Summary: Every university resides in a community. Whether a small town or large city, universities are surrounded by homes, businesses, schools, community centers, theaters–people’s lives. Collaborating with citizens in these spaces to help improve them has historically been one of the primary purposes of higher education in the United States, yet is one we often overlook today. Community Engaged Scholarship (CES) helps bridge this gap by fostering sustainable partnerships between university faculty, staff, and students with local citizens and organizations to address real community concerns. CES can be primarily a research (Community Based Research or CBR) or educational (Community Based Learning or CBL) tool, but is always a way to bring university resources and local, lived expertise together to create powerfully practical responses to real needs.
Sometimes called “service-learning,” community-based learning (CBL) 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.
Benefits and things to consider
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Benefits for Instructors
- Facilitates interdisciplinary and collaborative projects; broadens outlets for presentations and publications of research
- Extends the classroom into community for the development of mutually-beneficial knowledge; places faculty in alignment with the Wisconsin Idea
- Demonstrates commitment to the community by awarding academic credit for learning through service or community-based research; increases opportunities for professional recognition and awards
- Stronger relationships with students
- 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
Things to Consider
Maintaining academic standards
CBL courses require students to engage academic content and concepts in new and unfamiliar ways, often outside the classroom and away from the instructor. CBL students spend significant time working with and learning from individuals not directly associated with a university. Yet this does not mean that CBL instructors provide or expect anything less from their students. Quite the opposite; 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.
Anytime you develop a new course or 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/expert, to the position of a “co-educator,” sharing that role with the community partner organization and your students. Yet this shift allows you to access new, meaningful instructional opportunities and spaces for your students, opportunities they will recognize and appreciate. Students consistently rate CBL courses more positively than other classes.
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. Almost always, however, this is only because faculty have limited experience knowing where to look for such placements. Madison is a vibrant community with many organizations and opportunities for engagement you may not be aware of. The university has available staff, organizations, and literature to help you identify, develop, and foster the sites, materials, and relationships needed for a new CBL course. The Morgridge Center for Public Service (room 154, Red Gym) is an excellent place to start. The center’s staff and Resource Library can help you utilize CBL pedagogy in a wide variety of subject areas (including the biological and computer sciences).
While different departments will give different weights to different kinds of teaching methodologies, it is true that incorporation of academic community-based learning isn’t currently a criterion in tenure consideration. However, the quality of students’ experience in and evaluations of CBL courses allow faculty in any department to distinguish themselves as effective instructors. Additionally, 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, advancing their research portfolio while providing community-engaged learning opportunities.
Academic community-based learning is not an add-on to the current requirements of your course. Instead, it can elevate your current instructional efforts, making limited time with students more productive and meaningful. As you begin to incorporate CBL principles and practices into your teaching, some of your traditional teaching techniques may be replaced with more dynamic learning activities. 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, but following standard procedures and forms will help mitigate potential concerns. 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 University of Wisconsin-Madison Risk Management, here.
Community-based research (CBR) is not so much a research method as it is an approach to research. It goes by many names in different disciplines, including Participatory Action Research and Community-based Participatory Research, and might look very different in different projects. However, CBR has three main principles: it is research that 1. equitably addresses a community-identified need; 2. values different kinds of knowledge, including local and community knowledge; 3. works toward social action, social change, and social justice. In practice, this means that researchers doing CBR work equitably with community members to address community issues or challenges in ways that advance social action, social change, and social justice. Community members participate in the research process as much as possible given their time, resources, and interest . Decisions are made jointly by the university researcher(s) and community members, thereby valuing all sources of knowledge and expertise. The end result of a CBR project is some kind of (hopefully sustainable) action that directly benefits community members. Thus, CBR should foster equitable relationships, validate different kinds of knowledge, and share decision-making authority among all stakeholders.
- increased validity of the data
- conduct research that may translate more easily into real-world settings
- research addresses real-world concerns and is immediately relevant
- researchers may be able to work with populations that have been unfairly treated in the research process in the past, such as vulnerable populations
- a part of the Wisconsin Idea
- allows research to have a greater impact
- provides researchers with the ability to collect data more accurately, as community members have helped determine research methods
- can be more rigorous than traditional academic research
- typically receive better information
- builds community capacity
- works for social action, social change, and social justice
- increased funding opportunities
Things to consider
- time-consuming, as it takes time to develop trust and relationships
- not always possible with all research topics
- approach might be uncomfortable for some researchers
- additional training on academic/community sides may be necessary
- cultural differences may prove challenging