Community-based Learning

Our Model

At Georgetown University, community-based learning (CBL) is an academic course-based pedagogy that involves student work with disadvantaged and underserved individuals or groups, or organizations working with and for disadvantaged and underserved individuals or groups, that is structured to meet community-defined needs. Critically, course objectives and student community work are fundamentally integrated. The basic aim of CBL courses is two-fold: first, that students’ experiences in community-based work will heighten their engagement with central academic themes and material in the course; second, that the academic course content will facilitate students’ ability to reflect in deep and constructive ways on their experiences working in the community.

The Center for Social Justice (CSJ) is responsible for designating undergraduate courses as “community-based learning” courses. Crucially, a CBL course involves work with disadvantaged and underserved individuals and groups. Such work has traditionally been called “service-learning,” a term many colleges and universities continue to employ. The language of CBL attempts to capture Georgetown’s central commitment to working with community representatives in designing CBL courses, courses that value the contributions of both campus and community to the learning experience of the students.

Program Overview

CBL courses can include either or both of the following types of work:

  1. Direct service. Examples: working with people experiencing homelessness or refugees; tutoring in local schools or community centers; mentoring at-risk children; serving at a health clinic; working with adjudicated youth; teaching English to children and adults.
  2. Indirect service. Examples: conducting a needs assessment study or other types of community-based research; assisting in writing grant applications for a community-based organization; creating a website for a nonprofit agency; assisting in policy analysis work; working with those who are preparing for public hearings; helping design educational campaigns; supporting the creation of materials to advance or advocate for a social justice priority.
CBL Advisory Board

A CBL Course Advisory Board works to support the development and identification of CBL courses. The Board applies the designation given ample evidence that the criteria for the CBL designation has been met. One CSJ Faculty Fellow from each undergraduate school serves on the Board.

  • Laura Anderko, School of Nursing and Health Studies
  • Bob Bies, McDonough School of Business
  • Lahra Smith, School of Foreign Service
  • Brian McCabe, Georgetown College
Criteria for the CBL Designation
  1. The success of a CBL course requires significant investment in and with the community. A “significant investment” requires at least 20 to 40 hours per student through the semester. Some portion of this work is done on site. Specific course assignments should integrate community-based field work.

  2. Community-based work is designed through collaboration with those in the community organizations with which the work is to be done, so that it is responsive to community-defined needs.

  3. Community-based work is integral to the course objectives and are informed by knowledge and skills informed by the disciplinary or interdisciplinary paradigms of the course.

  4. Student assignments include reflective engagement on the intersection of community-based work and course content.

Models for CBL Courses
  1. CBL embedded in a course. All students complete at least 20 to 40 hours of structured community-based work along with designated course assignments requiring active integration by students of their community-based work and central course themes. Assignments might include papers, reports, e-portfolios, videos, reflective practice journals, oral presentations, or exams. A “CBL embedded” course can either be for 3 or 4 credits, depending on the decision of the professor and director or chair of their program, department or school. In a "CBL required" course, individual students may be working with a wide range of CBOs; small groups of students might be working with particular CBOs; or all students might be working together on one large project for an identified CBO.
  2. CBL as an ‘option’ within a course. Students choosing the “CBL option” in such a course are moved into the CBL section of the course within the first two weeks of the course when they commit to the completing the CBL. Each student completes at least 20 to 40 hours of structured community-based work, along with designated course assignments requiring active integration by students of their community-based work and other course materials. In this model, the course instructor designs the course to include ‘tracks’ for students, one of which involves structured community-based work and its related assignments, such as papers, reports, e-portfolios, videos, oral presentations, or exams. Note: Students electing to complete the CBL track in this model of the “option” do not earn an additional credit. Students and faculty interested in that opportunity are directed to the UNXD 130 Social Action course.
Earning the CBL Course Designation

Instructors interested in transforming an existing course or developing a new course to include a CBL component are encouraged to make an initial meeting with CSJ's Assistant Director, Social Justice Curriculum & Pedagogy, Amanda Munroe.

CSJ staff can support faculty through consultation on pedagogies, evaluation and assessment, assisgnments and through community partner contacts. The course instructors should then meet with the director/chair of their program or department to discuss the syllabus and decide upon the appropriate number of credits for the course. The instructor should proceed by submitting a draft of the syllabus for review by and feedback from the CBL Advisory Board. CBL-designated courses can be searched for under the course attribute in MyAccess.