Collaborating for Civic Learning

The Premise: Working together for Better Communities

Partnerships are essential for the work we do at the McCall Center for Civic Engagement. By working with community agencies, we are able to offer students incredible learning experiences, while at the same time offering our partners the knowledge and skills that students can contribute.

On an even more significant level, though, when the people within educational institutions, non-profits, businesses, and/or governmental organizations collaborate, we are all practicing the collective work of shaping our communities and informing the next generation of community members about what it means to be a responsible citizen of our society. In that regard, community-campus partnerships are essential for our civil, democratic society, whether they alleviate suffering through charitable actions or strive for systems change through reform.

Mechanisms of Social Change

We often refer to the Social Change Wheel to describe the variety of activities that fall under the umbrella of civic engagement at Pacific. Civic engagement addresses social, political, and environmental issues in the community through actions that can make a difference on those issues, including service, advocacy, awareness-raising, activism, action-oriented research, deliberative dialogue, electoral participation, and political involvement. As Pacific prepares students for lives as active and informed citizens, our partners play a critical role.

Co-creating Collaborations for Civic Learning 

When community partners work with Pacific students on civic engagement activities, they are essentially acting as co-educators, alongside faculty and staff, in facilitating student learning. Some of the most effective opportunities for civic learning come when students can make a meaningful contribution to the community that connects to their academic studies. By co-creating such opportunities with faculty, community partners can help to ensure that the work they are investing is meeting their own needs, as well as providing high quality opportunities for student development.

The steps below for co-creating collaborations for civic engagement is based on the Community partner guide to campus collaborations: Enhance your community by becoming a co-educator with colleges and universities, co-authored by MCCE director Stephanie Stokamer. Partners interested in learning more about co-educating in civic engagement may request a complimentary copy of the book.

Explore Possibilities

  • Learn about different ways to structure student involvement, such as types of civic engagement or how civic engagement is different from and similar to other forms of experience
  • Think about the work your organization does through civic, disciplinary (i.e. academic subjects or majors), and professional lenses
    • Identify civic connections:
      • What do you do to which to which students can make a meaningful and authentic contribution?
      • What do you do that can help students develop civic knowledge, skills, attitudes, behaviors?
    • Identify disciplinary connections
      • What subjects/disciplinary areas connect to your work?
      • What did you or your colleagues study in college or graduate school to prepare you for your work today?
    • Identify professional connections
      • How might working for your organization help students’ in their future careers?
      • What skills might students practice that they will need in their future jobs?  
      • What other professional development can you offer?
      • What kinds of skills and knowledge does your organization need in its future workforce?
  • Consider nuts and bolts
    • What are the constraints around when students can work with you, how long they need to be engaged, the access to transportation that will be required, accessibility concerns, etc.?
    • What training or orientation is needed in order for students to be successful with your organization?
    • Where would the student work? Who would supervise and be available for questions?

Establish Relationships

  • Connect with campus offices, clubs, departments, and communities

  • Discuss stakeholders’ needs, interests, and expectations

  • Be aware of cultural differences, boundaries, assumptions

  • Time lines, planning, legalities and risk management

  • Work with stakeholders to strive toward the Community-Campus Partnerships for Health Principles of Partnership

Engage Faculty

  • Know that many faculty want to partner, though some are more able than others to balance partnership work with other responsibilities. The faculty at Pacific vary widely in how closely they are involved with the community partners who support our civic engagement courses.
  • Research has indicated that student learning is the number one reason that faculty choose to integrate civic engagement into their courses. Speaking to the ways in which students can apply specific concepts from their academic learning, the civic / public dimension of disciplines or career fields, and the learning potential at your organization may be especially appealing to faculty.
  • Utilize your networks to reach the right faculty. Many faculty will be drawn toward civic engagement that is readily connected to their academic field of study, but some will also be drawn to the issue or cause you work on simply because they care about it too.  Whether your connections are personal or professional, establishing what has brought you to the table can help open the door for clear expectations throughout the collaboration.
  • Co-create courses by designing the experience for the outcomes you seek. Faculty at Pacific who are teaching courses with a civic engagement (CE) designation in our curriculum may be interested in student experiences that might connect to our approved learning objectives for the CE designation, in addition to any other learning outcomes specific to their courses. Some faculty may already have learning outcomes or an existing course when they connect with you; others may be starting from scratch.  When possible, faculty and community partners can include students in this intentional planning around experiential learning. Elements of course design to ask about and perhaps collaborate on include:
    • Learning outcomes
    • Content
    • Assignments
    • Activities in class and in the field
    • Time lines and sequencing of what happens when
    • Critical reflection on and learning from experience

Empower Students

  • Prepare students for the experience with knowledge of the issues. Topics for student preparation include:
    • Background on issue, local population
    • Appropriate language and terminology
    • Local context and history
    • How culture, power, privilege, and stereotypes affect this issue
  • Topics for student orientation:
    • Expectations and agreements
    • Dress code
    • E-mail and phone etiquette with you and with others
    • Appropriate use of phones, texting, social media, other technology on site / during shift
    • Social media and confidentiality of guests/clients/population served
    • Attendance and timeliness
    • Decision-making processes
    • Policies and procedures
    • Troubleshooting – what to do when there’s a problem or emergency, ranging from the experience not going well to evacuation procedures.
  • Support students’ leadership development during their work with you. Consider ways to encourage students’ growth through the Social Change Model of Leadership Development (summarized by Central Michigan University; source text available from the Higher Education Research Institute of UCLA).
  • “Lean in” to constructive controversy. Some helpful phrases to engage students in conversation* when you see or hear a teachable moment or recognize different viewpoints include:  
    • “Can we dig into that point further?”
    • “How did you come to hold that opinion?”
    • “What is at the heart of your beliefs?”
    • “What hopes/concerns/values do you have that underlie your beliefs?”
    • “What is it in your life experience that has led you to believe the things you do?”
    • “What’s bothering you / angered you/ hurt you about what happened?”
    • “How does this problem affect you and your family?”
    • “Huh, interesting -- tell me more.”
    • “I come from a different point of view. Can you help me understand your perspective?”
    • “I noticed that comment...I’d like to return to it after I’ve had a chance to formulate my own thoughts.” 
    • “I feel the temperature rising.  Can we take a break/explore this topic/take a moment for quiet reflection? “
    • “I want to learn more about your thinking there.  Can you help me understand why you said that?” 

* suggested with gratitude to facilitators, discussion guides, dialogue moderator trainings, and other sources form whom this language is drawn

  • Facilitate student learning through reflection. Work with faculty to establish your role in participating in/co-facilitating students’ reflections on their experience. Prepare for some level of student dissatisfaction / constructive criticism (there almost always is, though how much and about what varies widely) and aim for student learning over defensiveness if you can. Examples of prompts for reflection in discussion, writing, or other formats, include:
    • What are some assumptions you think people make about this topic?
    • What was surprising to you about what we did today?
    • What went well and what did not during today’s session?  Why?
    • How does the way we provide this service differ from other organizations you’ve been a part of?
    • Why do you think this organization needs to exist?
    • I expected community members to be….(ask to fill in the blank)
    • What have you learned about the community?
    • What impact do you think your work has?
    • What new questions do you have?
    • How do you feel about what you did today?
    • Will you do anything or think anything differently because of your experience today?

Evaluating Impact

  • Ask the key questions (also framed as a reflection question with students as “What,” “So what?” and “Now what?”):
    • Did our efforts make a difference?
    • Why did our efforts make a difference?
    • How can we make a bigger difference?
  • Work with faculty, as well as administrators and/or colleagues from both your organizations, to co-create shared measurements and methods to collect ay necessary data. Consider what other stakeholders in your organizations might need or want to know from your collaboration. Faculty may be interested in whether any data could be used for future research.
  • Iterate. Every course evolves over time, and experiential learning has numerous aspects that may change from semester to semester. Faculty make changes and most understand that you may need to make changes too. Work with faculty (and students when you can) to reflect on the course or civic engagement experience and plan how you will adjust the course design next time. A coffee/tea meeting shortly following the experience, and another once one of you needs to get planning underway for the next time the course is taught, is a great way to imagine together the possibilities for the next round, while strengthen the human relationship that is at the heart of collaborative work.