What is Community-Engaged Learning?
Community-engaged learning at Cornell is just what it sounds like: learning that takes place in and with communities. By combining their diverse expertise and skills, teams of faculty, staff, students and community members address global issues and help build a more sustainable, just and collaborative future. These powerful partnerships – the very heart of community-engaged learning – create opportunities to research, teach and learn at home and around the world.
Community-engaged learning projects and programs can look very different, but they all share four important elements. They:
- Address a specific community interest, problem or public concern;
- Include working with and learning from a community partner;
- Connect and integrate community-engaged experiences with educational content; and
- Include structured, documented critical reflection.
Why do it?
When done right, community-engaged learning is a win for everyone involved. Communities see positive change on issues that matter most to them. Faculty infuse their teaching and research with diverse perspectives and ways of knowing. Students learn in new and exciting ways and build a greater sense of belonging at Cornell.
Community-engaged learning can:
- further community partners’ missions and goals by complementing their strengths and enhancing their resources;
- advance faculty’s disciplinary research and teaching in ways that are rigorous, creative and invested in the common good; and
- prepare students to become lifelong learners and leaders with a public purpose who practice respect and empathy; seek collaboration, equity and creativity; and embrace differences and build belonging.
How is it done?
There are three main components to community-engaged learning:
- Preparation: Students learn about the community they will be working with and develop skills to build constructive relationships and bridge cultural differences. This might happen through pre-engagement readings, discussions, workshops or assignments.
- Action: Students collaborate with community partners — face-to-face or virtually — on projects that make a positive difference, benefit the partner and contribute to student learning.
- Reflection: Using guiding questions, journaling, group discussion or other methods, students critically reflect on the meaning of their experiences and what they’ve learned. Plus, they consider next steps and possibilities for future action.
These components apply wherever learning is taking place — in courses, leadership development programs, internships, student group activities, research labs, living-learning environments and more.
The Office of Engagement Initiatives has programs and resources for faculty, staff and students, and we can help connect you with other opportunities throughout the university.