Teaching & Learning


Initiatives and resources supporting the objectives of UCL's Education Strategy 2016-21


Community Engaged Learning Service (CELS): collaborating with external partners in the curriculum

Community Engaged Learning is a form of experiential learning where students collaborate with external partners to address real-world challenges as part of their assignments.

1. What is Community Engaged Learning?  

Community Engaged Learning is a form of experiential learning that involves developing partnerships and collaborative projects into teaching between faculty, students and external partners.

Through these partnerships, students apply their theoretical knowledge to practice, develop transferable skills and become more life-ready. Academics can extend their classroom in the community and have more opportunity for creativity in their teaching. External partners can further their mission and goals which results in the creation of positive social impact.

An external or community partner is any partner outside the university you want to involve in your teaching curriculum. It can be private or public, commercial or non-profit making and based anywhere in the world.

Community Engaged Learning promotes Connected Learning’s approach to education that makes connections between people, with research and the wider world.  

This type of learning equips students with the knowledge and skills to contribute significantly to society and be leaders of the future in their chosen field and profession, underpinning our 2034 and Education strategies as well as the Sustainable Development Goals.

Community Engaged Learning can entail in-person engagement, but also online engagement. Students can collaborate with partners from the local community, but also with partners from around the world.

2. The benefits of introducing community engaged learning into your teaching 

Benefits for your students

Enhanced student experience, engagement and leadership. Students receive hands-on, practical experience and they explore how to synthesise and exploit disciplinary expertise in pursuit of knowledge and solutions to local and global problems as Global citizens, which often results in better student engagement and performance (Abes et al., 2002; Fallini & Moely, 2003; UCL Strategy 2034, Theme 2; Sustainable Development Goals).

Increased sensitivity and capacity to manage diversity. Students are exposed to different groups of people, often those they might otherwise not connect with. Students develop a greater sensitivity to issues of diversity and an increased capacity to manage issues of diversity positively (Keen and Hall, 2009).

Preparing for the workplace and the world. Students get the opportunity to work with potential future employers in authentic situations and develop transferable skills and life-readiness. Students are empowered to become active citizens who practice respect and empathy, seek collaboration, cooperation and creativity (Astin & Sax, 1998; Vitae Researcher Development Framework).

Benefits for UCL academic staff

Enhanced teaching and increased learning opportunities. Academic staff have more space to enrich their teaching practice by using more pedagogical tools and offer students more learning opportunities (TEF). Community engaged learning in the curriculum can increase creativity, enjoyment in teaching and an opportunity to form a closer rapport with the students (Pribenow, 2005; Huo, 2010; NSS criteria).

Knowledge of communities and impactful research. Academic staff come in contact with local knowledge, challenges and opportunities which can advance disciplinary and interdisciplinary research in ways that are rigorous, creative and impactful (REF, 2014 case studies).

Career progression through collaborating with external partners. Academic staff can use their community engagement practice in their teaching towards their career progression (HEA Fellowship application and UCL Academic Careers Framework).

Benefits for external community partners

Access to resources through connection to the university. Universities often have resources that are not available to community organizations. These include specialized knowledge, trained researchers and funding opportunities (Kellog, 2002).

Further community partners’ missions and goals. When students are engaged with a group or organization in communities they become knowledgeable about the mandate, mission and services of that group or organization. The partner can benefit from student volunteering and overall from what the partnership can bring (Jones & Hill, 2001).

Potential pool of job applicants. Students who become engaged with an organization and spend time there can become potential employees for an organization and can be vetted through the partnership opportunity.

3. Background of Community Engaged Learning 

Community Engaged Learning marries community engagement scholarship with pedagogical theories and tools. At UCL, we use the framing “Community Engaged Learning” without wishing to exclude any other pedagogical approaches that involve collaborating with external partners as a way to enhance student experience. 

The principles of Community Engaged Learning at UCL have been co-designed by students and community partners and they are: 

  • Transparency 
  • Mutual Benefit 
  • Clear Expectations 
  • Communication and Feedback 
  • Openness to Learning 

Our Community Engaged Learning approach draws on:

  • Experiential learning
  • Service learning
  • Authentic learning
  • Community-Based Research (CBR)
  • Public engagement
  • Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
  • Civic engagement
  • Place-based learning
  • Work-based learning
  • Glocal Pedagogy
  • Participatory Action Research (PAR)
  • Citizen Science 

What is the Community Engaged Learning Service (CELS)?  

The Community Engaged Learning Service (CELS) is a consultancy at UCL that aims to enable the development of more Community Engaged Learning opportunities into teaching. Students and community partners have been at the centre of the service, co-designing its offering, processes and resources.

To enable more Community Engaged Learning opportunities into teaching, we: 

  • Enable partnerships between faculty, students and external partners for the design of teaching and learning opportunities that enhance student experience, enrich academic practice and have positive social impact
  • Ensure that programmes or modules follow best practice of community engagement and are pedagogically sound
  • Celebrate and share existing Community Engaged Learning practice across UCL and with the wider HE sector
  • Offer advice to those interested in progressing their career using Public / Community Engagement for gaining HEA Fellowship
  • Conduct research on Community Engaged Learning to better understand how it can enhance student experience 
  • Build the capacity of community partners to successfully partner with the university
  • Co-lead on the development of the first national network on Service Learning / Community Engaged Learning in the UK

CELS supports new and existing UCL programmes that want to embed community engagement into teaching and it is one of the key themes for the development of the new UCL EAST programmes.

The Curriculum and Public Engagement Consultant, Marie Xypaki, leads on the Community Engaged Learning Service (UCL Culture and UCL Arena) supported by colleagues across UCL.

In detail, we work closely with a number of teams within UCL such as: 

    Services provided by CELS and how to access them 

    We will act as consultants and trainers and give support to UCL staff and students, and provide access to a pool of community partners.

    We will not administrate or broker the ongoing relationships with partners - that is up to you as a UCL academic.

    Our services take the form of:

    1. Training and events
    2. Networking and finding partners
    3. Resources
    4. Consultancy services
    5. Supporting community partners

    1. Training and events

    CELS Arena sessions

    An overview session, run once or twice a month, open to UCL academic staff interested in Community Engaged Learning.

    Attending this session will help you to:

    • understand what your programme or module might look like when you embed collaborations with external partners
    • understand how to do Community Engaged Learning in a digital learning environment
    • understand community engagement best practice
    • understand what support and opportunities are available

    To registercheck the Teaching and Learning Portal events calendar for available sessions (choose 'community engaged learning' as a filter on the left-hand side).

    CELS curriculum design workshop

    For programme teams designing new programmes where you want to include a strong community engagement element.

    This workshop will be organised and run for your individual team, and therefore tailored to your programme needs.

    marie.xypaki@ucl.ac.uk to book a workshop.

    ABC learning design workshop - Community Engaged Learning

    The ABC curriculum design method is a well-known programme design approach at UCL, using storyboarding, and run by Digital Education.

    We offer a modified version of this workshop, in partnership with Digital Education, which incorporates Community Engaged Learning elements.

    This workshop can be run for programme teams, departments or faculties.

    marie.xypaki@ucl.ac.uk to book a workshop.

    Training for your students

    Depending on your programme needs, you may want to prepare your students to work with external partners as part of your teaching.

    After completing this training, students will be able to:

    • understand what is meant by community engagement and its benefits for their professional practice
    • work with community partners to define their needs and objectives for effective engagement
    • research the priorities of communities.

    communityengagedlearning@ucl.ac.uk to request student training.

    2. Networking and finding partners

    CELS university-community networking sessions

    An opportunity for UCL academic staff to network with local community groups and business.

    These sessions aim to bring together students, academic staff and potential community partners to:

    • identify collaborative projects
    • discuss ways of working together
    • initiate partnerships

    communityengagedlearning@ucl.ac.uk to enquire about the next networking session.

    CELS support with finding external partners

    CELS can reach out to existing UCL community networks with your request for developing Community Engaged Learning projects.

    The responsibility for finding a partner and for sustaining the partnership lies with the individual programme or module leader.

    communityengagedlearning@ucl.ac.uk to place a request for finding an external partner

    3. Resources


    Toolkits are available for staff on the Teaching & Learning Portal:

    “CELS inspired me and gave me useful tools and support to pursue embedding community engagement in our final year projects”. Dr Nephtali Marina-Gonzalez, Undergraduate year 1 Academic Lead, Faculty of Medical Sciences 

    4. Consultancy services

    CELS one-to-one consultation sessions

    You and/or your team can receive one-to-one advice on ways to embed community engagement into your existing programme or module.

    You must teach or lead an existing module or programme to use this service.

    We can support you and your team to:

    • review the programme or module descriptors to identify the best ways to embed community engagement
    • identify what community groups and collaborative activities/projects are most relevant for meeting your learning outcomes
    • identify how to evaluate community engagement in your teaching
    • identify whether, and when, your students will need training (jump to the student training section of this page)
    • evidence your community engagement practice as part of your HEA Fellowship application 
    • reach out to our pool of community contacts to identify any suitable and available partners.

    marie.xypaki@ucl.ac.uk to request the consultancy service.

    CELS consultation session for Programme and Module Approval Panel submissions (PMAP)

    If you’re developing a new programme or module with a strong Community Engaged Learning element, we can advise you on your PMAP documentation to ensure that best practice of community engagement is followed and that the new programme is pedagogically sound.

    marie.xypaki@ucl.ac.uk to request the consultancy service.

    5. Support we provide our community partners

    We provide advice, resources and training for potential external partners on how the curriculum works and how they can partner with UCL departments.

    We are currently developing a web page for our community partners.

    CELS inspired me to rethink my public engagement experience; there has been great support and I received very helpful advice on how to embed community engagement in my teaching” Dr Froso Argyri, UCL Centre for Applied Linguistics, IoE

    Read Dr Froso's case study, June 2020.  

    Further Information

    Contact Marie Xypaki, Curriculum and Public Engagement Consultant if you are a UCL academic staff or community partner and want to find out more about the service.

    Community Engaged Learning case studies on the Teaching and Learning Portal (use the community engaged learning tag under ‘subject’ on the left).