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Teaching Strategies for Community Engaged Learning Initiatives

19 May 2021
Douglas Matters service learning partnership - community group, UCC graduates and supervisor on being shortlisted for the Education Award in the Research category at The Education Award Gala 2019

This Practice Insight focuses on Community Engaged Learning (CEL) approaches where the lecturer plays an active role alongside her/his student and community participants throughout the CEL process. The lecturer designs the module in such a way that they are present to organise and participate in activities so that students meet their learning outcomes and both parties can reach mutually beneficial outcomes.

An Experiential Approach

This experiential approach is appropriate for a number of reasons:  

  • The lecturer has flexibility 
  • It reflects the unique preferences of the community partner 
  • Class groups are smaller 
  • Students are more experienced both in their discipline, and their understanding of the world 

With some modules, especially at undergraduate level, it may be less feasible for the lecturer to take an active part in all the community interactions meaning that the lecturer will design the CEL approach from a distance and students will carry out their CEL initiative independently. At undergraduate level, CEL initiatives typically engage students in a variety of community settings (e.g secondary schools), rather than all students learning with one key partners for the duration of the semester or academic year - this CEL approach is more typical at postgraduate level).  

In approaches where the lecturer is integral to the sequencing and development of the partnership, the lecturer usually relies on one or a number of teaching strategies to direct the process and to make meaning of what is occurring. 

Identifying your Teaching Strategies 

The teaching strategies you use throughout your CEL initiatives will vary greatly depending on the focus of your collaboration. A teaching strategy can be as intuitive and simple as having some sort of coding mechanism in place to capture and record emerging topics and grouping those topics into thematic areas. For this, you will use basic materials such as post-its, coloured markers, flip chart paper etc. in all but especially your earlier meetings in the community setting. It’s important to keep an eye to Universal Design for Learning principles so that you provide individuals with equal opportunity to learn, including representing material in a variety of forms like video, written, oral etc.  

Talking through the preferences and learning needs of the community participants with your community contact point before the initiative begins might help narrow down the options available to you. Perhaps there are power dynamic considerations or literacy challenges that you need to be sensitive to. 

In Practice

Read this article of Congratulations to Douglas Matters Research Partnership on being shortlisted for the Education Award. The article outlines three CARL (Community Academic Research Links) projects supervised by Dr. Fiachra Ó Súilleabháin, social work lecturer, conducted in close partnership community groups in Douglas. 

Connecting with the CARL (Community Academic Research Links) initiative can support you to provide community engaged opportunities to your students. Students can engage through existing structured approach that supports the process of working with community partners. For the teaching community, becoming a CARL supervisor is an excellent and manageable way to build experience and confidence of learning with communities, working with single student projects.  

For more on this story contact:

This Practice Insight is published by @UCC_CIRTL and @UCC_Civic as part of the CE Toolkit for embedding civic and community engagement in the curriculum. Discover more about How to Learn with Communities. 

Follow School of Applied Social Studies on Twitter @UCCAppSoc.

For more information on connecting with CARL contact Coordinator Anna Kingston by email at

Centre for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL)

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