Terms & Definitions

Provided here are brief explanations of some of the terms commonly used on college campuses in conjunction with civic engagement. You may notice some closely related and overlapping meanings. Of course, each campus has its own understanding of these terms and they may differ significantly from what is provided below.

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 Applied Learning – a learning process that fosters deep understanding and engagement, stemming from the "learning by doing" approach.

Applied Research – a process that involves taking discovery from basic research and applying those discoveries to practical problems, often in work or community settings.

Apprentice – Although this term is rarely used at Binghamton University, it generally refers to a student who is pursuing a specific trade or skill.

 Civic Engagement – Individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern. Civic engagement can take many forms, from individual volunteerism to organizational involvement to electoral participation. It can include efforts to directly address an issue, work with others in a community to solve a problem or interact with the institutions of representative democracy. Civic Engagement encompasses a range of activities such as working in a soup kitchen, serving on a neighborhood association, writing a letter to an elected official or voting. (Source: Pew Charitable Trusts)

Clinical experience – the experiential component in medical and psychology education in which students practice and apply the theories they have learned in the classroom setting.

Community Engagement – the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of reciprocity. The purpose of community engagement is the partnership of college and university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good. (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 2014)

Community service – working directly with or on behalf of members of a community to address an identified need or provide other benefit.

Cooperative education (co-op) – an academic program which enables college students (traditionally in engineering or business) to enter employer-paid work experiences in business, industry, government, and human services as part of academic credit- bearing training. It gives students an opportunity to apply academic theory to real work situations, acquire career experience, enhance personal growth, and earn an income to help defray college expenses. Often site hosts are also paid and become an integral part of the student's academic program.

Experiential education – educational pedagogy that provides an environment for students to put theory into practice, resulting in intentional outcomes. Learning activities are used to engage the learner directly in the phenomena being studied. Examples include cooperative education, internships and service-learning.

Field study/work/experience – 1) student involvement in implementation of learned skills or programs specific to a profession in off-campus settings, or 2) student participation in first-hand collection of data to investigate a subject in a community setting.

Independent study – educational program where students study a topic in-depth guided by a faculty member but do not actually attend class. Instead, they work on written and field assignments and are awarded academic credit after meeting criteria set by the institution

Internship – Borrowed from the field of medicine, this term can refer to a broad range of work experiences. At BU, program requirements vary depending on the student's major, status (undergrad or grad), if they are paid, whether they are part- or full-time, and if the student is enrolled for credit. Organizations should be in close contact with the BU office/academic department referring interns, to ascertain expectations and requirements. Whether developed by a BU office or the individual student, his/her work is carefully monitored and is guided by intentional learning goals. The student also actively reflects on what she or he is learning throughout the experience. Learning goals may include:

  • Academic learning – the individual can apply knowledge learned in the classroom to the workplace and/or society;
  • Career development – the individual gains knowledge of the qualifications and duties of a position and can explore interest in a field;
  • Skill development – the individual gains an understanding of the skills and knowledge required in the workplace and/or other contexts;
  • Personal development – the individual gains decision-making skills, critical thinking skills, increased confidence and self-esteem.

Internships vary in duration—they can last from less than a month to more than two years, typically lasting one semester. They can take place in any setting.

Nursing internships involve the work period immediately following the formal education of the student, after the completion of the academic program. The internship is arranged by the clinical setting, not by the academic program. Usually the new graduate is employed by the clinical institution. In nursing, it represents a supervised orientation program in order to ease the transition from student to staff nurse. Though states may vary, the graduate has completed the licensing exam.

Practicum – hands-on student experience of applying classroom learning to real-life situations, especially in professional fields.

Project – a planned piece of work with defined beginning and end points, which requires the application of problem-solving strategies and theoretical knowledge to problems which often are real-world or mirror real-world problems.

Service-learning – a credit-bearing educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility. Unlike extracurricular voluntary service, service learning is a course-based service experience that produces the best outcomes when meaningful service activities are related to course material through reflection activities such as directed writings, small group discussions, and class presentations. Unlike practica and internships, the experiential activity in a service-learning course is not necessarily skill-based within the context of professional education. Service learning provides an additional means for reaching educational objectives, and academic credit is appropriate for service activities when learning objectives associated with the service are identified and evaluated. (Source: Bringle and Hatcher, 1996)

A service-learning component can be added to almost any course. Addressing community needs and reflection are vital components to a service-learning experience. Examples of academic service-learning include:

  • Accounting class – students develop accounting systems for non-profit organizations.
  • Sociology class on juvenile delinquency – students visit a residential home for children to provide one-on-
  • one tutoring/mentoring.
  • Chemistry – students lead an after-school Chemistry Club for junior high school students.

Student teachers or student nurses – these students are in a structured, college-supervised learning experience and may be fulfilling education or nursing licensing requirements. Most often, they are not paid, work as a required part of their curriculum, and their programs have very clear standards and protocol that are guided by state requirements for professional licensing. Supervisors are often paid and asked to grade student efforts.

Volunteer – these students provide a community service and are unpaid, not enrolled in courses for credit, and may or may not be affiliated with an extracurricular group or activity.

Last Updated: 2/6/15