Student Preparation

Community-based learning is a counter-normative way of learning, and students need to be prepared in order to succeed in these new contexts. A community-based experience alone does not produce learning. In addition to critical reflection, purposeful efforts to prepare students for the experience is what will allow them to enter the community with intentionality and to derive knowledge from service. 

Three Essential Aspects of Student Preparation

Preparation requires showing students how community-based experiences are directly tied to course content and learning objectives; providing students with context for the work they are about to do or the community they are about to enter; and emphasizing principles of respect and reciprocity, which are at the core of CBL.

Course Context

Introduce the concept of community-based learning and set course expectations.

  • Name CBL components in course description and in the syllabus. Articulate how the CBL activity and the academic learning are directly related and how one will inform and deepen the other.
  • Consider inviting your community partner to class to contextualize their organization's work. Model through your example that the community partner is a co-educator, whose knowledge and expertise is valuable.
  • Consider inviting former students to share their CBL experiences with your class.
  • Discuss the importance of reflection in this course, recognizing that this is likely a new skill for most students. Begin the term with a pre-reflection to set the tone and prime your students to expect to engage in metacoginition throughout the term.

Site Context

Introduce the new learning environment and name the community partner as a co-educator.

  • Require students to learn about the agency they will be working with/ the population they will be serving/ socio-economic issues/ privilege/ the challenges and limitations of service, etc.
  • Encourage students to examine how the community space in which they will be learning differs from spaces they've navigated before.
  • If applicable, assign readings that touch on social structural inequalities so students can enter the community with a more complex understanding of social problems.

Relationship Context

Introduce the students' responsibility to be good stewards of the relationships we have in the broader community.

  • Set the expectation that students will treat their CBL experience with the same level of professionalism as they would a job or internship. Emphasize the importance of showing up on time, honoring commitments, communicating clearly and regularly, maintaining confidentiality, and following an agency's dress code.
  • Emphasize key principles of respect, humility, and reciprocity. Encourage students to keep an open mind by being ready to listen, observe, and learn from the individuals and organizations they encounter. In CBL experiences, students are invited to "work with" rather than "do to/for." Communities need partners and stakeholders, not saviors

Articles and Activities for Student Preparation

Articles and activities compiled by UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University for preparing students for meaningful service. Topics include power and identity, social justice, and the potential harm of doing service, among others.

Responsible and Ethical Community Engagement

Compiled by Duke University, this document includes activities, readings, theoretical frameworks and videos on the following topics: cultural humility; learning and reflection; power and privilege; and partnership and context.