Higher education has always been called upon to educate for civic participation and community leadership. Benjamin Franklin described this purpose as educating for both the inclination and the ability to serve.
Today, the civic learning goals of higher education are occasionally framed as being in competition with the need to teach for course content. We believe this is misguided. Research shows that community-based learning pedagogy, such as service-learning and community-based research, enhances: learning of course content, curiosity about course content and motivation to work harder in class, the ability to apply class material, retention of course concepts and critical thinking (Eyler & Giles, 1999; Mitchell, 2008).
Engaging students in the community can enhance these goals as well as civic goals. However, the same research shows this pedagogy is only effective when key principles are in place. Students must engage in meaningful work that is integrated into coursework. Students must also think critically about what they have learned about the community, about course topics, and what they have learned about themselves. CLCE is here to help ensure our campus implements high quality practice in the curriculum and co-curriculum.
We also promote high quality outcomes for the community organizations our students work with. To that end, we promote sustained partnerships between the George Mason University and community organizations. As these relationships grow over time, both partners build their understanding of each other’s needs and goals for the projects they work on together.
In our Center, we connect leadership development with community involvement. We challenge our students to do more than just show up. Mason students engage. They learn to collaborate and co-create with others. They learn how to influence change and take initiative. They practice leadership.
Community Based Learning
Community-based learning includes service-learning, community based research, and other applications of course-related skills to assist local (and sometimes global) service organizations. There are many definitions, but all reflect the principles captured in this definition from the Campus Compact National Center for Community Colleges:
[It] is a teaching method which combines community service with academic instruction as it focuses on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility. Programs involve students in organized community service that addresses local needs, while developing their academic skills, sense of civic responsibility, and commitment to the community.