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Community Engaged Learning

'Community Engaged Learning' and 'engaged learning' are terms used synonymously at SCU to describe experiential learning activities that are designed for students that utilise a range of community contexts. Community Engaged Learning acknowledges the role for engagement with communities as a scholarly method that underpins both teaching and research practices.

forms of community engaged learningEngaged Learning is an umbrella term that includes community and work contexts across a diversity of modes from individual professional placements where students experience work as an 'employee' or 'client' (e.g. work integrated learning) to group projects that work collaboratively with a partner organisations (e.g. service learning or community integrated learning). A 'community' is considered to be a group of people external to the University that are defined by geography, interest, practice, affiliation or identity.

Given the numerous definitions and traditions it is useful to refer to the literature synthesising a range of pedagogical approaches to engaged learning. For example, Bowen (2005) who suggests that: "educators think of engagement in four related but different ways: 1. student engagement with the learning process: just getting students actively involved; 2. student engagement with the object of study; 3. student engagement with contexts of the subject of study and 4. student engagement with the human condition. Many concepts of engagement cover ground similar to that covered by initiatives in higher education known by other names:

  • Engagement with the learning process is similar to active learning.
  • Engagement with the object of study is similar to experiential learning.
  • Engagement with contexts generally is similar to multidisciplinary learning.
  • Engagement with social and civic contexts is similar to service learning".

"…engaged learners are those who complement and interpret what they learn from others with direct knowledge based on personal experience, who develop appropriately complex understandings situated in relevant contexts, and who recognize learning's moral implications and consequences" (Bowen 2005).

Students say they are motivated by solving authentic problems and would like contextualised learning experiences: "what particularly impresses students is active/interactive rather than passive learning by working, for example, on small group projects around real world cases in combination with practice-oriented, real world, 'learning by doing' with opportunities for students to discuss, consolidate, critique and make sense of these experiences" (Scott 2008, pdf).

Community Engaged Learning can be incorporated throughout a course providing students a diversity of experiences in external settings across a range of communities. It may begin with field visits to observe professional contexts, through to developing final year internships and collaborative group projects as 'capstone' experiences where the learning environment is complex, authentic and aligned closely with the realisation of graduate attributes.

Key elements of Engaged Learning

  • Experiential learning is integrated with course objectives
  • Context(s) of learning are utilised intentionally in the learning process
  • Involves community partner(s) in the learning process in some way
  • Engages students in critical reflection on the experience in context of course objectives
  • Develops graduate attributes as defined in a course.

Engaged Learning at SCU

SCU's founding act describes one of the University's principal functions as 'the provision of courses of study or instruction across a range of fields…to meet the need of the community'. At SCU, Community Engagement is described as a collaborative process that connects the University with communities of all scales in a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge, expertise and experience in the context of partnership, trust, respect and reciprocity. Goals 1 and 4 of the University's Strategic Plan 2016-2020 also have direct strategic relevance to engaged learning:

  • Goal 1: We will equip our students for diverse futures and global careers that enrich society.
  • Goal 4: We will create distinctive opportunities for engaged learning and research which will become a hallmark of the SCU experience.

Providing support for engaged learning approaches

The 'Engaged Learning Incubator' is a project being delivered by SCU Engagement with the Centre for Teaching and Learning as an outcome from the Community Engaged Learning Forum that was conducted in 2015. The 'Engaged Learning Incubator' project aims to embed engaged learning practices and experiences into relevant curricula through customised support for academic staff who wish to pursue curriculum renewal and review of assessment in cases of engaged learning. In particular we are looking to assist academics who may be interested in making slight changes to their units to move from hypothetical learning activities (Figure below) to activities or assessments embedded in the needs of community and industry partners, where Live Ideas can be used for support. Expressions of Interest for the Engaged Learning Incubator are now open.

Possibilities for engaged learning

Live Ideas

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Questions about Live Ideas?
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Live Ideas

Live Ideas (sml)

SCU launched Live Ideas in 2015 to support the increase in community engaged learning by streamlining the process for partner organisations to propose staff and student projects. Live Ideas provides opportunities for SCU students and staff to work with community partners for mutual benefit.

Anyone can submit a project idea, and any SCU staff or student can apply to join a project. Once your application to join has been approved by the Live Ideas team you will be provided with detailed information on the project and the partner organisation's contact information.

Watch this short video from SCU lecturer Beth Mozolic-Staunton in the School of Health and Human Sciences on how Live Ideas can be used to support engaged learning.

Links to SCU Policy & Procedures

In 2012, SCU approved the Community Engaged Learning Policy to guide "the implementation and administration of Community Engaged Learning (CEL) as an integral component of the curriculum at Southern Cross University"[1]. The policy defines Community Engaged Learning as "contextualised learning experiences for students across a range of communities.[2]" The Academic Board's Definitions Policy further defines community and community engagement in this context[3].

The CEL policy describes community engaged learning activities that encompass the following elements:

  • involves direct encounter with the phenomena being studied;
  • can include learning that occurs as a direct participation in the events of life;
  • may involve paid or volunteer activity;
  • the students could be funded through scholarship programs;
  • recognition of Community Engaged Learning experiences within workplace experience or concurrent paid work;
  • deliver social/economic/cultural or other value or definable benefit to the community of interest; and
  • undertaken within or outside the teaching period as negotiated with the relevant member of staff.

There are a number of other policies, procedures and guidelines (available to view in the SCU Policy Library that form the governance framework within which engaged learning at SCU sits. These include:

  • Community Engaged Learning Policy;
  • Community Engaged Learning At-Risk procedures;
  • Work Integrated Learning Guidelines;
  • Assessment Policy;
  • Workplace, Health and Safety Policy;
  • Outdoor Field Work Safety Policy.

Need support?

Through the team at SCU Engagement support is available to assist academic staff to design, deliver and review their units to incorporate community engaged learning elements.