The Wang Center for Global and Community Engaged Education provides support to faculty interested in developing community-engaged scholarship and teaching. Contact the Wang Center Executive Director, Tamara Williams, at if you are interested in discussing CEL coursework.

Design a CEL Course

At PLU, Community Engaged Learning (CEL) is a pedagogical model that incorporates classroom learning with local engagement with community partners. CEL courses are deliberately designed to help students integrate classroom and community-based learning through critical reflection, and assessment. In CEL courses, classroom learning strengthens students’ understanding of community concerns and community engagement strengthens students’ understanding of course content. CEL includes service-learning, community-based learning and community-based research.

Community-engaged learning is: a structured learning experience that combines community service or research with explicit learning objectives, preparation, and reflection. Students involved in community-engaged learning are expected not only to provide direct community service or respond to questions generated among community partners, but also to learn about the context in which the service is provided, the connection between service or research and their academic coursework, and their roles as citizens (Seifer, S.; Jacoby, B.).

Benefit of CEL for students:

  • Personal and Interpersonal Development
  • Academic Enrichment
  • Civic Development
  • Professional Development
  • Deeper understanding of PLU’s Integrated Learning Objectives

Benefit of CEL for faculty:

  • Enrich student engagement
  • Reinforces course learning objectives

Benefit of CEL for community partners:

  • Increase capacity
  • Build awareness of local concerns
  • Enhance collaborative opportunities

Community engaged learning courses require advance planning. We recommend that you begin developing the course a minimum of one semester before it will be offered. Strong CEL courses state explicit learning objectives that are linked to student engagement in the community, invite students to critically examine the term, “service”, ongoing critical reflection, continual integration of community experiences with course readings, and multiple forms of assessment that invite students, faculty and community partners to evaluate learning.

Course Learning Objectives:

What are your course learning objectives and how does CEL support them? Most CEL courses explicitly link CEL to a minimum of 50% of the learning objectives stated on the syllabus.

How will classroom learning inform the community-engaged learning experience? How will community-engaged learning inform your course objectives?

Community-Engaged Learning Options:

Service Learning: “is a teaching and learning approach that integrates community service with academic study to enrich learning, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities”  (National Commission on Service Learning, 2002). Ex. Ecology students design a native, low-maintenance, sustainable landscape area for a local low-income housing development.

Community-Based Learning: includes community-based, reflective learning experiences where students engage the community, but do not participate in “service”. Ex. Writing 101 students write reflective essays on the importance of “place” after riding buses, visiting grocery stores and interviewing civic leaders.

Community-Based Research: “is a partnership of students, faculty and community members who collaboratively engage in research with the purpose of solving a pressing community problem or effecting social change” (Strand, et al, 2003) Ex. Sociology students interviewing local food bank clients to enhance food bank services.

Which Community-Engaged Learning Option might be best for you?

Service Learning      Community-Based Learning         Community-Based Research

Do you want students to be working together or alone with community partners?

Prepping the students for CEL:

Many students have participated in courses that include a volunteer experience. Few students have participated in thoughtfully designed CEL courses that integrate classroom and community learning. It is often appropriate to spend a class section on the who, why, what and how of CEL.

Who: Helping students understand that the educator(s) in this course are not restricted to the classroom. Students interaction with community leaders, clients and their experiences will provide a rich educational experience.

Why: Helping Students recognize why CEL is necessary. CEL courses help students develop academically, socially, professionally and as participatory citizens of a community.

What: Helping students understand the connections between the course objectives and the ways that CEL experiences will enhance their understanding of the subject matter.

How: Helping students understand that how they engage in the community reflects themselves, their peers, their faculty member, and PLU as an institution. We also encourage students to consider the way that power plays into their engagement, being reflective of what it means to be seen as a “server”, “helper” or “fixer”.

Representatives from CCES are happy to come to your class to orient students on the who, why, what and how of CEL. For additional information, please visit the CEL Resources tab.

Community Partners:

  1. Which community partners are you familiar with?
  2. Which community partners is your department familiar with?
  3. Which community partners does PLU have a relationship with? (See list)
  4. Am I interested in partnering with one organization or multiple organizations?
  5. Duration of relationship:
    1. Semester-long engagement (one-time engagement)
    2. On-going engagement (start over each semester)
    3. Continual engagement (advance the work of previous semesters)
  6. Are other departmental colleagues interested in collaborating in on-going or continual engagement?

Course Preparation:

We strongly encourage PLU faculty to meet with community partners prior to the course so that course goals can be shared and community partners might better understand their role in student learning. Conversely, PLU faculty are able to understand the role that students will play in community programs and organizations.

  1. Can you meet with community partners prior to the beginning of the course?
  2. Is the community partner willing/able to come to class to introduce themselves and/or have the class visit a community partner prior to their community-engaged learning experience?
  3. How are students prepared to participate in community-engaged learning?
    1. Do students see their CEL experience as “extra” or “integrated”?
    2. Do students understand that CEL is a pedagogical tool designed to enhance learning?
    3. Do students recognize their role in representing the university in the CEL experience?
    4. Are students challenged to think about the role that power dynamics play in working with community partners?

Course Logistics:

Logistics can play a paralyzing role in community-engaged learning. Know that the Wang Center can be helpful in addressing concerns regarding transportation, liability forms and convening partnership meetings.

  1. Do we know what PLU’s liability risks are?
  2. Do we know what community partners’ liability risks are?
  3. Have we done all that we can to cover both parties?

All PLU students with a van license can drive PLU vans. Often times, departments, divisions and the Wang Center can sponsor van travel.

Critical Reflection:

Critical reflection is an important component of CEL. It is important that students reflect on their experiences throughout the course to offer feedback to faculty, to reduce the likelihood of stereotypes being reinforced and frame important questions that could be beneficial for the rest of the class.

  1. How are students reflecting throughout their CEL experience?
  2. Should other students be part of this reflection process?
  3. Should community partners be part of this reflection process?


Faculty are invited to consider the role that students play in assessing themselves, the role that faculty play in assessing student work and the role that community partners play in assessing student learning.

  1. Are students assessed on their learning? On their engagement?
  2. Are community partners invited to weigh in on assessing students?
  3. Are students assessed on the integration of community-engaged learning and classroom learning?

Selecting the right community partner(s) is an essential step in designing and Community Engaged Learning Course. We encourage faculty and community partners alike to commit to partnering for a minimum of one semester. Faculty should consider the mission, vision and ethos of the community organization, how the organization’s work aligns with course learning outcomes,  how well equipped an organization is to engage students, and whether or not the organization supports PLU’s strategic engagement in the Parkland community.

A few questions to consider:

  1. Which community partners are you familiar with?
  2. Which community partners is your department familiar with?
  3. Which community partners does PLU have a relationship with? (See list)
  4. Am I interested in partnering with one organization or multiple organizations?
  5. Duration of relationship:
    1. Semester-long engagement (one-time engagement)
    2. On-going engagement (start over each semester)
    3. Continual engagement (advance the work of previous semesters)
  6. Are other departmental colleagues interested in collaborating in on-going or continual engagement?

PLU Center for Community Engagement and Service Primary Partners (community organizations that we have intentionally developed strong partnerships with because of proximity, alignment of values, and history of working with PLU faculty and students)

PLU Center for Community Engagement and Service County-wide partners (community organizations that we have some form of relationships with-this list covers a broader array of geographical and topical foci)

Feel free to contact the Center for Community Engagement and Service to customize your process of identifying community partners. Faculty are invited to attend the bi-annual faculty-community breakfast (February and September) as a way to meet new community leaders, and develop connections for future courses.

Critical Reflection

Critical reflection is an integral part of a service and learning experience. It requires students to thoughtfully consider, analyze and integrate their experience. Reflection also ties together the development of knowledge, understanding one’s sense of self and how we function in relationship to the communities that we are a part of.

Importance of Reflection:

-Academic-consider connections between theory and practice
-Personal-examine attitudes, assumption, prejudices and stereotypes
-Social- foster an appreciation of diverse communities by understanding the  sociopolitical forces that shape community concerns and assets

Reflection Tips:
-Reflect often
-Link community engagement outcomes and learning outcomes
-Include private and group reflection
-Structured reflection in purposeful ways

Reflection Resources:
-Resource 1
-Resource 2
-Resource 3

AAC&U Booklet on High Impact Practices

Teaching Through Community Engagement (Vanderbilt University)

Best Practices in Community Engaged Teaching (Vanderbilt University)

Community Engaged Learning Guide (Muhlenberg College)

Community and the Humanities (Grinnell College)