The Carnegie Engaged Campus Task Force began its work in fall 2016 with the goal of submitting an application for the Carnegie Engaged Campus Classification and furthering the campus’ engagement with the community. Among its achievements was designing a process to designate community-engaged courses, using the following criteria:
Summary Report: Community-Engaged Learning Outcomes in Fall 2019
The community partner is involved in course planning.
Students are prepared for a learning experience in the community.
The community partner, or the community in general, benefits.
The community experience is designed to achieve civic-minded learning outcomes.
Students engage in structured reflection on their experience in order to integrate theory and practice.
Between spring 2019 and spring 2020, the campus offered 71 sections of 50 community-engaged courses; another 17 sections are scheduled for fall 2020. All of IU South Bend’s colleges and schools have offered community-engaged courses, along with 18 majors and programs. Twenty-four faculty have taught a community-engaged course.
The purpose of this summary report is to share the results of our first campus-wide assessment of community-engaged courses. An evaluation was administered to students in all 19 sections of community-engaged courses in December 2019. We received 219 responses; the response rate in the online courses was very low so those results were excluded from the analyses. The evaluation sought to assess the learning outcomes that result from taking a community-engaged course, including knowledge, comprehension, skills, commitment to community involvement, and self-efficacy. Students were also asked to identify the main challenges of community-engaged courses.
To measure knowledge gained from community-engaged courses, students were asked to rate their level of agreement with the statement, “The community assignment in this course helped me recognize key concepts or terms.” Eighty-five percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with this statement. Students described how applying course concepts in their community helped them recognize and understand the concepts. For example, one student wrote, “…community engagement activities allowed me to explore key concepts and terms through out-of-classroom experiences. These key concepts and terms became more meaningful through the hands-on activities that took place…” Some comments suggest that providing a service for the community increased student motivation to learn the course material as well.
Knowledge was also assessed by level of agreement with the statement, “The community assignment in this course increased my awareness of cultural or social diversity.” Almost 86% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with this statement. Students described how they learned about groups in the region (e.g., homeless) as well as the social diversity in their community. One student wrote, “I haven’t been around South Bend a while, so this project helped me learn and understand the cultural and social diversity of the area.” There was also evidence that the community projects enhanced students’ understanding of other cultures.
To measure comprehension of course concepts, students were asked to state their level of agreement with the statement, “The community assignment in this course improved my ability to give examples of key concepts or terms.” About 84% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with this statement. Students spoke about the benefits of real-life examples for comprehending course material. One student remarked, “It is much easier to explain and understand things when seeing it in person.” Some students said that the community assignment helped them to articulate course concepts. According to one student, “I was able to go home and talk to my mom about what I did…and explain everything I learned. I was able to answer the questions she asked me as well.”
The evaluation examined two skills: communication and working with others. For communication skills, students were asked about their level of agreement with the statement, “The community assignment in this course improved my ability to communicate (e.g., express myself or listen to others).” Approximately 90% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with this statement. A common theme in the comments was that the community assignment improved communication skills with the public. According to one student, “…I’ve never gone out…and randomly talked to strangers, however, doing so strengthened my communication skills and got me out of my comfort zone.” It was also common for students to say that the community assignment improved their ability to express themselves in their project groups (with their peers). A student explained, “People think in different ways, so I was forced to reword things, sometimes, to work with my group.”
The course evaluation form also asked students to rate the statement, “The community assignment in this course improved my ability to work with others.” Approximately 85% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with this statement. There was a fair amount of overlap in students’ comments with this item and the one on communication. For instance, one student remarked, “I was able to strength[en] my ability to work with a team with the community assignment. I learned how to voice my opinions, communicate information…to my group given [sic] to me, and build upon my leadership skills.” Students also described how the community assignment taught them to collaborate and compromise in their groups; it also made them realize the value of working with others.
To assess dispositions towards community involvement, students were asked to indicate their level of agreement with the statement, “I am more committed to being involved in the community as a result of this community assignment.” This item had the lowest agreement rating, but the majority of students (76%) strongly agreed or agreed with this statement.
Some students were introduced to community service through their community-engaged courses and reported how excited they were about this new experience: “This was one of my first semesters getting out in the community. I’ve had a taste and want to get more involved with everyone!” Their community-engaged experience also showed students why community service is important. In some cases, the community assignment increased students’ commitment to community engagement by increasing their comfort level with community service. One student said, “At first I was nervous to be out in the community but once I started doing it, it was a lot easier than I thought.”
To measure self-efficacy, another disposition, students were asked to respond to the statement, “I am more confident that I can make a difference in the community as a result of this community assignment.” About 83% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with this statement. It was common for students to say that participating in a community project led them to believe they could personally make a difference in the community. For instance, one student said, “Even if I am one person, I can make a difference that will help whatever I’m working towards.” Some students realized they could make a difference by mobilizing others in the community: “I alone can’t make much of a difference, but I can try to get others involved.”
When asked about the challenges of the community assignment, the most common response was finding the time to complete the project. Students who were doing group projects also reported that it was difficult to coordinate schedules with their peers. The second most common challenge was communication with community partners; students reported that it could be difficult to get community partners to respond to them. Navigating a new environment and interacting with strangers were other common challenges mentioned by students.
In summary, community-engaged courses enhanced IU South Bend students’ knowledge, comprehension, skills, commitment to community involvement, and self-efficacy. Students in community-engaged courses apply what they are learning outside of the classroom, work collaboratively with their peers, and communicate with multiple stakeholders--all essential learning outcomes of a liberal arts education. Students who have such high impact experiences tend to have higher grades and persistence as well (LEAP Vision for Learning 2011). The results of this study also indicate that community-engaged courses help students recognize complexities and applications of course concepts. In doing so, they promote the development of flexibility, patience, adaptability, and perseverance. In addition to fostering personal growth, such experiences help students develop valuable skills for professional life.
I thank Katie Peel and Karrie Jean for administering the course evaluations. I am also grateful to the faculty who gave feedback on the course evaluation instrument and allowed my team to administer the evaluation in their courses. Finally, this work would not have been possible without the financial support of the Office of Academic Affairs. Linda Chen, Interim Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, has supported the development of community-engaged teaching and learning by providing funds for the Engaged Faculty Fellows Program, the Active Learning Institute on community-engaged teaching, and various workshops on community-engaged teaching.