Introduction to Community-Engaged Learning

What is Community-Engaged Learning (CEL)?

Most fundamentally, a community-engaged learning (CEL) course promotes student learning and community impact.  Practically, CEL courses include collaborations with community partners* for applied projects, assignments, or experiences that aim to help students learn course content and benefit communities beyond the academy.

*Partners include mission-centered organizations such as non-profits or grassroots organizations, government agencies, or social enterprises; or community leaders and changemakers.

Why should I consider using community-engaged teaching practices?

Click here for a snapshot of the benefits of community-engaged learning and research to students, faculty, institutions of higher education, and communities and society.

Click here for an AACU Report from 2023 entitled "The Effects of Community-Based and Civic Engagement in Higher Education: What We Know and Questions that Remain."

But ... can you really do CEL in 3.5 weeks? 

YES! Community-engaged learning does look a little different on the block plan.  But, luckily we have many resident experts (CC faculty and staff educators) who have creatively imagined ways to adapt the pedagogy to a condensed-format, immersive curriculum. 

For some thoughts on how to approach condensed-format community-engaged learning, click here.

The most well-known form, service-learning, integrates community service into the classroom experience, but there are several ways to teach for community impact!  Other models that work on the block are outlined below, based on a review of community-engaged learning courses from 2017-2022.  

A summary of example CC courses for each of the models below can be found here. 

work with a clear beginning, end, and outcome that builds the capacity (power) of a community partner to fulfill their mission over time, and ideally gives students a chance to apply classroom knowledge.


  • In a Curriculum Theory and Engaging Pedagogy class (Tina Valtierra, Education), students applied theories by designing a curriculum for a community partner.
  • In a Landscape Ecology class (Charlotte Gabrielsen, Environmental Program), students supported mapping maternal polar bear den habitat, studying viewshed corridors for Alaska's wild and scenic rivers, and charting potential road routes that could minimize habitat and cultural disruption in the face of development.
  • Twice a year, an Environmental Thermodynamics class did a home energy audit and retrofit project for a home in the community. The students worked together with technicians from the Energy Resource Center to conduct a preliminary audit of the house, then planned for and carried out the retrofit, finding simple and cost-effective ways to increase the energy efficiency of the home. (Lynne Gratz, Environmental Program)

research for public-problem solving, co-creating applied knowledge for community impact.  Ideally, projects engage non-academics as equitable thought partners, and the research leads to or informs action (rather than producing knowledge for the sake of knowledge).


  • In a Doing Archaeology class, students completed work for the US Forest Service by documenting an archaeological sites in the Manitou Experimental Forest. (Scott Ingram, Anthropology)
  • In a Community-Based Research class, students learned about methodology and then contributed their research skills to a team project that benefitted Food to Power, a local nonprofit. (Florencia Rojo, Sociology)
  • In a Community-Based Praxis course, students who have taken Research Methods were invited to an independent study half block experience (with the option to continue as a spring adjunct). Teams of students engaged in community-based research for multi-year community partnerships with local courts and Planned Parenthood. (Gail Murphy-Geiss, Sociology)
  • In a Probability and Statistical Methods course, students analyzed demographic data of the city Parks & Rec program participants in an effort to ensure programs were inclusive and engaging diverse audiences. (Flavia Sancier-Barbosa, Math)

engaging students as thought partners for community partners, enabling students to apply classroom knowledge to real-world issues.  Offer disciplinary expertise to community partners who want to draw on academic knowledge to, for example, solve a problem, inform a decision, assess impact, generate ideas, or create or design something new.


  • In a Waging Nonviolent Conflict class, students workshopped the mission, tactics, and vision of local non-profits (Peak Partnership, Trails and Open Space Coalition, and Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission), enabling students to apply theory to practical social change. (John Gould, Political Science)
  • In a Nonprofit Management class, students engaged in an applied literature review project in which student teams gathered practical information in response to questions posed by two local nonprofits – Community Health Partnership (CHP) and Inside/Out Youth Services (IOYS). (Kat Miller-Stevens, Economics and Business)

bring community into the classroom, and/or the classroom into the community.  Inviting community partners and non-academics into the classroom as co-educators honors diverse forms of knowledge, including lived and practitioner experience. Teaching and sharing the content of the discipline beyond campus transforms academic knowledge from a private good into a public good. 

Note that these methods can engage local communities directly, or indirectly engage society through methods of "public academia" (e.g. op-eds, blogs, Wikipedia, Ted Talks, etc.)


  • In Introduction to Japanese Language, CC students visited local elementary schools to introduce children to another language and culture different from their own. (Joan Ericson, Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese, and Russian Studies)
  • In a Negotiation class, students learned about gender differences in negotiation and then taught elementary and middle school girls and boys how to negotiate.  (Christina Rader, Economics and Business)
  • A Philosophy for Children class was comprised of both CC students and local K12 teachers, who learned alongside one another. (Alberto Hernandez-Lemus, Philosophy)
  • The Waging Nonviolent Conflict class was co-taught with two visitors, Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Djinovic, veterans of the anti-Milosevic democracy movement in Serbia called OTPOR. (John Gould, Political Science)  
  • Christina Leza frequently brought community to campus as co-educators in her courses, hosting artists, activists, elders and leaders. (Christina Leza, Anthropology dept.)

community learning experiences that "leverage the power of place," often including a field trip or field experience.  Provides immersive, transformative learning that mobilizes students to continue to engage in an issue after the course.


  • In an Environmental Justice in the Southwest class, students analyzed environmental justice cases and engaged in experiential learning to better understand the complex relationships that lead to environmental injustices. They focused on how environmental justice is about scholarship and theory, and about action, organizing, and raising awareness (Karen Roybal, Southwest Studies)
  • In the Marketing Practicum: The Coffee Marketing Challenge, student teams helped market, produce and sell packaged coffee sourced from growers in Nicaragua. Teams worked with a craft coffee roaster in the Colorado Springs area for production and packaging, then took a one-week trip to Nicaragua to live among and learn from coffee growers. (John Mann, Economics and Business)
  • In Globalization and Immigration on the US-Mexico Border, students visited the US-Mexico border to inform their understanding and assessment of changing patterns of U.S. immigration; the conditions that have generated emigration to the U.S.; the nature/challenges of the migrant journey to the U.S.; and the role that Latino labor plays in the U.S. economy. (Eric Popkin, Sociology)

efforts to participate in culture change through storytelling and artistic expression that highlights stories of injustice, illuminates social problems, or inspires changemaking.  Often aims to address inequities in representation by elevating marginalized voices, narratives, and forms of knowledge.


  • In a LGBTQ Social Movements in the US class students engaged in a Colorado Springs LGBTQ oral history project, learning oral history methods and interviewing community members (Rushaan Kumar, Feminist and Gender Studies)
  • In The Story of Us Class, students partnered with local archives to develop short documentary films that could become part of the "Story of Us" exhibit at the Pioneers Museum. (Amy Kohout, History; and Dylan Nelson, Film & Media Studies)
  • In The Art of Songwriting class, students collaborated with inmates from the El Paso County Jail Veteran Ward. The students received lyrics written by the inmates and created new songs based on these texts. The project culminated with the students visiting the jail, meeting the inmates, and performing the new songs in front of the entire ward. (Iddo Aharony, Music)

directly addressing the needs of individuals, communities or community organizations, in a way that both promotes community benefit and provides an experiential learning opportunity to deepen students' understanding of course content.


  • In an Economics of Inequality class, students worked with the El Cinco de Mayo Foundation on a Fiesta Car Show fundraising event, among several opportunities to engage in community work and learning to bring to life the lived experience of inequality.
  • In Political Campaigning, students interned in primary and general elections, and then reflected on the experience through post-campaign written analysis. (Political Science).
  • In Introduction to K12 Classroom Culture, students applied their theoretical understanding of how classroom culture shapes learning in a practicum experience in cooperation with local school personnel in the Colorado Springs area. Responsibilities varied according to the needs of the school, but emphasis was on individualized help to K-12 students. (Tina Valtierra, Education)

show all / hide all

Next Steps

The CCE runs a program called the Publicly Engaged, Actionable Knowledge (PEAK) Project that connects campus knowledge to community impact. CC educators submit ideas for courses they'd like to connect to community.  Then, community partners peruse this list and express interest in those courses and research agendas they feel align to their work. The CCE plays the "match-maker" role in facilitating exploratory meetings. 

Resources as you develop your course: 

  • A Course Design Worksheet for Partnerships designed for instructor/community partner pairs to facilitate conversations with your community partner, and decision-points along the way. 
  • If you are earlier in the brainstorming process and haven't yet identified a community partner, use this Course Design Worksheet for Faculty.
  • If you are working to develop, or co-develop, the core idea of how your class might connect with a community partner, check out these brainstorming resources.  You'll find a concept map of types of projects you might integrate into the classroom, as well as a list of questions you might pose to a community partner to support them in identifying their needs for academic partnership.

If you teach or plan to teach a community-engaged learning course at CC, please let the CCE know so we can tag your course in the course schedule. 

Click here for more information on the CEL course tag. 

  • If you need a thought partner in designing your course or applied assignment, please reach out to CCE Director Dr. Jordan Travis Radke at  
  • If you need support in brainstorming and connecting to community partners for your course, please reach out to CCE Community Partnerships Coordinator Niki Sosa Gallegos at
Apply for a community-engaged learning curriculum or community-engaged research mini-grant.

show all / hide all

Report an issue - Last updated: 09/05/2023