CBL Designation Background

Community Based Learning (CBL) is a pedagogical tool used in coursework that requires students to engage with community partners as part of their required academic work in a specific course section.  It is proposed that CBL be adopted as a designation on the Banner system (similar to SWS), allowing course sections to be identified both during registration and on student transcripts.

To better understand the momentum, rationale, and value of a CBL designation at this point, it may be helpful to consider the history and context of recent work related to civic and community engagement at GVSU.

A. Introduction       
This CBL proposal originated in a Faculty Learning Community called “Community as Classroom”, whose members included faculty members across disciplines and colleges.  This FLC, sponsored by FTLC, worked together for 5 semesters and focused on engagement and refinement of best practices in CBL, organizing Colloquia, teaching CBL courses, and engaging in active research regarding outcomes.

These faculty driven conversations resulted in the original CBL course proposal, and approval process crafted by UCC (Fall 2016) (See Appendix C).

Upon UCC publication of their approved CBL designation procedures a number of concerns have arisen in various departments and committees related to 2 questions:

                Do we need or want a CBL designation at GVSU?

               If so, what is the best way to implement a CBL designation?

Faculty governance discussions around these important questions and the implementation of the CBL designation highlight implications for the transparency for students, the approval process itself, faculty training requirements, and language.

Prior to an examination of the rationale and concerns about a CBL designation, a brief review of civic engagement work, including CBL, is summarized below.

B. Context of CBL
Civic engagement in higher education is a term used to describe any of the wide variety of ways in which students can and do prepare for their roles as active citizens in democratic society. Civic Engagement in higher education is a much broader campus endeavor, under which CBL is one specific academic pedagogical tool.  The GVSU Strategic Plan Glossary defines Civic Engagement in the following terms:

“Civic Engagement

Civic engagement is an activity in which people work to make a positive difference in the life

of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and

motivation to make that difference. Additionally, civic engagement encompasses actions

wherein individuals participate in activities of personal and public concern that are both

individually life enriching and socially beneficial to the community. (Adapted from Thomas

Ehrlich, 2000)


This overarching philosophy incorporates a wide variety of campus activities including both curricular and co-curricular.  2016-17 GVSU examples of this broad educational focus might include the Brooks College Civil Discourse Symposium, or the Democracy 101 Events in Political Science. They might also include the Civic Assembly programming in the Community Service Learning Center in Student Affairs.

Originally referred to as “academic service learning”, GVSU has adopted community based learning to describe academic course work that includes community based partners.

Designing courses in mutual partnership with community, identifying clear objectives, integrating academic learning, and using reflective practices yields powerful and deep learning outcomes.  Students enrolled in these courses engage with community members within their context as part of their coursework. This may take many forms, for example engaging in community/agency planning, cultural immersion, or partnering with groups focused on specific issues like hunger, domestic violence, or environmental justice.

GVSU embraces the value of high impact teaching practices as outlined by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/HIP_tables.pdf  Resources directed to undergraduate research, first year seminars, capstone courses, writing intensive courses and global learning are all familiar examples of GVSU’s support of these high impact practices. The work related to community based learning is grounded in this framework.

While the proposal for a CBL designation is recent, it is important to note that many colleges and departments at GVSU have historically offered and supported community based learning in courses. It is not unusual to find examples of sustained partnerships with national and international community members that have been in place for 10-15 years.  While these courses and partnerships are scattered across the campus, perhaps unknown to one another, these community relationships are deeply rooted and a source of pride for many faculty, staff, students, alumni as well as academic departments.  While the practices surrounding these endeavors may have been informally implemented, they likely incorporate the following CBL criteria, as each piece ensures the sustainability of that partnership.

  1. Learning objectives: The learning objectives in the syllabus articulate the types of interaction with the community partner, as well as listing potential partners.
  2. Application and integration: Guided by their instructor and working with a community partner, students engage with a community issue, integrating theory and practice.
  3. Reciprocity: The community experience seeks to offer value to the community partner as well as to the students.
  4. Reflection: Students participate in an articulated reflection process around the community experience. For example, the ethical, professional, and civic dimensions of the experience.

The Role of Civic Engagement and the Crucible moment: National conversations related to the role of public universities in democracy (2012 Call to Action, AACU)

Formal conversations across campus at GVSU regarding the role of universities in democracy were re-invigorated in 2012, as many institutions reflected on their broad mission and vision.  National conversations centered on the publication and Call for Action published by the American Association of Colleges and Universities in the revised and updated publication of The Crucible Moment.

See the 2012-2016 update of how A Crucible Moment has spurred action.

C. Context of Civic Engagement GVSU
Efforts to explore and reclaim a civic mission at GVSU have taken many forms in a variety of places across campus. A sample of GVSU activities and efforts include the following summary:

  • Most centrally in 2012-2013 a large group of faculty and staff came together in a group, calling themselves the Big Tent, working to explore educational practices and define terms related to civic engagement and community based learning at Grand Valley.
  • This group evolved into the Civic Engagement Collective, and the leadership of this group along with others contributed to the current Civic Action Plan in response to President Emeritus Thomas J. Haas signing the Campus Compact 30th Anniversary Action Statement on Civic Engagement in 2016.  https://compact.org/actionstatement/
  • Leadership across Student affairs, Inclusion and Equity including changes at the Community Service Learning Center has increased their focus on civic engagement, civil discourse, and sustainable partnerships.   https://www.gvsu.edu/service/
  • The College of Community and Public Service hired an Assistant Dean, who directed the Office for Community Engagement, which worked closely with the Michigan Campus Compact. This work included a variety of campus wide efforts including facilitation of partnerships and communication within and outside the university, and a grant program to grow Engaged Departments.  https://www.gvsu.edu/community/
  • The Strategic Plan 2016-2021 incorporates a number of goals and objectives related to civic engagement, and community based learning, utilizing terms and definitions clarified within the civic engagement constituency groups. https://www.gvsu.edu/strategicplanning/
  • Both the Pew FTLC and Center for Scholarly and Creative Excellence clarified and fortified support for faculty interested in civic engagement broadly, as well as community based teaching and scholarship, with designated grant money and Faculty Fellow time allotted for the support of faculty working with CBL. https://www.gvsu.edu/ftlc/civic-engagement-201.htm
  • Beginning in 2013, a Faculty Learning Community, entitled “Community as Classroom FLC”, formed and sustained a learning community for 5 semesters hosting training, discussion, and authoring a best practice document  (Appendix B) for GVSU faculty. This group also served as a sounding board for strategic planning efforts related to civic engagement and community based learning.
    • The proposal in Fall 2015 to University Curriculum Committee to create the Community Based Learning Designation for courses in Banner was created within this group.  
  • Currently, a separate Civic Engagement Faculty Learning Community, supported by Pew FTLC, which proposed Civic Engagement student-learning outcomes available for use by faculty teaching civic engagement, and or community based learning. This group will share this work broadly in 2017, and seek to incorporated examples from GVSU department teaching practices and projects.

D.  Rationale for CBL designation proposal, Fall 2018

1) Need to Inform Students and recognize community work

The dialogue surrounding the need for, as well as, the parameters of a Community Based Learning designation originated with a primary concern of communicating to students which courses included expectations of community work off campus.  This need to be transparent with students remains a central tenet of the CBL proposal.  Additionally, a designation on student transcripts allows others to recognize student engagement work in the community.

2) Criteria for CBL guides faculty toward best practice

A second and vital rationale for creating a designation is to clarify basic expectations, which elevate the criteria and best practices of CBL for faculty, students, and community members who agree to partner with GVSU.

Outlining the criteria for CBL illuminates the importance of learning, integrating theory and practice, mutuality for both GVSU students and community partners, and reflective teaching. The criteria language included in the GVSU CBL proposal was authored and vetted by faculty within the Community as Classroom Faculty Learning Community.

3) Collaboration across faculty, disciplines and issues

Additional benefits of designating courses using CBL pedagogy include the opportunity to learn which courses and faculty are utilizing the pedagogy of CBL. Once designated, faculty and staff are able to identify one another and work together on shared community issues and educational goals. 

4) Assessment

GVSU strategic planning objectives ask us to reflect upon and measure our community-engaged work. Adoption of this designation allows those interested in assessment and measurement to have another tool with which to capture this high impact practice on campus.

E. Identified Concerns

1) Targeted vs. Required Faculty Development and Training

The opportunity to target faculty development to those engaged in CBL work is invaluable. The current model for faculty development related to any pedagogy is voluntary.

The absence of a training requirement for those engaged in CBL has been noted.  To date, online learning is the only pedagogy requiring additional training at GVSU.  The decision to require rather than offer training for faculty engaged in CBL is beyond the purview of faculty who have proposed the designation. 

By designating courses, deeper conversations related to high impact practices will occur within departments, as well as with unit heads.  Any additional requirements mandating training could be added to the CBL procedures by UCC, Senate, units or colleges wish to specify requirements. FTLC is fully prepared to work with Unit Heads, member of UCC as well as individual faculty to enhance the quality and teaching practice of Community Based Learning.

The Pew FTLC is prepared to support this additional professional development via the following mechanisms:

  • Individual Faculty Consultations
  • Unit Head Training,
  • UCC Training
  • On Demand Workshops on CBL for any department
  • University wide 2017-18 Civic Learning Conversations, (which will focus on the following topics using a faculty led discussion model)
    • GVSU: Founded in Engagement, Conversation with Don Lubbers
    • Integrating Civic Engagement Student Learning Outcomes in Syllabi
    • Writing Course Objectives as part of Course Design,
    • Reflection in Teaching CBL
    • CBL Best Practices

2) Risk Management

The issue of risk management arises on a regular basis when discussing community engagement and community based learning. Risk Management staff at GVSU have historically generously consulted and provided information to individual faculty as well as faculty learning communities. 

Any additional requirements documenting assessment of risk could be added to the CBL procedures if UCC, Senate, or Colleges wish to specify such requirements.

Separately, several faculty and administrators have raised questions about human subject protections, especially when research is incorporated into CBL.  All guidelines regarding GVSU research review and protections apply to community-based research. https://www.gvsu.edu/hrrc/. Training in this arena is provided by protocols mandated and managed by HRRC at GVSU.

3) Need for Unit Head as well as Dean-level review

Conversations in UCC, Faculty Senate, and Provost Cabinet have identified the need for Unit Head as well as Dean level review.  This step would allow any resource or faculty workload issues to be addressed.

  •  Appendix A includes a list of Questions for Consideration in Approving CBL courses for Unit Heads.  While this list is not exhaustive for each discipline, it provides an opportunity for Unit Heads and faculty to discuss and think through issues related to:
    • Faculty preparation,      
    • Student preparedness,
    • Course learning objectives and their alignment with program expectations,
    • Partnership and community considerations, and
    • Unit and university resources.

4. Language relevant to business and industry

Feedback was shared suggesting that the original CBL proposal language incorporated a social justice philosophy of civic engagement that may not be representative of efforts in certain professional school courses using CBL.  A review of the criteria below represents a broad focus, consistent with CBL best practices, which does not exclude Business/Industry/Professional endeavors.


  • Learning objectives: The learning objectives in the syllabus articulate the types of interaction with the community partner, as well as listing potential partners.
  • Application and integration: Guided by their instructor and working with a community partner, students engage with a community issue, integrating theory and practice.
  • Reciprocity: The community experience seeks to offer value to the community partner as well as to the students.
  • Reflection: Students participate in an articulated reflection process around the community experience. For example, the ethical, professional, and civic dimensions of the experience.

5. CBL designation as deterrent to enrollment

The concern has been raised that if CBL is listed in Banner, students will avoid these classes.  This is a possibility, however it may also be true that it would attract students. Regardless, students would have the opportunity to know ahead of time that there exist off-campus expectations. It is common for faculty to create alternate experiences and assignments for students who have schedules that do not permit community work.  With the designation, it would be possible to learn more about student interest in community based learning.

Page last modified June 11, 2019