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What is community engagement?

Service-learning defined community engagement is 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 partnership and reciprocity.

What is curricular engagement?

Curricular engagement includes institutions where teaching, learning, and scholarship engage faculty, students, and community in mutually beneficial and respectful collaboration. Their interactions address community-identified needs, deepen students’ civic and academic learning, enhance community well-being, and enrich the scholarship of the institution.

What is service-learning?

Service-Learning is a structured learning experience that combines community service with preparation and reflection. Students engaged in service-learning provide community service in response to community-identified concerns and learn about the context in which service is provided, the connection between their service and their academic coursework, and their role as community members.

What is the difference between community service and volunteering?

Volunteering focuses on the benefits to the service recipients. The students receive some benefits by learning more about how their service makes a difference in the lives of the service recipients, but there are no specific learning objectives. Service-learning is integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum of students engaged in service, or the educational components of the community service program in which the participants are enrolled. Service-learning provides structured time for thoughtful planning of the service project and guided reflection by participants on the service experience. Overall, the most important feature of effective service-learning programs is that both learning and service are emphasized.

Is service-learning a new idea?

The practice of service-learning dates back much further than the term itself, beginning with educational movements and social change in the late 1880s. The intellectual foundations of service-learning in the United States trace back to the early 1900s with the work of John Dewey, William James, and others who promoted models of “learning by doing,” and linked service to personal and social development. The term “service-learning” was coined by two educators in 1967 to describe the combination of conscious educational growth with the accomplishment of certain tasks that meet genuine human needs.

How do I start a service learning project?

There are several resources to help you investigate and start a service-learning project. OU’s Program for Instructional Innovation in the Center for Teaching Excellence assists teaching faculty and organizational units to provide educational programs of the highest possible quality and would be a good place to start. 

For resources to help design your service learning course.  

Principles of Good Practice for Service-Learning Pedagogy

  1. Academic credit is for learning, not for service.
  2. Do not compromise academic rigor.
  3. Establish learning objectives.
  4. Establish criteria for the selection of service placements.
  5. Provide educationally sound learning strategies to harvest community learning and realize course learning objectives.
  6. Prepare students for learning from the community.
  7. Minimize the distinction between the students’ community learning role and classroom learning role.
  8. Rethink the faculty instructional role.
  9. Be prepared for variation in, and some loss of control of, student learning outcomes.
  10. Maximize the community responsibility orientation of the course.

[Howard, J., Service-Learning Course Design Workbook, 2001, pp. 16-19].

Connecting with Community Partners

Types of partnerships:

One Faculty/Staff Member, One Community Partner

One Student Organization, One Community Partner

One Campus Partner, Multiple Community Partners

Multiple Campus Partners, One Community Partner

Community Engagement Office Partnering with Many Community Partners

Place-Based or Issue-Based Partnerships 

Steps to Developing a Partnership:

  1. Learn all you can about potential partners through online, media, and personal sources.
  2. Carefully consider the nature of the commitment you are willing to make.
  3. Start early.
  4. Take the time to get to know one another as people, always remembering that communication is key.
  5. Determine whether there is compatability.
  6. Ask the right questions.
  7. Stay in touch.
  8. Ascertain how you will know the degree of the success of your partnership.
  9. Celebrate success.

Jacoby, Barbara. 2017 Service-learning essentials: questions, answers, and lessons learned.  Jossey-Bass.

Creating and Maintaining Partnerships Toolbox

Connecting Communities with Colleges and Universities

Phases of partnership development
Because partnerships are constantly changing, community engagement needs to be examined
in relation to the different processes of a partnership project’s development and reviewed on a regular basis. It has been suggested that there are up to twelve different phases involved in partnering. These have been drawn together into five broad phases in which review processes (monitoring and evaluation) are implicit within each.**

  1. Scoping: researching the contextual case for partnership and drawing on relevant prior experiences. Selecting partners by identifying incentives for working together, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of potential contributions and the value and risks of working together.
  2. Initiating: establishing the ground rules for collaboration. Agreeing on core principles, objectives and goals, the different roles and responsibilities that will be undertaken as well as appropriate partnership structures.
  3. Implementing: ensuring the engagement of all partners and monitoring that tasks are being carried out as agreed. Developing and reviewing management and decision-making structures and using appropriate systems for communication, accounting, reporting, conflict resolution etc.
  4. Consolidating: strengthening and refining methods for working together effectively. Building appropriate structures and mechanisms for the partnership to ensure longer-term commitment and continuity and reinforcing wider societal linkages.
  5. Sustaining/terminating: making decisions about what should happen after a partnership has completed its activities. Agreeing on an appropriate conclusion or developing further work.

*These include scoping, identifying, building, planning, managing, resourcing, implementing, measuring, reviewing, revising, institutionalising and sustaining or terminating. See Tennyson, R. (2004) The Partnering Toolbook, IBLF, London, p4

**These phases are not intended to demonstrate a linear progression of how a partnership model should develop as they may overlap and/or occur at different times during a partnership’s development.

From Stott, Leda and Tracey Keatman. May 2005 Tools for Exploring Community Engagement in Partnerships.

Community Based Research

Community engaged research is a collaborative process between the researcher and community partner that creates and disseminates knowledge and creative expression with the goal of contributing to the discipline and strengthening the well-being of the community.

Engaged Scholarship toolkit

This toolkit will help:

  • To add clarity to the meaning and conceptualization of community-engaged scholarship in a research university context;
  • To provide a rationale for why to do it and resources on how to do it well;
  • To provide tools and assistance for faculty at research universities to document engaged scholarship for reward and promotion (i.e., how to get credit for it); and
  • To provide tools and assistance for enabling the assessment of engaged scholarship (i.e., for faculty reward and promotion).

Calleson D, Kauper-Brown J, Seifer SD. Community-Engaged Scholarship Toolkit. Seattle: Community-Campus Partnerships for Health, 2005. 

Assessing student learning outcomes

For the deepest learning to occur, reflection must be an ongoing component of the service learning course or program. 

Forms of reflection:  Speaking or oral reflection; writing; activities (reflection through action); media and artisitic creation. 

  • Step 1: State your learning outcome.
  • Step 2: Introduce the concept and practice of critical reflection.
  • Step 3: Design a reflection strategy to achieve the learning outcomes.  
  • Step 4: Engage the students. 

For examples of critical reflection see:

Service Reflection Toolkit (pdf)

Course/Issue/Theory/Client Focused Questions

Models of Engagement at Research Universities

University of Connecticut 

Our mission is to assist faculty, students, and communities reach their goals in mutual collaboration.

Service Learning is a pedagogy that promotes the formation of collaborative, sustainable partnerships between the university and the community. Faculty members and students work together with community partners to identify solutions to society's most pressing issues; food justice, social equality, health disparities, homelessness, economic and small business development, education, climate change, transportation systems, and clean, sustainable energy and air systems.

Michigan State

Outreach is a form of scholarship that cuts across teaching, research, and service. It involves generating, transmitting, applying, and preserving knowledge for the direct benefit of external audiences in ways that are consistent with university and unit missions.

Provost’s Committee on University Outreach (1993)
University Outreach at Michigan State University:
Extending Knowledge to Serve Society

University of Michigan

Our mission is to cultivate and steward mutually beneficial partnerships between communities and the University of Michigan in order to advance social change for the public good.

Based upon this mission, our vision is for inclusive democracy; thriving, diverse communities; and equity and social justice.

Edward Ginsberg Center, University of Michigan

University of Iowa

At the University of Iowa, we define outreach and engagement as collaboration between faculty, staff and students and diverse external groups in mutually beneficial partnerships that are grounded in scholarship and consistent with our role and missions of teaching, research and service. The following programs are a collection of the university's outreach and engagement initiatives. We are working with the university community to collect and verify additional outreach and engagement programs.

Montana State University

The Office of Student Engagement (OSE) provides and facilitates student engagement opportunities for MSU students through a variety of programs, events, services, and activities. We are THE HUB for students interested in connecting with their fellow Bobcats through student government, student organizations, programs and events, and engaging in service to the community.

University of Tennessee-Knoxville

We facilitate service-learning partnerships across a multitude of academic disciplines and community sectors. We do this by supporting faculty in the design of quality, reciprocal service-learning courses that help “move the needle” on issues affecting our local, state, national, and global communities.

 Weber State University

The Center For Community Engaged Learning, formerly the Community Involvement Center established in June 2007, is a strategic partnership between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs that provides both curricular and co-curricular community engagement opportunities for campus constituents in partnership with local community organizations. Students, faculty, staff, alumni and community partners come to the CCEL to create connections and opportunities to give and grow through learning and experience, and to build a community that thrives.

The main mission of the center is to engage students, faculty and staff members in service, democratic engagement, and community research to promote civic participation, build community capacity, and enhance the educational process.

TRUCEN-The Research Universities and Civic Engagement Network

In recent years, increasing numbers of colleges and universities have engaged in innovative efforts to reinvigorate and prioritize civic engagement and involvement in their surrounding communities. Recognizing research universities’ potential to provide leadership on this issue, Campus Compact and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University created The Research University Civic Engagement Network (TRUCEN).
A select number of universities were invited to join TRUCEN including the University of Oklahoma. Members had to be existing Campus Compact members and designated ” very high research universities,” by the Carnegie Classification. Members also had to be committed to strengthening and advancing civic and community engagement at research universities.

TRUCEN’s goal is to share existing reserach, collaborate on new research projects, provide resources, gathering national data on community engagement. The group meets on an annual basis to continue exploring ways to advance civic and community engagement among research universities and other institutions of higher education and to generate additional models and resources to support this effort.


New Times Demand New Scholarship

The statement, endorsed by the entire group, argues that research universities’ exceptional faculty, students, financial resources, and research facilities position them to contribute to community change relatively quickly and in ways that will ensure deeper and longer-lasting commitment to civic engagement across higher education.

New Times Demand New Scholarship II: Research Universities and Civic Engagement:

TRUCEN report on four critical areas: 1) engaged scholarship, 2) scholarship focused on civic and community engagement, 3) educating students for civic and community engagement, and 4) advancing civic engagement within and across research universities. Report also includes models from participating research universities.

Assessing Community-University Partnerships

Reciprocal partnerships between the university and community can build substantial outcomes for both partners.  How do we know our impact and improve our mutually beneficial partnerships?  It is important to consider impact and sustainability as we design and develop partnerships and provide opportunities for feedback through shared decision making and assessment. 

Ask your community partner to fill out our evaluation here

How to do Community-Academic/University Partnerships Well

Engagement Through University-Community Partnerships (pdf)

Supporting University-Community Partnerships through Shared Governance and Assessment (pdf)

Faculty Spotlight: Heather Shotton

Heather Shotton

Course Title: NAS 3323

Course Description: Exploration of contemporary issues relevant to Native American tribes and communities, utilizing critical thinking and problem-solving skills relevant to contemporary issues within the Indian Country to develop and implement a service project for a tribe or Native American community.

Native Learning Community and Service Learning

In 2010, Dr. Heather Shotton began working with the Chickasaw Nation's Chokka' Kilimpi' Learning Community on OU's campus. They worked together on a project to both connect Chickasaw students to their tribe while also teaching them how to give back to their community. While this was service learning in essence, it was not yet officially an OU course.
"It was a really great model that we would later use to help develop the Tribal Service Learning Course" said Shotton.

This initial project showed Dr. Shotton and the Director of Chokka' Kilimpi' Service Learning Community, the type of impact service learning has both on the community and students. One of the most critical lessons the students learned, Shotton said, was how to work with tribes. She described the importance of listening to the needs of the community.

"What has typically happened when Universities have worked with tribes or academics have worked with tribes is that they come in with this very paternalistic mindset that they have the answer, but the students really had to learn how to work with the representatives from the Chickasaw Nation and learn how to listen about what the Chickasaw Nation wanted and needed,"  Shotton said.

After this first semester, Dr. Shotton and the Chickasaw Learning Community decided to turn this joint effort into an officially credited NAS course. This course was originally targeted towards Chickasaw students and had the same goal of connecting the students to their Nation. However, Shotton wanted the students to be able to utilize a course in NAS. 

"We wanted to see this class help the students understand historical issues, to understand the Chickasaw Nation, to understand tribal governance, and to understand and learn about project development all the while tying this all back to the broader issues in their project and their classes."

Unlike other service learning courses, The Chickasaw Service Learning Course stretched the length of three semesters. The first semester primarily focused on building a relationship with the Chickasaw Nation, the second semester was spent developing the project, and the third semester was when the students finalized their project, put it into practice and presented their work to the Governor Anoatubby and his governance board.   

This was a very unique way we handled this service learning course. We offered it under our special topics section so we had the flexibility."

This experience showed Dr. Shotton and the NAS department that their students wanted a service learning course.

"Because it had worked well with the Chickasaw Nation and the Chokka' Klimpi' Learning Community, we wanted to make this more permanent within the NAS department. From an indigenous perspective, the values of reciprocity are really central to our communities. From an NAS perspective, what is central to the discipline is engaging in work that will ultimately benefit tribal communities and tribal nations. From this we transitioned into the Tribal Service Learning Course. We wanted to see what other ways our students could bring impact to the Native community by working with other tribes and potentially National Native organizations," Shotton said.

In the Fall of 2013, the first Tribal Service Learning Course was offered. This first class worked with the National Indian Education Association. NIEA needed help developing a survey to send to their members to get a picture of what the needs of their Native educators were. The OU students developed this survey, administered it in South Dakota at the NIEA conference, analysed the data, and gave recommendations back to the Executive Director all in a semester. 

"This experience showed the students the responsibility and privilege of being at a University.  It emphasized our value of using higher education to give back to our communities," Shotton said.

Currently, the NAS Department rotates the instructors of their service learning course in an effort to make the most impact on Indian Country while also diversifying the experience and perspective of the professor for the students.

Faculty Biography:

Heather Shotton is a citizen of the Wichita & Affiliated Tribes, and is also of Kiowa and Cheyenne descent. She serves as an Associate Professor in Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma. She received her doctorate in Adult and Higher Education from the University of Oklahoma in 2008. Dr. Shotton’s research focuses on Indigenous students in higher education and Indigenous women, particularly in the areas of leadership and Indigenous women in academia. She served as a co-editor for the book, Beyond the Asterisk: Understanding Native Students in Higher Education (Stylus), which addresses strategies for serving Native college students, and is a co-editor for the forthcoming book, Reclaiming Indigenous Research in Higher Education (Rutgers University Press). She has been faculty at OU for nine years. Prior to returning to OU she served as Assistant Director of Multicultural Student Affairs at Oklahoma City University. She has spent her career serving students both in and out of the classroom. Dr. Shotton is the past president for the National Indian Education Association and was recently named the NIEA Educator of the Year. She is a strong advocate for Native education and serves Native students and communities on a national and local level. She lives in Norman with her partner John Shotton, and their two daughters Sloan and Sophie.

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