There are several approaches and resources available that could help you to support students in building more meaningful collaborations with communities.
Service-Learning/Community Engaged Learning
Traditionally, universities have been engaging with communities through research, but how do we build meaningful community experience into the curriculum? There are numerous definitions of Service-Learning/Community Engaged Learning (SL/CEL). Marie Xypaki, Curriculum and Public Engagement Consultant at UCL shares the UCL definition:
“Community Engaged Learning (CEL) is a form of experiential learning where students collaborate with external partners to address real-world challenges as part of their assignments”.
CEL is fundamentally about mutually beneficial relationships, which may also involve co-production of knowledge, activism and volunteering. Community partners can offer students formative feedback enabling them to understand real-world needs better. In return, students produce outputs that are meaningful to the community.
A group of academics, teaching fellows and public engagement practitioners, from across several UK universities, came together to set up a UK Network on SL/CEL. This network is a resource for practitioners who were interested in enhancing their SL/CEL practice and enriching their existing public engagement experience with curriculum projects.
You can find out more about the Network and its membership in their Terms of Reference.
Students are always looking for new things to get involved in whilst at university, especially in areas where they can have autonomy and responsibility for what they do and how they spend their time. Student-led volunteering projects are an excellent way for students to gain a wide range of skills that they may not be able to gain through regular volunteering, such as budget management, volunteer recruitment and project planning. It also gives students the autonomy to run with their own ideas, without so many restrictions that set volunteering opportunities might bring.
Student-led projects should support a community need. Often new projects develop because a student sees a gap in a local service, supporting new areas that are not currently supported elsewhere. This could involve working with a specific charity or directly with school/youth group/old persons home or other organisation. Running their own project requires a greater commitment to the cause, as they are fully responsible, therefore less likely to miss weeks or lose interest. This is mainly true of the project leaders.
This guide aims to help you in supporting these students to design and deliver these activities, to ensure they are feasible and to meet a local need as well as providing the students with an enriching volunteering experience.