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Community-Based Learning

Critical CBTL Design Elements

What Community-Based Transformational Learning (CBTL) looks like can vary greatly depending on whether or not it's curricular or co-curricular, the level of engagement, the community partner and the skill level of the students. However, all CBTL experiences share several common elements including clearly articulated learning outcomes, community relationships, active learning strategies / exercises, and reflection-based assignments. Additionally, curricular CBTL is most often presented within a syllabus. These elements and their common characteristics are described more fully in the links below. 
  • Learning Outcomes

    UNF's mission and values provide the guiding framework for determining the intended learning outcomes of Community-Based Transformational Learning (CBTL) courses, projects and activities. CBTL builds on UNF's public responsibilities and "evolves directly from the university's commitments to authentic learning, the cultivation of citizenship and stewardship of place" (University of North Florida, Strategic Plan 2009-2014, 13). Therefore, while students are transformed in many and complex ways through their higher education experiences, this initiative focuses on four transformational domains: intercultural competence, ethical character, effective citizenship and integrated connections.

    Community-based activities are meant to enhance course or project content. The experience should allow faculty or staff to achieve their desired learning outcomes, as well as touch upon one of the four designated learning outcomes: Intercultural Competence, Ethical Character, Effective Citizenship, Integrated Connections.  These outcomes can be assessed through the University-Wide Community-Based Transformational Learning Assessment process.

  • Community Engagement

    Building Community Relationships

    A CBTL project relies heavily on working with a community organization. Building strong community relationships is an important component of CBTL, not only because it's the CB in CBTL, but because the community organization(s) will play a large role in the learning experiences of the student(s). As these projects and relationships grow, partnerships begin to develop between the university and community. A true partnership is one where each partner plays a role in creating the partnership's goals, devising the plan, contributing to the work and benefiting from it.

    Faculty and staff often need to begin with the end in mind when planning for their CBTL course, project or activity. Before a community organization is approached or brought into the planning process, the lead faculty or staff person should have a general idea of how a community-based component will fit within their course, project or activity. It's important in a CBTL course or project that the community-based component is relevant and helpful to the rest of the curriculum.

    Once a faculty or staff member has determined that they would like to try CBTL, they should determine what community organization(s) might fit well with their course, project or activity. Determining the organization can be done through the Center for Community-Based Learning (CCBL) or personal connections. Often times a community organization may approach the faculty or staff member directly, in that case it's important to remember who initiated the relationship and why. From here, an initial meeting should be scheduled between the faculty/staff and a representative from the community organization (staff from the CCBL are available to attend these meetings as well). Below are a few tips to assist in establishing relationships once the faculty or staff member has made connection with an organization.

    • Share each other's history, traditions, assets, interests, needs, etc. 
    • Meet agency representatives at their location whenever possible (note any visible risks as well as information that might be helpful for the student later on: parking, location, etc.)
    • Share the course/project's learning outcomes and goals
    From here, both parties should be able to determine whether or not the connection is a match. If it is, the following tips can be used in strengthening and building towards a true partnership.
    • Develop a common language for the partnership
    • Develop clear expectations, a timeline and anticipated outcomes
    • Discuss the roles each party will play
    • Establish a process for feedback and assessment
    • Articulate risks (determine if an affiliation or agency agreement is needed)
    • Discuss and agree on any ownership concerns upfront 
    • Relate to students the importance of the agency and the partnership

    In most cases, these steps should be completed with both the faculty/staff and community organization representative present. Both sides should listen and be flexible in discussing the initial plan. After all, the relationship should be rewarding for all parties involved. Once the project is underway it's natural for the relationship to change. Several factors can affect the relationship, such as: a change in needs, turnover in personnel, misunderstood expectations or a project is nearing completion. Building to a true partnership will require regular communication, negotiation and assessment.

    For assistance in working with a community organization, please contact the Center for Community-Based Learning.

    Principles of Partnerships

    Community-based experiences require a community partner or organization with which students will interact. True CBTL experiences consist of mutually-beneficial projects for both the students and community organization(s). A basic relationship can evolve into a partnership over time. Below is a list of characteristics indicative of good community-university partnerships. 
    • Partnerships form to serve a specific purpose and may take on new goals over time.
    • Partners have agreed upon mission, values, goals, measurable outcomes and accountability for the partnership.
    • The relationship between partners is characterized by mutual trust, respect, genuineness, and commitment.
    • The partnership builds upon identified strengths and assets, but also works to address needs and increase capacity of all partners.
    • The partnership balances power among partners and enables resources among partners to be shared.
    • Partners make clear and open communication an ongoing priority by striving to understand each other's needs and self-interests, and developing a common language.
    • Principles and processes for the partnership are established with the input and agreement of all partners, especially for decision-making and conflict resolution.
    • There is feedback among all stakeholders in the partnership, with the goal of continuously improving the partnership and its outcomes.
    • Partners share the benefits of the partnership's accomplishments.
    • Partnerships can dissolve and need to plan a process for closure.

    Principles of Good Community-Campus Partnerships
    Adopted by the CCPH board of directors, October 2006

  • Syllabi Construction

    Key CBTL Syllabi Components

    Communicating to students the importance of and reason for using Community-Based Learning pedagogies is a critical step in developing and delivering Community-Based Transformational Learning (CBTL) courses. Naturally, CBTL courses vary based on the pedagogy used and the discipline engaged.  What all high quality CBTL courses have in common, however, is a structure that addresses three components listed below. How a faculty member incorporates these components into the syllabus may be organic or in a special section. The three components are:

    ACTIVITY: A section of the syllabus (e.g. Course description, Teaching Methods) should include a description of and purpose for the community-based activities. Information such as who the community partner is and how students will engage with the community should be explicit.  There should be information explaining the student’s and community partner’s role in and intended benefits from the activity. Information should also be provided regarding any alternative activities available for students with accommodation requests.  The syllabus should include an ADA statement that reminds students to submit requests for reasonable accommodation.  A recommended ADA statement from The UNF Student Accessibility Center is available on their website.

    ALIGNMENT: A section of the syllabus (e.g. Course Outcomes/Objectives) should indicate to students that the community-based activity is connected with at least one of the course outcomes which aligns with one of the University-wide CBTL outcomes. Often, a faculty member finds it useful to include the definition of Community-Based Transformational Learning in this section.

    ASSIGNMENT:  A section of the syllabus (e.g. Assignments) should include a description of a reflection assignment that will help students connect the community-based experience(s) to course content. Students should be informed of what medium will be used to capture the reflection and how that artifact may be used in university-wide assessment. A statement regarding the use of student work in university-wide assessment should be included in the syllabus.

    University-wide CBTL Assessment Statement

    All CBTL courses should include a statement regarding the use of their work for university-wide assessment.The UNF Center for Community-Based Learning suggests that the following statement be included in all CBTL course syllabi:

    “The University of North Florida is committed to providing quality education and to assuring that students gain the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful after they graduate. Assessment of student learning provides information needed to make improvements in UNF programs, course content, and teaching. During this course your instructor will collect and submit samples of your work to determine program effectiveness.

    You should know that:

    • You may choose not to have samples of your work submitted by notifying your instructor anytime during your course via email
    • No identifying information such as your name or N-number will be included on the samples sent for program assessment
    • Your course grade will not be affected by participating in this program assessment process
    • Information about the summative results of this assessment is reported to UNF stakeholders, including the Board of Governors of the Florida State University System; the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; and professional accreditors”
  • Planning & Implementation Timeline

    In order for the community-based component to link to the faculty or staff member's desired learning outcomes, there are some important steps to consider early on in the planning process of a CBTL course, project or activity. For instance, it's important to realize that the relationship with the community partner should begin at least a semester prior to the course or activity. As this is the building block for the off-campus experience, a good relationship should be built early on. Other issues arise during and after the course.

    The Center for Community-Based Learning has developed various timelines and guides to help faculty and staff members to plan for the logistics involved in a CBTL course, project, or activity. These documents are for planning, implementing, and assessing CBTL experiences. They are meant as general guidelines and may need tweaks based on course/activity content, level of engagement, personal preferences, and whether or not the experience has been conducted before.

    These guides and timelines can be accessed by faculty and staff members thru SharePoint.

  • Risk Management

    A primary concern for many faculty and staff members centers around the potential for risk when students leave campus to work with community organizations. In an effort to aide faculty and staff through the risk management process, a working group has put together several documents.

    These documents can be accessed by faculty and staff members thru SharePoint.

    For additional information on risk management best practices and documentation, please refer to UNF Office of the General Counsel.