Develop a Community-Engaged Course

What is community-engaged learning?

Community-engaged learning is a teaching method that combines community service with academic instruction, focusing on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility. The Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) supports the development and mission of community-engaged learning across the Binghamton University campus. Community-engaged learning programs involve students in organized community service that addresses local needs, while developing their academic skills, sense of civic responsibility and commitment to the community (Definition has been adapted from Campus Compact).

A community-engaged course:

  • Uses experiential strategies characterized by student participation in an organized service activity
  • Is connected to specific learning outcomes
  • Meets identified community needs
  • Provides structured time for students to analyze and connect the service experience to learning

Community engagement can be carried out in several different ways. For example, it can be a one-time project incorporated into a specific course, providing students the opportunity to apply course content to a particular community need. It may also entail ongoing work with a community or agency on specified programs or projects that relate to the course or discipline.

To begin organizing and constructing your community-engaged learning course, consider four basic principles:

  1. Engagement: Does the service meet a real community need? Has that been defined by your local community? How?
  2. Reflection: Do you have mechanisms built throughout the semester to support students in making connections between the course content and service experiences?
  3. Reciprocity: Is the partnership going to provide mutually beneficial outcomes for students and the community partners? Do both serve as teacher and learner equally?
  4. Public dissemination: Is the outcome of the service activity/project presented to the organization for current and future use? How?

Adapted from: Heffernan, K. (2001). Fundamentals of service-learning course connection. Providence: Campus Compact.

CCE resources for developing a community-engaged course

In addition to these online resources, the CCE can provide sample course syllabi, referrals to community partners and various print and electronic resources on service-learning pedagogy and course development.

Other resources

The following resources will also help you get started on designing a community-engaged course: