— Tori Derr —

According to the Association of American Colleges & Universities, High-Impact Practices are approaches to education that have been demonstrated to promote active and deep learning. When principles of community engaged research are integrated into university courses, they often overlap with a range of High Impact Practices, including:

  • Collaborative assignments and projects – students learn to address problems, often through deep listening to people with different backgrounds or life experiences through team-based assignments or collaborative research
  • Undergraduate research – designed to connect students with actively contested questions, collect and analyze data, and link research to key concepts in their learning
  • Diversity and global learning – exploration of cultures, life experiences, and worldviews different from one’s own that often explore issues of power, equity, and rights
  • Community based learning and service learning – instructional field experiences with community partners in which students engage in analyzing and working to solve problems identified within a community
  • Capstone courses – culminating experiences that undergraduates take near the end of their degree program in which they integrate skills and knowledge that they have learned throughout their course of study.

Courses that commit to community-engaged research can focus on one of these areas, with intentional (or sometimes accidental) folding of other principles and high-impact practices into the course as it emerges.

In conceptualizing a new course, or an addition of community engaged research into an existing course, these practices can be a helpful way of thinking about the learning objectives and desired outcomes for a course.

There are many ways to integrate community-engaged research into teaching. The three types of course examples below show a range of ways that community engaged research can be integrated into existing courses.

Example Type 1

Integration of community-engaged research into an existing subject course, as an end-of-term project

ENVD 4023, Environmental Impact Assessment: Created information graphics, GIS maps, and other visual data for the Navajo Nation Climate Change Adaptation Report in cooperation with Center for Integrated Research in Environmental Science and Natural Resources Working Group of the University of Colorado Law School.

High Impact Practices: collaborative assignments and projects, diversity and global learning

Instructor Reflection: The challenge for this project was having all the community partners understand the learning outcomes for the course, and having the students produce useful products.

The benefits were primarily student-centered in that they thought differently about climate change and climate adaptation, through a social equity lens and through the realities of the Navajo Nation.

This was a small project with distal benefits to the community; however, the students in this course had no understanding of the context of livelihoods or life-ways of Indigenous people. It was significant in increasing awareness of the diverse needs of communities related to climate change.

RS 370: Religion and Ecology: Conducted community-based research at local religious congregations in order to understand how religion, race, ethnicity, and class shape environmental attitudes and behaviors. Students shared results of their research with a campus institute that aims to establish long-term partnerships and collaborations with local neighborhood entities.

High Impact Practices: collaborative assignments and projects, diversity and global learning, undergraduate research

Instructor Reflection: The major benefits  of this project are student-centered: it provides an undergraduate research experience for all thirty students in a general education class, and facilitates conversations about diversity in a teaching area that is dominated by white perspectives. To initiate the project, I set up focus groups at two local congregations, aiming to talk with people of different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Each student in the class either attends a focus group or transcribes a portion of the recorded conversation, then students work together to code their data and write a report about their findings. The direct community benefit of receiving a report is minimal, but the research experience could have indirect benefits for diverse communities as students learn to implement more inclusive forms of environmentalism.

 RELIGION AND ECOLOGY ASSIGNMENT:  Religion and Sustainability in Canoga Park:  A Service Learning Project for Religion and Ecology

Overview: In this service-learning project our class will conduct focus groups at two congregations in Canoga Park in order to ascertain the nature and interest of their concerns about the environment. We will analyze the data we gather and create a report for Neighborhood Partners in Action (NPA), a CSUN-based initiative that helps build bridges between community-based organizations and stakeholders. The data we gather will contribute to improving the lives of Canoga Park residents and will offer a real-world opportunity to test and apply concepts we discuss in class.

Download the Complete Assignment (PDF)

Example Type 2

Integration of community-engaged research into an existing research methods course, as a learning module for a specific method type

ENSTU 350, Research Methods in Environmental Studies: Facilitated survey analysis with Regeneración: Pájaro Valley Climate Action, resulting in three Fact Sheets and a farmworker adaptation report.

High Impact Practices: collaborative assignments and projects, undergraduate research, diversity and global learning, community based learning

Instructor Reflection: This was a very positive partnership for both the community and students.

Regeneracion received much needed support in data analysis and participated specifically in data analysis sessions with the students so that students could be responsive to community interests.

Students also were able to choose a specific set of data to analyze that was of interest to them. Students like being able to produce reports that they know are benefiting the local community.

Some students said that participation in this research helped them to see how a local community is tackling climate change, and that this made the climate action and adaptation seem more feasible to them. The challenges with this course were the additional time required by the faculty member to work with the community beyond the course period to develop policy fact sheets. But in this case, the work moved from teaching to other realms of scholarship, and provided value to the community. It emphasizes the commitment required for faculty and community partners in sustaining meaningful relationships and work.

“This was a fantastic course that made research less intimidating and approachable. Working with actual organizations and groups made this class seem like we were actually doing something useful” – ENSTU 350 student

Research Methods Course Syllabus

Research Report Assignment

Resulting Fact Sheet

Resulting Policy Analysis

Example Type 3

Framing an entire course on the foundations of community-engaged research

ENVD 4022, Planning Capstone: Integrated community-engaged planning projects into a capstone course, with a central focus on social and ecological resilience, including community resilience, disaster planning, green infrastructure, public and affordable housing, housing the homeless, and child and youth participation

High Impact Practices: collaborative assignments and projects, undergraduate research, diversity and global learning, community based learning, capstone projects

Instructor Reflection: This was a successful engagement process in that students initially heard from a diverse number of community partners about the needs and interests of the community and then selected a topic of focus that students worked on throughout the semester. It was challenging to provide consistent support to all students despite it being a small class (under 20 students). One of the most important aspects of this semester was to push students out of their comfort zone to engage with community partners and to be responsive to their needs. Some projects had a high degree of engagement and success.

Planning Capstone Syllabus

Planing Capstone Sample Assignments

Planning Capstone Sample Student Work

ENSTU 471, Projects for a Sustainable City Year. In partnership with the City of Seaside, California, students evaluated ethnic representation and conducted outreach to Latino residents; conducted community engagement for planning Seaside East and Fort Ord Assimilation; researched case material for tiny homes to meet housing insecurity; and developed and installed a tactical urbanism street revitalization project on Echo Avenue. Project summaries are archived on the course website.

High Impact Practices: collaborative assignments and projects, undergraduate research, diversity and global learning, community based learning, capstone projects

Instructor Reflection: Each of the projects responded directly to a community need. This was the greatest strength of the project. Students learned how to navigate municipal government systems and processes in order to realize their projects, and they experimented with different strategies for facilitating the most effective means of community engagement. Some of the students have gone on to work for city government, based on the interests they developed in this course.

I now have the tools I need to understand how a community feels and also the tools to collect and analyze data that can be used by the city. – ENSTU 471 student

At first I thought it was going to be very difficult to get people to respond to the prompts, but I found that the community was super helpful and resourceful and was glad that the city sent students out to understand what their thoughts and feelings were. – ENSTU 471 student

Projects for a Sustainable City Year Sample Syllabus

Projects for a Sustainable City Year Sample Report

ENSTU 472, Projects in Environmental Education. In partnership with Los Arboles Middle School in Marina, California, students worked alongside a middle school environmental literacy class to improve the outdoor classroom as a space that can be used to teach and learn environmental sustainability. The course was focused on place-based education, working with students to build connections between their own lives, their school, and their community. Projects included construction and interpretation of a native plants garden, a directional totem pole with both locally important locations as well as places across the world that students had a connection to, installation of a weather station, creation of Marina ecosystem murals, and creation of a vermicompost system. Evaluative research explored the impacts of the course projects on middle school students’ engagement and interest in learning about their environment, with case study students who typically showed either low- or high-engagement to examine how or if the partnership had an impact on these students’ engagement and learning.

High Impact Practices: collaborative assignments and projects, undergraduate research, diversity and global learning, community based learning, capstone projects

Instructor Reflection: This was a highly successful course. Establishment of the partnership for the course took place over more than a year of careful deliberation about the course structure and goals.

The capstone faculty member and environmental literacy teacher also worked together on a few smaller projects before launching the first capstone course.

The challenges experienced in this course were typical for community engagement – students learning to navigate the ideas and demands of community partners, especially when those differed from their own ideas about what the course was about, or what should be done. However, a few student quotes show some of the ways that students grew over the semester:

Working with the students has been a different experience for me because I have not worked this closely with kids before, but I have found it to be beyond rewarding. I have learned through working with the students that everyone is motivated by different activities in the outdoor classroom but once they hone in on the task presented, they are hardworking until their part in the job is done. – ENSTU 472 student

Although, as facilitators we are guiding and helping the students improve their environment, learning experience, and empowering them through our project development, we are also learning from and becoming empowered by them. – ENSTU 472 student

We all feel that we have come a long way since startingboth in terms of the physical product and our conversations with the students. Even though we have these few last ends with the sign that we want to finish properly, I think I can speak for all of us native gardeners when I say that this has been a really positive experience and we are really proud of what the group of usLAMS and CSUMB togetherhave been able to accomplish. – ENSTU 472 student

Syllabus:  Project in Environmental Education

SOCIOLOGY 190A, The Eco Vista Project: A Community-Based Participatory Research Practicum. This course asked students to imagine a society that can weather the climate storm while also generating new imaginations of a society better suited to human wellbeing and thriving. Participatory research was conducted in partnership with the University of California Santa Barbara community project called Eco Vista, a transition of an existing Isla Vista into a model eco-village.

High Impact Practices: collaborative assignments and projects, undergraduate research, community based learning.

Syllabus:  The Ecovista Project

Assignment:  Cool Block Project