Community Engagement

Resource Title:
Community Engagement

Situating Your Work

Teaching through community engagement is a powerful exercise for all involved. Thinking through the purpose of community collaboration, forms of engagement, and desired student learning outcomes helps faculty members clarify the many decisions they make in creating or revising a course with community connections. This page helps instructors become more aware and explicit about the framework of their course, as well as discover questions and resources that others have found useful.   


U-M students, like the faculty, have a broad range of purposes as they explore courses on community engagement. Some are seeking basic information, some want to engage critically with ideas like community, equity, and power, some are advocates for social justice, and others want to hone skills for activism. These different motivations overlap, and they can lead to one another over time. Being explicit about the different kinds of purposes a course can serve helps students locate their own development and can generate valuable discussion. Talking about the different kinds of skills that instructors and community members cultivate also helps students locate themselves on a trajectory toward future work. 

Forms of Engagement

Community engagement ranges from brief visits to long-term collaborations, and from individual student internships to projects that involve a whole class working together for a term. University students and faculty have engaged in a wide range of commitments and engagements:

  • Visit with a community activist, or visit to a community center
  • Discussion, forums, public meeting in community location
  • Advocacy roles to support work defined and owned wholly by community members, organization
  • Homestay or other forms of living "abroad" in the community, primarily for work or educational purposes
  • Research or teaching project developed with community partner
  • Reports, memoranda, policy statements, or grant proposals developed in collaboration
  • Ongoing service learning projects, with participants who come and go, turn over each semester, etc.
  • Ongoing partnership with community partner(s) to address issues, organize
  • Participatory action research formed with community partners
  • Design or construction project to provide lasting contribution to physical or social infrastructure
  • Documentation project to provide lasting resources for funding requests, community arts or service development projects, for example
  • Drawing together connections at U-M with existing programs in a location

Student Learning Outcomes

Identifying and prioritizing learning outcomes gives focus on both teaching and learning.  Making learning outcomes explicit can help students find the right fit for their skill level, and help them be aware of the multiple dimensions to learning through community engagement. Making outcomes explicit also guides faculty in course design to optimize teaching strategies and assignments of student work.     
  • Background information on history; social, political, and economic power dynamics; past organization efforts; and so forth
  • Analytical skills (understanding key concepts, analyzing problems, writing persuasively)
  • Ability to critically appraise and analyze information
  • Social consciousness, including awareness of community priorities and one's positions and roles
  • Perspective on self and others
  • Collaboration skills

Key Questions for Instructors

  • What kind of community network or organization can you work effectively with: municipal agency or school, NGO, civic organization, or others?
  • What does the organization or group expect to gain from the collaboration?
  • How can this collaboration serve the community, while meeting your pedagogical goals?
  • How does one set about forging community ties that assist rather than direct, are responsive to communities, involve shared decision-making, are built on mutual respect, and yield benefit for both parties?
  • What are good models for recognizing the various kinds of knowledge that are needed for successful collaborations between scholars and community experts?
  • What pedagogical and organizational methods help students learn accountability to community leaders and members, while empowering students at the same time?
  • What is needed to frame student experience so they understand their roles, the contexts of their work, and the larger purposes?
  • What methods will help students reflect on the experiences -- and also encourage them to think deeply about the personal, professional, and scholarly work they are doing?
  • Is privacy important to students and to community members in the work together?

Resources for Getting Started or Refining Your Course

  • This is a comprehensive resource including information about developing partnerships, integrating classroom learning with community experiences, assessing student learning, assessing partnerships, and sustaining community engagement courses.

Understanding Service-Learning  
Establishing Community-Campus Partnerships for Service-Learning
Establishing and Assessing Course Objectives, Learner Outcomes, and Competencies
Planning Course Instruction and Activities
Selecting Texts and Other Learning Resources
Designing Course Evaluation and Improvement Plans
Building Course Infrastructure
Sustaining a Service-Learning Course
Practicing Culturally Competent Service-Learning
Pursuing Opportunities for Service-Learning Scholarship

  • SLICE is an easy-to-search database full of hundreds of service-learning lesson plans, syllabi, and project ideas. Lesson plans are submitted by educators and service-learning practitioners. You can also add your resources to the collection.

University of Michigan Ginsberg Center for Community Service Learning

  • The Ginsberg Center works with faculty, Schools and Colleges to build capacity for service-learning, community-based research, and engaged scholarship. U-M faculty can contact them for assistance in developing community partnerships.
  • Wayne State has a number of resources aimed at faculty designing classes community engagement components including the descriptions of the elements of service-learning, and characteristics of community-based courses. The website also features examples of faculty using service learning in their courses and sample reflection activities for students. 
  • This site contains a number of helpful resources related to course planning and syllabus development, as well as templates for student agreements, tracking site hours, and student reflection.
  • This site has sample partnership agreements, student reflection activities as well as a description of the work involved in creating a successful partnership. The left navigation menu also features a link to FAQs that can be helpful to both faculty and students.
  • Boise State has a comprehensive set of resources from designing a course with community engagement components to evaluating and assessing students. Use the left navigation bar to explore the full range of resources available on the site.