Types of Community Engaged Learning (CEL)

In thinking more expansively about the ways in which students learn through community-based experiences, it’s clear that “service learning” is inadequate. It fails to describe the variety of ways that learning can happen when students venture into the community and build relationships with those who live and work there. Community Engaged Learning, or CEL, seeks to emphasize the mutuality (or universality) of benefit when those working in the community and those learning in the academy work together for the common good. The following are some primary ways that this happens in course-based settings:

Project-Based Community Engagement

Project-based community engagement invites students to creatively and collaboratively respond to and facilitate more effective operations and fulfillment of partner goals in tangible ways.  Through hands-on projects, students learn experientially while applying what they’ve learned in the classroom.

Example: Students in Dr. Mike Lewis’ Software Systems Capstone course work each semester with a different set of community partners. During the Fall 2022 semester, students partnered with the Fairmont Community Partnership Group, Inc. (FCPGI) to develop a website for the organization. Students worked independently to craft the website based on conversations and electronic communication with FCPGI leadership about the content, layout, and functionality of the site. At the conclusion of the semester, students presented their work to FCPGI for feedback and their use as a live website.

Direct Community Engagement

Instructors and students collaborate with area organizations toward the fulfillment of some ongoing or specific goals articulated by community partners while deepening student learning through theory and practice integration.  This instructional method promotes relationship-building and cultural boundary-crossing which enrich scholarship.

Example: Students in Dr. Emily Shayman’s Introduction to Social Work course support programs at Community Lifeline Ministries in Joliet. Some Lewis students assist with GEMS, an after-school program, which allows them to get to know elementary and middle school youth, helping them with homework and participating in fun activities after school. Other Lewis students work with the Blessing Table, a hot meal site and food pantry where people can come to access food for free.

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