Teaching With Community Engaged Learning

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What is Community Engaged Learning?

There are many definitions of Community-Engaged learning. Here at the University of Minnesota, we use the term to describe a teaching method that incorporates community involvement into coursework. This class-related community involvement enhances students' understanding of course materials. While deepening the learning process in this way, students build a sense of civic responsibility. At that same time, they address community-identified needs.

Students, faculty, and community members all benefit from incorporating community-engaged learning into coursework. It promotes interactive teaching, active learning, new classroom discussion possibilities, civic and learning skills for students, and a connection to the community. It also can lead to new avenues for research and publication.

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Different Types of Community Engaged-Learning

There is a wide range of community-engaged experience that might be incorporated in courses. To help students find specific community-engaged learning opportunities, the following options refer to experiences conducted in community-based settings:

Clinical: Experience through which the student applies and practices learned academic and experiential skills in a supervised professional setting, often in health-related or legal fields. Typically, the experience is offered in a separate credit-bearing course related to other more theoretical courses and/or is offered as a culminating experience after a sequence of theoretical courses. 

Entrepreneurship: Students explore and build skills in planning and/or developing businesses, enterprises, or social ventures.

Field Study: Students practice skills, conduct research, and/or explore academic content in an off-campus setting. The setting is primarily a context to benefit and enhance student learning.

Internship/Co-Op: An uncompensated or compensated off-campus activity in a student's field of study in which the student explores industry-related or work-related issues and/or develops professional or para-professional knowledge and skills. Typically, the student's work is supervised and evaluated by a site coordinator or the instructor. 

Practicum: Course or student exercise involving practical experience in a professional or other work-related setting (paid or unpaid) in which the student applies learning gained from theoretical or other academic study. Activity might include supervised opportunity as part of a pre-service professional experience

Research: Opportunity for students to collaborate with an external organization or community partner to conduct research. The research might or might not meet the needs of the organization or the broader community.

Service-Learning: Optional or required out-of-classroom community service experiences/projects attached to a course or other credit bearing experience. Students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflect on the service activity to better understand course content.

Student Teaching: Pre-professional and/or pre-service experience, usually as part of a teacher education program, through which the student conducts experiential learning within a formal education school setting. The student participates in supervised teaching that is evaluated by a supervising teacher or other instructor.

Standards for Curriculum-Based Community-Engaged Learning Experiences

To provide a mechanism to account for courses and other learning modules that contain a community- engaged learning component, an attribute for community-engaged learning is available in the ECAS system.

Essential Components

When Should the Community-Engaged Learning Attribute be Selected?
The Community-Engaged Learning attribute should be selected if a course or other learning module contains the essential components listed below.

  • At least 25% of the course grade focuses on and/or incorporates community-engaged learning whereby student learning from community-engaged learning experiences is assessed. The course or learning module also offers a method to assess the learning derived from the community- engaged learning experiences.
  • Course objectives demonstrate an integration of an educationally meaningful community-engaged learning to enhance the academic focus of the course. The community experience also promotes the achievement of University of Minnesota student learning and/or student development outcomes.
  • Activities (e.g. readings, discussions, projects, assignments) incorporate the community-engaged learning experience and how it relates to the course subject matter. Students are also required to analyze their community experiences and synthesize these experiences with other materials in the course or learning module.
  • Reflection on community-engaged learning experiences is ongoing and includes dialogue about community issues as appropriate to the course or learning module.
  • If a community-based agency is involved, there is an agreed upon set of expectations and outcomes for all involved.

Recommended Readings on Community Engaged Learning

Available in our library

  • Introduction to Service-Learning Toolkit: Readings and Resources for Faculty
  • Service-Learning Course Design Workbook
  • A Practitioner's Guide to Reflection in Service-Learning: Student Voices & Reflections
  • Facilitating Reflection: A Manual for Higher Education
  • Sample syllabi: Our Resource Library includes sample syllabi from U of M service-learning classes in more than 30 disciplines.
  • American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) series of monographs on service-learning in the disciplines (including volumes for Accounting, Biology, Communication Studies, Composition, Environmental Studies, Management, Medical Education, Nursing, Peace Studies, Philosophy, Planning and Architecture, Religious Studies, Sociology, Teacher Education, and Women's Studies)


Reflection is one of the core components of community engaged-learning. It provides an opportunity for students to thoughtfully process their community work and connect it to their academic interests and personal lives. This is often done through journaling or in a classroom discussion. Reflection in a classroom setting can foster a a greater sense of connection and peer learning. Students who take the time to reflect on their experiences will develop a deeper understanding of the course topic. This is why reflections are a required part of community engaged-learning classes at the University of Minnesota.

Community Engaged Learning Abroad

Learning abroad is a great way to experience community engagement with different cultures. It can broaden our understanding of global citizenship, help show what it means to work in solidarity with someone across the world on the same issues, and bring a fresh perspective on how we might address those issues in the United States. Community engaged-learning has the same components abroad with reflection being an even more crucial component. Often times we don't recognize our idiosyncrasies until we leave the comfort and familiarity of home. Reflection can help us to better understand ourselves and bridge our differences. There are many community engaged-learning opportunities abroad. 

To learn more about these opportunities, check out the Learning Abroad Center website