Guiding Principles for Community-Engaged Learning (CEL) During COVID-19

There are a few guiding principles you should consider as you prepare your virtual CEL course in alignment with COVID-19 related restrictions:

SL/CEL Courses Have Three Main Purposes

  1. Develop students’ civic capacities.

  2. Advance the public good.

  3. Help students better understand the disciplinary content of your course.

CEL Outcomes Can Be Met in Many Ways

For students to complete the CEL requirement, they need to be able to demonstrate that they can synthesize classroom and community-oriented experiences, to:

  • Analyze the dynamics, strengths, and priorities of a group, community, or environment with which students engage.

  • Examine an environmental or social justice issue, including its roots causes, impacts, intersections with other issues, and possible solutions.

  • Analyze one’s own and others’ beliefs, values, social identities, and world views and their implications for how one defines and contributes to the common good. 

Community Can Be Defined in Many Ways

At this particular moment in time, we may need to redefine which communities we are engaging and supporting. So many of our community partner organizations are focused on addressing urgent needs and providing essential services while navigating the restrictions of the pandemic and tough financial realities, so they won’t be able to oversee students for projects and activities in the way they have in the past.  Thus, we have to provide alternative ways of thinking about and contributing to community. For example, students might focus on caring for people in their apartment building, neighborhood, extended family, network of friends, broader identity-based groups/communities (e.g. disability community, queer community), or the USF community.

Service and Engagement Can Be Defined in Many Ways

Students don’t have to do direct service in partnership with a nonprofit to contribute to the public good. There are lots of big and small ways that they can do so virtually. Students may engage in advocacy like writing letters to policy makers and signing, circulating, and sharing petitions about justice issues. Students may engage in peer education: compiling and sharing information from reputable sources to inform others about an issue and how they might get involved or translating newly emerging policies for COVID-related sick leave and evictions into easy-to-read infographics. Students may build and strengthen community connections in this time of isolation by hosting virtual book clubs, conversation groups, story circles, or teaching virtual workshops on sketching, cooking, etc. with friends and loved ones.

Focus Less on Hours and More on Meaning of the Experience (Reflection)

The minimum number of community engagement hours for SL/CEL courses is 20, so you should aim for your students to do at least that amount. If your course typically requires a significant number of hours (e.g. over 40),  consider reducing it for this semester to accommodate the unique circumstances. Minimize the focus on hours with students, and instead set the expectation that they should be taking meaningful actions toward advancing the public good and building their civic skills through the activities and assignments you offer them.  Students should be able to reflect on, and share, the details of what they are doing, why they’ve chosen their particular engagement activities and projects, how they understand their role in the broader community, and even how they are defining community for themselves. What community assets, resources and strengths are they building on? What challenges are they facing? What structural and systemic factors are shaping the community’s experience?

Students Don’t Have to do the Same Service and Engagement Activities

You do not have to have all your students doing the same SL/CEL activities and assignments, though you want to aim for some measure of equity in terms of the rigor and time commitment across opportunities. Given that most nonprofit organizations may not have bandwidth to host students this semester, you can develop a menu of opportunities for community engagement (see options below), reflecting a range from fully self-directed projects to activities structured in partnership with a partner organization.