Civic Engagement

Audience:

This resource is for instructors who wish to infuse civic engagement into their courses or begin the discussion of civic engagement within the curriculum.

Overview

Civic engagement, service learning, community-based learning, and experiential work within a community are often mentioned within the same contexts but do seek to meet different goals. Depending upon the intended audience, the people doing the work, as well as course-based vs. program-based nature, each of these kinds of civic engagement may have a better fit in different institutions and programs.

What’s the difference?

  • Civic Engagement 1: Often referred to as the umbrella term that encompasses aspects of the following: service learning, community-based learning, experiential work with the community. It is also considered an AAC&U High-Impact Practice.
  • Service Learning 2: According to Billie Hara, “Service learning activities, help students balance what they are learning in a classroom, what they may already know, and what the community can teach them, 3” but the word: “service” has some connotations that are carried over from high-school or work with faith-based organizations, so some instructors choose other language like “civic engagement projects”/”community-based learning.”
  • Community-Based Learning 4: Community-based learning involves a community stakeholder for which students engage on a specific set of tasks or projects. Successful CBL opportunities take into consideration the work that will benefit the community partner rather than having the students/class come up with an idea about what would benefit the community.
  • Experiential Work with Community 5: This is an alternate phrase that allows for more flexibility about the kind of work students or a class may do for a community partner or organization. Often people will use this phrase because they want to include a multi-disciplinary group.

What are some key features of civic engagement opportunities?

As you might imagine from the descriptions above–civic engagement involves working on projects with and for community members, organizations or stakeholders. It is important for the members in the class to work with that stakeholder to do work that benefits the community it is trying to engage with. Oftentimes, civic engagement projects are not reciprocal–so community stakeholders don’t necessarily meet a goal that they had in mind 6. That reciprocity is one of the key features that an instructor, or a project team must grapple with together. It is a constant balance between what the students gain through their experience as well as the goals that the stakeholder has in mind.

The projects that are most unfulfilling are disorganized, do not have a clear goal in mind, and leave both parties feeling dissatisfied with the project 7. To mitigate that reaction, there are a few strategies to ensure the project meets the goals of the community partner as well as the course goals, and student’s individual goals.

  • The instructor can set clear expectations for the students, and the community stakeholder can be clear about the kind of work that their institution needs 8
  • Students must feel that the work they are doing will have a direct impact on a community, so being transparent about how the work affects that specific population is crucial. This can be accomplished through project descriptions, mission statements, and frequent check-ins with the project team(s) 9
  • Setting a project charter with with stakeholder is a practical application of project management that can sometimes alleviate tensions that arise from “who’s responsible” for this part of the project. 10
  • The best projects that engage students in civic work have the best fit; meaning that the objectives of the course fit with the mission of the project, the mission of the community partner’s organization, and the students in the course have the domain specific knowledge to do that work well. 11

Community-based Learning at UW-Green Bay

Luckily, we have a Center for Civic Engagement on our campus, and though it is not a physical center–it has at it’s helm, Dr. Alison Staudinger of Democracy and Justice Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies, and Dr. David Coury of Humanities, and Modern Languages.

As a part of the National Association of System Heads (NASH) Grant, institutions were tasked with finding better assessment metrics for identifying experiences within courses that are also “high-impact.” To do this, programs were able to apply for funds to develop a specific high-impact practice within their program–one of the high-impact practices that multiple programs are working to improve is community-based learning. The programs are creating a scalable model that will then be available for other programs to adapt to suit their needs.

One course specific example of CBL, is a course within the Democracy and Justice Studies’ curriculum: DJS 200: Mentoring for Equity and Inclusion. Here is the course description:

Students will serve as mentors for Green Bay high school students participating in the Federal TRIO Upward Bound program. Mentors will help promote the development of skills critical to academic success, will encourage students to aspire to college, will help overcome barriers to college attainment, and will act as a role model and resource for the underrepresented students served by TRIO programs. A critical component of mentoring will involve learning about the barriers that have historically limited access to college, including low income, racism, and sexism. Mentors will work with local TRIO students at least four hours per week for twelve weeks and will provide mentoring as well as tutoring support.

Assessment

Assessment of Students:

This article, while over twenty years old, provides some examples of assessment variables, indicators, and measurements for students, instructors, community partners, and institutions. The authors also provide a chart of “Mechanisms to Measure Impact” that might be useful in collecting feedback from all partners of the service-learning project 12

The AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics are intended for institutional-level use, but also provides examples of learning outcomes that would be well-positioned in a program’s curriculum if they were relating back to an institution’s mission. This webpage also provides framing language for how an instructor might articulate the differences between community-based learning, service-learning, and community outreach. 13

https://www.aacu.org/civic-engagement-value-rubric

Assessing efficacy of projects 

Blouin and Perry set out to present their findings on the benefits and costs for community-based organizations (CBO), cite three common obstacles to successful service-learning opportunities, and provide three recommendations for an efficacious project or program with a CBO. One challenge the authors cite is “course-CBO fit,” where the goals of the service-learning project or program do not complement the CBO’s (128). For each of the challenges the authors provide recommendations to help institutions address these issues. 14

Who to contact for help:

  • CATL can help instructors design the course, project, assignment, or assessments
  • The Center for Civic Engagement may provide resources about scaling-up at the programmatic level, and may also have contacts in the community who are looking to collaborate

Notes:

  1. The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement. 2012. “A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Future.” Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. https://www.aacu.org/crucible.
  2. Blouin, David D., and Evelyn M. Perry. “Whom Does Service Learning Really Serve? Community-Based Organizations’ Perspectives on Service Learning.” Teaching Sociology 37, no. 2 (April 2009): 120–35. https://doi.org/10.1177/0092055X0903700201.
  3. Hara, Billie. “Service Learning (for Students).” The Chronicle of Higher Education Blogs: ProfHacker (blog), July 8, 2010. https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/service-learning-for-students/25360.
  4. Fisher, Kirsten, Claudia KouyoumdjianBidhan Roy, Valerie Talavera-Bustillos, and Michael Willard. 2016. “Building a Culture of Transparency.” Association of American Colleges & Universities. July 2, 2016. https://www.aacu.org/peerreview/2016/winter-spring/Fisher.
  5. Schwartz, Earl. 2015. “‘Bringing It All Back Home’: An Interdisciplinary Model for Community-Based Learning.” Journal of College and Character 16 (1): 53-61.  https://doi.org/10.1080/2194587X.2014.992910.
  6. Blouin, David D., and Evelyn M. Perry. “Whom Does Service Learning Really Serve? Community-Based Organizations’ Perspectives on Service Learning.” Teaching Sociology 37, no. 2 (April 2009): 120–35. https://doi.org/10.1177/0092055X0903700201.
  7. Perry, James L., Steven Jones, and Orr. Quick Hits for Educating Citizens: Successful Strategies by Award Winning Teachers. Bloomington, UNITED STATES: Indiana University Press, 2006. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uwgb/detail.action?docID=288359.
  8. Dolgon, C, Tania D. Mitchell, and Timothy K. Eatman, eds. The Cambridge Handbook of Service Learning and Community Engagement. Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology. Cambridge, United Kingdom ; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press., 2017.
  9. Blouin, David D., and Evelyn M. Perry. 2009. “Whom Does Service Learning Really Serve? Community-Based Organizations’ Perspectives on Service Learning.” Teaching Sociology 37 (2): 120–35. https://doi.org/10.1177/0092055X0903700201.
  10. Dolgon, C, Tania D. Mitchell, and Timothy K. Eatman, eds. The Cambridge Handbook of Service Learning and Community Engagement. Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology. Cambridge, United Kingdom ; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press., 2017.
  11. Blouin, David D., and Evelyn M. Perry. 2009. “Whom Does Service Learning Really Serve? Community-Based Organizations’ Perspectives on Service Learning.” Teaching Sociology 37 (2): 128. https://doi.org/10.1177/0092055X0903700201.
  12. Driscoll, Amy, Barbara A. Holland, Sherril B. Gelmon, and Seanna Kerrigan. 1996. “An Assessment Model for Service-Learning: Comprehensive Case Studies of Impact on Faculty, Students, Community, and Institution.” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 66–71. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mjcsl/3239521.0003.107/1.
  13. Association of American Colleges and Universities. “Civic Engagement VALUE Rubric.” 2009. https://www.aacu.org/civic-engagement-value-rubric
  14. Blouin, David D., and Evelyn M. Perry. 2009. “Whom Does Service Learning Really Serve? Community-Based Organizations’ Perspectives on Service Learning.” Teaching Sociology 37 (2): 120–35. https://doi.org/10.1177/0092055X0903700201.

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