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Community-Based Experiential Education : Homepage

Use this guide to find information for service learning, community service and related topics.

What is Community-Based Experiential Education (CBEE)?

“Real life,” credit bearing learning experiences at or involving community organizations, intentionally designed to achieve academic and/or professional learning outcomes, as well as assist in the student’s civic and personal development.  Projects or placements are arranged to utilize students’ skills and expertise to achieve a goal or implement a strategy for the community organization.

Community-based experiential education can take place in collaboration with a variety of organizations whose work is intended to bring about community benefit and/or public good.  These can include:

  • Nonprofit organization - A nonprofit is an organization registered at the federal level that uses its profit to provide services to the community, rather than pay dividends to investors.  Most of these organizations are known as 501(c)(3) organizations.
  • Community-based organizations (CBO’s) -  organizations serving local community needs, may be public entities like schools, quasi-public organizations like the Providence Plan, or private nonprofit organizations, like hospitals, social service providers and afterschool programs
  • Social enterprise/entrepreneurship ventures - a market-driven business model to address critical social and environmental issues (ie, a business created to train and employ ex-convicts or the mentally challenged, or a for-profit business created to raise money to support a nonprofit organization)
  • Government entities - federal, state and local programs and departments

What does CBEE look like?

CBEE can take a variety of forms, in order to best align with course objectives and program outcomes.  Some examples are: 

Service-learning – Students volunteer at a CBO on a weekly basis over the course of a term, and participate in orientation and reflection exercises to gain perspective and context for their work.  The faculty member will also provide linkage with course material and course-related skills and assist the students in debriefing their experiences in light of the academic material.

Classroom-based projects and nonprofit Directed Work Experiences (DWE’s) – Students utilize course material (or knowledge related to their major) and apply course- or major-related skills to address a need presented by a nonprofit, CBO or a social entrepreneurship venture.  The project may be a combined effort of the whole class, different student groups working to develop competing projects for the same organization, or different organizations serving as clients for each student group.  The staff of the nonprofit serve as “clients,” introducing the students to their organization at the beginning of the term.  Students may visit the organization’s facility, but the actual student work is completed on campus and then presented to the recipient organization at the end of the term.  Faculty provide additional orientation and reflection opportunities for the students involved.

Nonprofit internships – Students are placed at nonprofit organizations for professional development.  This is an opportunity to gain experience and document skills and successful projects for future employers.  A general orientation for completing an internship is provided by Experiential Education & Career Services.  Ideally, this also incorporates information on the unique challenges and benefits of working in a nonprofit/community setting, as well as contextual readings and opportunities for reflection and processing of the student’s learning experience.

Why should CBEE projects be integrated into degree programs at JWU and other institutions?

Well-structured CBEE can achieve four types of learning outcomes important to JWU and the Centennial Plan:

Academic/Course-based -  By providing opportunities for the “real life” application of course knowledge and observation of course principles at work in the “real world,” students in CBEE have increased motivation, more engagement in course content and a deeper understanding of context and relevance of academic content.  For courses focused on skill development, CBEE provides an opportunity to practice and hone those skills for real clients and the opportunity to have real impact with their work.  This reflects JWU’s commitment to “offer relevant programs that maximize student potential” and to “enrich our academic programs with experiential and work-integrated learning.”

Professional - Working with real “clients” at a nonprofit or on campus to benefit a nonprofit provides students with not only industry-specific skills (ie, large scale food production at a soup kitchen, web design in a technology class, or development of a marketing plan for a nonprofit fundraiser in a marketing class), but also necessary “soft” career skills, like leadership, problem-solving, communication, time management, etc.  This reflects JWU’s commitment to provide “an exceptional education that inspires professional success” and to graduate students who have “the attributes and skills to excel as professionals and lead purposeful lives.”

Civic and Global - As students work on projects to address community needs, they gain civic role models, develop a greater understanding of the root causes of complex social issues, and work with diverse constituencies to benefit the common good.  In the process, they develop an increased sense of social responsibility; a deeper perspective on values, principles and ethics; and global and diversity competencies.  This reflects JWU’s commitment to “embrace diversity for a richly inclusive community,”  “model ethical behavior and local, national and global citizenship” and “enrich and expand opportunities for global learning.”

Personal - Building new relationships, gaining confidence and self-esteem, and increasing a sense of self-efficacy can all result from accomplishing meaningful work in support of a nonprofit or social enterprise mission.  Students can develop and demonstrate personal skills such as emotional intelligence, resilience and persistence, patience, adaptability and flexibility, initiative, courage, creativity, problem-solving and decision-making, all of which can also benefit their academic, professional and civic development.  This reflects JWU’s commitment to provide “an exceptional education that inspires professional success and lifelong personal and intellectual growth,” graduates “ambitious and engaged students that [have] the attributes and skills to excel as professionals and lead purposeful lives.”  Personal learning outcomes are also a result of JWU’s programs, like CBEE, that “strengthen tradition, community spirit and affinity.”

How is CBEE different from volunteerism?

The goal of traditional volunteerism is simply to provide service to a community organization or cause.  It is primarily one directional – the volunteer is “doing good” to benefit others.  CBEE, on the other hand, is multi-directional and multi-dimensional.  It is a targeted teaching and learning strategy that seeks to achieve designated learning outcomes through the implementation of a project that utilizes course or program-related skills to assist a nonprofit organization or government entity.  In effective CBEE projects, the nonprofit organization and its clients benefit from the work performed, the students develop and demonstrate their academic and industry skills and knowledge, and they develop the skills necessary to be an active citizen in a global society.

Ensuring and maximizing student learning outcomes requires intentional work by the faculty member to provide context and connection for the student’s service, to the larger social environment, to the student’s academic coursework and career field, and to the specific issues facing clients at the recipient organization.