What is community-based learning?

Community-based learning is an intentional pedagogical strategy to integrate student learning in academic courses with community engagement. This work is based on reciprocal and mutually beneficial partnerships between instructors, students, and community partners. The goal is to address community-identified needs and bring about positive social change. Critical reflection is an essential component to enhance students’ learning of course content, understanding of the community, and sense of civic agency.

How is community-based learning different than service-learning?

There is a great deal of overlap between service-learning and community-based learning. The main difference is a matter of emphasis. Community-based learning emphasizes addressing community identified needs. Undergraduate student learning is an intentional outcome rather than the primary goal. Community-based learning looks to address the root causes of problems and challenge injustice rather than treating symptoms.  Indeed, there are many service-learning examples that match these areas of emphasis. Rather than excluding service-learning, CU Engage looks to build on this work, engage in conversations about goals and practices, and advocate for more critical approaches that attend to distributions of power. Finally, the language of service may be interpreted as reproducing relations of inequality between the university and community.

How is community-based learning different than internships, externships, clinical work, or field studies?

CU Engage strives to maintain a broad definition of community-based learning with various forms of experiential education. There are some important differences. The key criteria that distinguishes community-based learning is whether student experiences are fully integrated with academic course content, include critical reflection, meet community-defined needs, and work with community partners in a mutual and reciprocal way.

There are many internships, externships, clinical work and field studies that meet these criteria.

How is community-based learning different than community service or volunteerism?

While community-based learning, volunteerism and community service all emphasize civic engagement, the difference is that community-based learning involves specific academic courses or internships, has learning objectives, and critical reflection.   

What is critical reflection?

The term critical reflection is used to refer to a structured process that challenges and guides students in (1) examining issues related to their experiences in the community, (2) connecting these experiences to coursework, (3) enhancing the development of civic agency, and (4) assisting understanding the larger structural issues and taken for granted assumptions about the community, social problems, and university-community relationships.

Is community-based learning applicable in all disciplines?

Yes! For more information on community-based learning across the disciplines see www.compact.org or contact the CU Engage.

How do I get started?

Effective community-based learning courses require considerable thought and work. Faculty members who are interested in community-based learning are encouraged to apply for the Faculty Fellows in Community-Based Learning Grant program. They may also request individual consultation from CU Engage.

What is the role of the CU Engage?

CU Engage is a central resource for community-based learning. We are available to assist faculty and staff as they develop and improve community-based learning components in their courses through our Faculty Fellows Program, idea labs, and individual consultation. We can also help indentify community partners, design courses, facilitate reflection, evaluate progress, and publicize and promote best practices in community-based learning and research on campus and in the local community and the world. Aware that we cannot do all the work ourselves, we hope to build a vibrant community who can share expertise, leverage resources, and engage in collaborative work.