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Guiding Principles for Community-Based Learning

Whether you are planning a field trip, guest speaker, research, service-learning, or a public impact project, there are certain elements and factors to consider and incorporate. All community-based learning, from activity to long-term project, requires careful planning, connection to course objectives, collaboration with the community partner to identify need, intended impact, and responsibilities, as well as opportunities for quality reflection.


When planning for community-based learning, be sure to consider the following:

Consider Impact

Think about all facets of impact. For example, if you are taking your students to a community space–what do they need to know about the space beforehand to be respectful of the people there and the space itself? When asking an individual to come speak with your class, is there a way for the class to thank the presenter? 

Community Partners are Co-Creators

Ensure that the activity or shared work has mutually beneficial outcomes for your students and the community or organization. Especially when planning longer term projects or research in a community-based context, the outcomes of the work should have value beyond student learning, and the need and intended product should be identified in conversation with the community partner. Collaborate with the community partner–whether that is an organization, business, etc–as a co-creator of the course design, learning outcomes, and/or research goals.

Engage in Relationship

Engage based upon relationship. Build on existing university connections (there are many–be in touch with us in the Sabo Center to learn more!), or use your own connections. For the sake of students, vet the organizations or people they may be working with. Establish a trusting relationship with a community group or organization before expecting a student to contribute time and energy.

Clear Parameters

Be sure to establish clear parameters for students about the connection between the community-based learning and the course’s educational goals, objectives, and learning outcomes. Offer clear guidance about what is to be accomplished and learned, and emphasize the student’s responsibility and the reality of the impact their actions might have.


Prep students for what to expect and what is expected of them in the context of a community-based learning opportunity, whether that is a field trip or a long term project. Engage in reflection with students before the activity or project–what do they expect to learn? What do they want to learn? What are some things they think they know from the jump? Have students attend a scheduled community-based learning orientation with the Sabo Center, or coordinate with the Sabo Center to bring someone to do an orientation with your class.


Quality reflection is essential for effective community-based learning, and for all experiential learning. Build in opportunities for structured and varied forms of reflection, and communicate clearly about how this reflection will be evaluated.


Want guidance for how to get started?  Contact Director of Community Engagement Mary Laurel True (

Place-Based Community Engagement


Augsburg University has a long history of deeply-rooted and long-term work in Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and the surrounding community, an approach known today as place-based community engagement. In fact, part of the reason Augsburg moved to Minneapolis in 1872 from its first location in Marshall, Wisconsin, was so that seminary students could gain experience serving city congregations in Cedar-Riverside and across the city. This commitment to place-based engagement has been affirmed and sustained across our history, from Professor Joel Torstenson’s call in the 1960s for faculty to embrace the modern metropolis as both classroom and place for contribution to the public good, to our early leadership in the field of service-learning, and the mission of the Center for Global Education and Experience. Over the last thirty years, dedicated staff and faculty have established and maintained numerous partnerships with local neighborhood organizations and individuals, connecting students, faculty, and community members. These partnerships are grounded in trust built on long-term, reciprocal relationships, and support a variety of initiatives and projects. Augsburg has continued to uphold these efforts through funding staff positions focused on community engagement, and prioritizing experiential education as part of the university’s mission and strategic plan.

Examples of this place-based partnership work in Cedar-Riverside include:

Midnimo at the Cedar Cultural Center

Sisterhood Boutique

Campus Kitchen: Community Garden and Meals at Brian Coyle

Health Commons

Cedar Riverside Community School

Community-Based Learning

Place-based community engagement is defined as “a long-term university-wide commitment to partner with local residents, organizations, and other leaders to focus equally on campus ad community impact within a clearly defined geographic area.” [1] Engaging with stakeholders from across the university and neighborhood community, a place-based approach aims to enact real and meaningful social change through partnership and co-creative work.

In recent years, Augsburg has engaged with a cohort of higher education institutions from across the country who are similarly interested in deeply focused, long-term, and place-based community engagement work. Recently formed into a formal organizational network, the Place-Based Justice Network (PBJN) consists of twenty member institutions that participate in annual summer institutes, continuous learning opportunities, leaderships retreats, and other activities focused on place-based community engagement in higher education. 

As a network the PBJN aims to transform higher education and the communities surrounding them by actually working to deconstruct systems of oppression through a place-based community approach. The values of the network emphasize anti-oppression, anti-racism, intersectionality, self-determination, and deliberative process. This move toward an explicitly anti-oppression framework is an important and unique shift in the field of university community engagement, and one which we strive to incorporate deeply into our ongoing place-based work. 

[1] Erica K. Yamamura and Kent Koth, Place-Based Community Engagement in Higher Education: A Strategy to Transform Universities and Communities, (Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2018), 19.