Community Engagement and Remote Teaching: Reflections and Resources

By: Cara DiEnno, Julie Olomi, Anne P. DePrince, CCESL

Faculty across campus and the country are working to adapt courses for remote learning – including many of us teaching community-engaged courses.

At this time of transition, we offer some reflections and resources to support remote community-engaged teaching.  

Community-Engaged, Not Necessarily Community-Based

Community-engaged classes incorporate activities and projects that are mutually beneficial to student learning and the community. Sometimes this sort of reciprocal work is based in the community – but not always.

In fact, community-engaged classes at DU frequently tackle projects that advance student learning and meet community needs without in-person service. For example, classes have carried out remote research, such as conducting video or phone interviews, designing surveys, or analyzing historical documents or existing data. Classes have also developed products, such as:

  • Marketing or other communication plans and/or materials
  • Research or evaluation plans
  • Online materials for partners’ websites, such as blog posts or newsletter content
  • Annotated bibliographies, literature reviews
  • Workshops, lesson plans, or class curricula
  • Digital and graphic design or artwork
  • Videos

For example, Dr. Amy Balough’s (Religious Studies) RLGS/JUST 3891 Justice: A Biblical Perspective class partnered with the Episcopal Church in Colorado to produce a 32-page report detailing historical and practical information about how the statewide organization might alter their policies and behaviors to best engage marginalized groups in the area, specifically people experiencing homelessness, immigrants, and Indigenous Peoples.

Often classes that pursue these kinds of community-engaged (but not community-based) projects do kick off and wrap up the quarter with in-person meetings with community partners – perhaps a guest lecture by the community partner at the start of the project or student presentations to partners at the end. As faculty pivot to remote practices for the spring quarter, these kinds of important exchanges may be very well suited to Zoom or other online platforms.

Evolving Community-Based Activities for Remote Circumstances

Some community-based activities may simply not be possible in the remote learning environment. However, others may be ripe for reimagining as community-engaged, but not community-based.

For example, Dr. Cara DiEnno’s Spring 2020 School-Based Civic Engagement class was going to lead workshops for elementary-aged youth at a community partner site. Instead, students will develop and deliver the lesson plan and accompanying materials to the community partner who can then implement the workshop themselves at a later date.

Dr. Christy Rossi’s (Psychology) Autism Spectrum Disorder class offers another example of a course that could be adapted in the current remote learning environment while still meeting learning objectives and community needs. In that course, students met with staff from The Joshua School, a nearby school for individuals with developmental disabilities, before beginning work to create learning materials for children with autism. Students created interactive materials connected to children’s books that were accessible to students with autism with a variety of different communication profiles. In the new remote learning environment, the teachers from The Joshua School could be invited to join the class via Zoom so that the students and partners can collaborate ahead of the students beginning work on their curricula projects.

Resources

Here are a few resources on community engagement to consider as you adapt your courses:

Remote Community-Engaged Teaching Articles: CCESL’s Portfolio site has a folder with a handful of curated articles relevant to online community-engaged teaching. To access, visit here (if you have difficulty accessing, please login to Portfolio first).

  • Best Practices and Ideas
    • Overview of steps involved in switching from in-person to remote service learning classes (e.g., instructor preparation, student assessments, community partner assessments etc). Helms, M. M., Rutti, R. M., Hervani, A. A., LaBonte, J., & Sarkarat, S. (2015). Implementing and evaluating online service learning projects. Journal of Education for Business, 90(7), 369-378.
    • Guidelines, best practices and advice on how to implement remote service learning for online classes. The book in its entirety is digitally available via the DU library website. Germain, M. L., (2019). Recommendations for a successful e-service learning integration. In Distance education: Integrating service-learning and consulting in distance education, (pp.177-189). Emerald Publishing.
    • Ideas and recommendations for remote service-learning projects suitable for different disciplines. Rutti, R. M., LaBonte, J., Helms, M. M., Hervani, A. A., & Sarkarat, S. (2016). The service learning projects: Stakeholder benefits and potential class topics. Education+ Training, 58(4), 422-438
  • Research and Theory
    • A brief (but thorough) literature review about remote service learning with examples of remote community-engaged learning activities. Gasper-Hulvat, M. (2018). “More Like a Real Human Being”: Humanizing Historical Artists Through Remote Service-Learning. Journal of Experiential Education, 41(4), 397-410.
    • A theoretical foundation for implementing remote service learning with technology. Waldner, L. S., Widener, M. C., & McGorry, S. Y. (2012). E-service learning: The evolution of service-learning to engage a growing online student population. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 123-150.
    • Step by guide on how to implement remote service learning with online resources, though some materials may be dated. Ellis, S. J. & Cravens, J. (2000). The virtual volunteering guidebook: How to apply the principle of real-world volunteer management to online service. Palo Alto, CA: Impact Online, Inc.

Community Partners with Remote-Friendly Projects: CCESL’s Scholar Shop helps connect faculty with community organizations for collaborative learning and scholarship. Many community partners have shared questions for collaboration that are amenable to remote classes. Visit https://duscholarshop.com/ to explore by partner, type of project, or keyword tags or contact cara.dienno@du.edu.

Learning from Colleagues around the Country:

General Information: In addition to checking out other general resources in CCESL’s Portfolio site, CCESL offers handouts that may be especially relevant as you adapt your courses that you can find here:

  • Best Practices for Academic Community Engagement
  • Planning a Community-Engaged Course
  • DU Community-Engaged Course Tips & Tricks.

Additional Ideas Specific to this Moment:

  • Students could create web-based content (e.g., lessons, talks, lectures, performances, etc.) to share either in “real” time or as recordings for the broader community, such as parents who are teaching young children at home or people particularly at risk of social isolation, such as older adults.
  • Students could lead online A Community Table conversations connected to their course topic. Watch for details – CCESL will provide materials to support such discussions by April 1.
  • Students could participate in collecting nature observations in their neighborhoods (wherever they are) for the City Nature Challenge (while keeping appropriate social distancing) using the iNaturalist App.
  • Students could work to create/support social connectedness through the development of activities that individuals and families can safely participate in, such as neighborhood scavenger hunts (again, with appropriate social distances) or the creation of public art.

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