from class to authentic issues
  • Reduction of negative stereotypes; increase in tolerance for diversity
  • Greater self-knowledge; increased awareness of community, 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

Benefits for Community Partners

  • Supports the work of agencies which are often understaffed and under-budgeted
  • 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 older and more experienced students who can ‘hit the ground running’ based on their previous educational and employment history
  • Allows agencies to work with students and identify prospective employees

Publishing in the Field of Service-Learning

Concerns About Maintaining Academic Standards

Academic learning is the core of what happens in these classes. What students are learning in the classroom should drive their service activities. If a CBL class is designed and carried out properly, we believe that it will actually 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 at their site placement.

Concerns About 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 assume an entirely different role in 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.

Concerns About Relevance

Some faculty/instructional staff in the biological sciences are initially resistant to teaching community-based learning because they are unable to imagine site placements directly related to their course content areas. However, 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.


There are resources available at the University to help you integrate community-based learning or research into your course. The Morgridge Center for Public Service Resource Library (Room 154, Red Gym) contains extensive literature on how to utilize CBL pedagogy in different subject areas (including the biological sciences). Randy Stoecker in CALS and Sara Patterson in Horticulture are examples of the small but steadily-growing cadre of faculty/instructional staff members who have successfully utilized CBL in their teaching.

Concerns About Professional Consequences

While different departments will give different weights to this kind of teaching methodologies, incorporation of academic community-based learning isn’t currently a criteria in tenure consideration, 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. The Morgridge Center for Public Service Faculty Director is available for consulting around this topic.

Concerns About Course Time Constraints

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” in excess of the norm 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. Morgridge Center Service-Learning Fellows can provide assistance with many of the initial administrative tasks associated with developing an academic CBL component or course.


Concerns About Liability

Liability issues should be discussed with prospective community partners, prior to entering into a community-based partnership. Determine the risk factor for your students and what the organization’s insurance will cover. A general rule of thumb is if the CBL course is part of a required degree program, university liability insurance will apply, but students must have their own health insurance.

If you have questions regarding liability, check with Jeanine Critchley at University of Wisconsin-Madison Risk Management:, or 608-262-8925.