Implementing Community-Based Learning

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To produce great people, higher and expensive education is not the only necessary element, we are social beings, and the need of community Is important to survive and grow but respect for community and the hierarchical structure of the society does not form overnight, not everyone can be a doctor, engineer or a scientist, for the community to work, someone has to be a black smith, carpenter, and most importantly educator.

To realize the importance of every individual performing duties in a community and to help our coming generations figure out their passions textbooks in and of itself is not justice and community-based learning helps with such challenges to help students understand and learn from the community they will live their whole lives in.

This is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community engagement with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience with a greater emphasis on reciprocal learning and reflection.

Community Based Learning (CBL) is a pedagogical approach that is based on the premise that the most profound learning often comes from experience that is supported by guidance, context-providing, foundational knowledge, and intellectual analysis. The opportunity for students to bring thoughtful knowledge and ideas based on personal observation and social interaction to a course’s theme and scholarly arguments brings depth to the learning experience for individuals and to the content of the course. The communities of which we are a part can benefit from the resources of our faculty and students, while the courses can be educationally transformative in powerful ways.

Community-based learning refers to a wide variety of instructional methods and programs that educators use to connect what is being taught in schools to their surrounding communities, including local institutions, history, literature, cultural heritage, and natural environments. Community-based learning is also motivated by the belief that all communities have intrinsic educational assets and resources that educators can use to enhance learning experiences for students.

Proponents of community-based learning generally argue that students will be more interested in the subjects and concepts being taught, and they will be more inspired to learn, if academic study is connected to concepts, issues, and contexts that are more familiar, understandable, accessible, or personally relevant to them. By using the “community as a classroom,” advocates would argue, teachers can improve knowledge retention, skill acquisition, and preparation for adult life because students can be given more opportunities, apply learning in practical, real-life settings—by researching a local ecosystem, for example, or by volunteering at a nonprofit organization that is working to improve the world in some meaningful way.

While the methods and forms of community-based learning are both sophisticated and numerous, the concept is perhaps most readily described in terms of four general approaches (all of which might be pursued independently or combined with other approaches):

Instructional connections

In this form of community-based learning, teachers would make explicit and purposeful connections between the material being taught in the classroom and local issues, contexts, and concepts. For example, the workings of a democratic political system may be described in terms of a local political process; statistics and probability may be taught using stats from a local sports team; a scientific concept may be explained using an example taken from a local habitat or ecosystem; or the Civil War may be taught using examples and stories drawn from local history. In this scenario, students may still be educated within the school walls, but community-related connections are being used to enhance student understanding or engagement in the learning process.

Community integration

In this approach, educators might take advantage of local experts by inviting them into the school to give presentations, participate in panel discussions, or mentor students who are working on a long-term research project. The school may also partner with a local organization or group to provide additional learning experiences in the school—e.g., a local engineering firm or scientific institution may help the school develop a robotics program or judge science-fair projects. In this scenario, students are still being educated within the school walls, but community resources and authorities are being used to enhance the learning experience.

Community participation

In this approach, students would learn, at least in part, by actively participating in their community. For example, students may undertake a research project on a local environmental problem in collaboration with a scientist or nonprofit organization; participate in an internship or job-shadowing program at a local business for which they can earn academic credit or recognition; volunteer at a local nonprofit or advocacy campaign during which they conduct related research, write a paper, or produce a documentary on what they learned; or they may interview doctors, urgent-care professionals, health-insurance executives, and individuals in the community without health insurance to learn about the practical challenges faced when attempting to expand health-care coverage. In this scenario, students are learning both within and outside of the school walls, and participatory community-based-learning experiences would be connected in some way to the school’s academic program.

Citizen action

This approach would be considered by some experts and educators to be the fullest or most “authentic” realization of community-based learning—students not only learn from and in their community, but they also use what they are learning to influence, change, or give back to the community in some meaningful way. For example, students may write a regular column for the local newspaper (rather than simply turning in their writing to a teacher); research an environmental or social problem and then create an online petition or deliver a presentation to the city council with the goal of influencing local policy; or volunteer for a local nonprofit and create a multimedia presentation, citizen-action campaign, or short documentary intended to raise awareness in their community about a particular cause. In this scenario, the audience for and potential beneficiaries of a student’s learning products would extend beyond teachers, mentors, and other students to include community organizations and the general public.

While community-based learning possesses many benefits for students but it all comes at a cost and now let us discuss the challenges that comes with the community based learning.

Compared to more traditional course offerings, the workload is higher for students and instructors.

Working on authentic problems may be chaotic and confusing, just as it is in the real world. Students may become frustrated with the process and higher workload and be unclear about the learning goals when compared to more traditional courses.

Engaging students in a reflective process is necessary to help students recognize the learning that is taking place.

Instructors may require extra operational support to handle the details of the project. The details can range from ensuring that students have completed the necessary ethics and data sharing agreement to the time and effort required to foster the relationship with the community partner.

It can be difficult too to complete a project within the time frame of a term.

Despite these challenges as an educator, we all want to bring the best possible education and learning experience for our class no matter how burdensome it can get for us but getting started with community-based learning might not be as hard as people might make you think.

To introduce community-based learning, you do not necessarily have to plan field trips and align schedules with busy industries, your classroom is a set of individuals with different backgrounds and academic abilities.

Start with…

Creating groups composed of students with different and complementary skills sets and learning styles

Keep groups in the 4-6 size range. Help students identify the roles necessary to complete the project and encourage them to create teams based on the identified skills sets or create the teams yourself.

Emphasize that this is not the type of project that can be completed at the last minute, and success depends on the collaboration and cooperation of each group member.

Hold each student accountable for completing all pieces of the project. The group can then use each team member’s contribution to develop the best solution for the next stage of the project. This helps reinforce the social and collaborative nature of the project. Exposure to multiple solutions and reacting to these helps each individual develop a deeper understanding of the discipline.

Invite the experts into your classroom

Introduce the community partner and the project to your students early in the term. This reinforces that the project includes stakeholders beyond the instructor and the student. Students experience what it is like to work within the culture of the discipline, and the community partner is provided with a potential viable solution to an authentic problem.

Having these people facilitate in-class activities introduces your students to other support people on-campus, people who can help them during and after the course.

Create opportunities to discover relevance of learning through real-world applications

Explicitly outline and describe the relevance the project has to real-world performance. Explain how the project mirrors the work done by members of the discipline. Emphasize that, as in the real world, this project involves working in a social context, that is, working with others to complete a project, solve a problem, and/or address an issue.

Incorporate frequent, timely and constructive feedback

Use formative assessment methods which reward both process and final product. If possible, require students to complete work at an appropriate level before being able to move to the next stage of the project. This means providing them with feedback and the opportunity to use the feedback in order to complete the project to an accepted standard. Provide opportunities for students to assess their existing knowledge and receive suggestions for improvement. Most important, give them the opportunity to incorporate the feedback they’ve been given to help them improve future performance.

Provide time and space for interactions with faculty and peers about substantive matters

Use in-class time for project work where you circulate throughout the classroom providing feedback and suggestions to groups as they work on the designated activity for that day. Help students understand how each activity contributes to the project and how to connect the various pieces. Have students submit deliverables prior to the class to ensure that each student has prepared for the in-class group activity.

Provide feedback to the individual or group contributions online and in advance of the in-class time so that groups are able to work productively together during the class time and you are able to identify where possible problems and challenges exist. Using a ‘flipped classroom model’ can help provide the structure students need to address the open-ended nature of the project and provide the opportunity to make best use of your expertise during the class time.

Incorporate opportunities for public demonstration of competence

Schedule regular in-class opportunities for students to showcase their development of competence to their classmates. Students are able to see and respond to each other’s work. Not only will they learn from each other, but also knowing that they will be presenting to their peers raises the bar and motivates students to do better work. Presenting to their classmates within the safe environment of the classroom prepares them for the final presentation they will present to the community partner.

Provide a rubric to help students plan for their presentation- particularly to help them prepare for the presentation to the community partner.

Steve Hiles

I am a retired military and elementary school teacher living in Tennessee. I am an avid reader and love to write. I am very passionate about helping teachers. I hope you find my educational tips and strategies useful,and enjoy hearing about my personal journey.

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Steve Hiles

I am a retired military and elementary school teacher living in Tennessee. I am an avid reader and love to write. I am very passionate about helping teachers. I hope you find my educational tips and strategies useful and enjoy hearing about my personal journey. Thanks for visiting!

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