Compiled by: Katie Van Zanen & Marisol Fila, Ginsberg Graduate Academic Liaisons
Community-engaged learning, also referred to as service-learning or community-based learning, is a high-impact educational practice aimed at giving students a deeper understanding of course concepts by allowing them to connect course material to real world contexts (Kuh, 2008). The potential benefits of community-engaged learning for students extend even further than positive increases in academic outcomes to include a higher degree of civic-mindedness and intercultural awareness, the ability to engage and collaborate across racial and cultural differences, and a greater sense of personal self-efficacy (Knapp, Fisher, & Levesque-Bristol, 2010; De Leon, 2014; Richard, et al, 2016). When community-engaged courses are designed and implemented deliberately and equitably, both students and communities can grow and transform in powerful, mutually beneficial ways. It’s essential to evaluate students’ learning, rather than attempt to assess the nature of their service, and to provide feedback about students’ learning along the way (Bradley, 1995).
In this post, we highlight some key recommendations and resources to assess students’ learning in community-engaged courses.
Use your course goals to articulate specific values, attitudes, and skills you want your students to develop. Assessment tools for community engagement often focus on the development of specific constructs of civic-mindedness, and you may be able to find a scale or rubric that benchmarks the language in your course goals. (See, for example, the AAC&U rubrics or our curated collection of CRLT’s Engaged Learning assessment tools.)
Facilitate reflection as a method of formative assessment for your course. Formative assessment is often low-stakes or ungraded; it provides the instructor, and students, with information about students’ learning and experiences as well as an opportunity to offer feedback. Reflection also fosters meta-cognition, which improves students’ self-awareness and ability to transfer learning to new situations. Our page on Supporting Critical Reflection in Community-Engaged Learning offers additional resources and tools.
Collect information you can use to refine your teaching and assessment for future courses. For example, Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) offer low- to medium-prep exercises to check students' learning and response to teaching. You may also want to include questions about community engagement on your course evaluations; we suggest both closed- and open-ended questions you can include in the instructor-added portion of your course evaluations. Finally, consider a pre- and post-assessment that indicates how students have grown over the course of their community engagement experience and gives you data for building the next semester’s syllabus. Ginsberg staff can consult with you to identify data-collection tools best suited to your needs.
Bradley, J. (1995). A model for evaluating service-learning in academically based service. In Troppe, M. (Ed.). Connecting cognition and action: Evaluation of student performance in service-learning courses. Providence, RI: Campus Compact, p. 21.
De Leon, Nadia (2014). Developing Intercultural Competence by Participating in Intensive Intercultural Service-Learning, Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 21(1), 17-30.
Knapp, T., Fisher, B. Levesque-Bristol, C. (2010) Service-Learning’s Impact on College Students’ Commitment to Future Civic Engagement, Self-Efficacy, and Social Empowerment, Journal of Community Practice 18(2), 233-251.
Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Association of American Colleges & Universities. (High-Impact Educational Practices: A Brief Overview)
Richard, D., Hatcher, J.A., Keen, Cheryl, K., Pease, H.A. (2016), Pathways to Adult Civic Engagement: Benefits of Reflection and Dialogue Across Difference in Higher Education Service-Learning Programs, Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 23(1), 60-74.
In addition to helping you implement any of the above ideas, Ginsberg staff can work with you to identify related course design ideas and teaching methods that support your assessment plan.
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