by Yang Li, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center
Community-Based Learning has become an effective teaching tool for exposing students to reality-based ways to implement their acquired theories or knowledge. During last week’s Praxis Workshop, Leah Sweetman and James Fortney introduced participants to community-based learning associated with different subjects. Participants were introduced to two models of community-based learning: the project-based model and the discipline-based model, and they learned about the potential benefits of each model from community, university, faculty, and students’ perspectives. Participants reflected on their own learning and teaching experience and designed their own community-based learning activities.
What is community-based learning?
Sweetman defined community-based learning as “a teaching strategy that bridges academic theory and real-world practice. Community-based learning promotes students’ academic learning and civic development while simultaneously addressing real world problems and community needs.” Community-based learning includes two common models at Saint Louis University: The project-based model, in which “students will draw from their knowledge to make recommendations to the community or develop a solution to a problem,” and the discipline-based model, in which “students have an ongoing presence in the community and reflect on their experiences on a regular basis using the course content as the framework for their analysis.”
What are the benefits of community-based learning activities?
There are four potential benefits for the students, faculty, university and community. As a graduate student from education, I have participated in both the project-based and discipline-based activities throughout my master’s and doctoral program. Through the community-based learning activities, I better understood demographic information about the American educational system and particularly urban education in St. Louis. Interviewing and consulting with principals and teachers enabled me to enhance my understanding about administrative theories that I read from my textbooks or journal articles. I gradually understood being an administrator or principal is not only about the decent title or respect from parents and students but the responsibility and unexpected challenges in daily life. Working with teachers and students is also very helpful for me to understand the challenges about budget, resources and professional development. The whole experience made me understand the reality in educational settings.
From a faculty or teacher’s perspective, I found the classroom prepared students with a great foundation and knowledge about their professional field. However, students also should be provided opportunities to implement their skills into practice. Community-based learning enables students to find the deep meaning of the theory by application. Sometimes, community-based learning enable students to find the connections through different courses. Sometimes, instructors can find the same community-based learning activities can be offered through different courses to continuously enhance students’ learning outcomes by providing a chance to implement what they have learned.
Community-based learning also benefits the mutual relationships between university and community. It helps the university to increase students’ retention through the civic mission of social justice. It enables communities to use scholarly decision making to solve problems and provide rich learning materials for future civic leaders.
Two common misunderstandings about community-based learning:
- Often, communities or students themselves expect students who participate into community-based learning activities to be experts. However, it would not be true that students will know everything about their professional fields. Sometimes, students are learning through the practice and within the community-based learning.
- Sometimes, students are invested in the community service and forget to emphasize their critical thinking towards social justice issues. Students’ reflection should not only focus on the service experiences but also the teaching goals of finding solutions to the social justice issues.
After the workshop, community-based learning course design seems approachable and possible for me to implement in my future teaching. In order to make it effective for my future students, I will consult with Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning about my course design ideas and then work with Center for Service and Community Engagement to reach out to the appropriate community services which will benefit my students’ learning.