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

New service helps enable mutually beneficial collaborations into teaching which enhance student experience, enrich academic practice and create a positive social impact.

Universities play an important role in their communities and those communities provide rich opportunities for student learning.

Many UCL academic staff are offering innovative learning opportunities for students through collaboration with real community partners, traveling to authentic settings in London or linking digitally with global communities.

A 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.

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.

To support and reward this practice, as well as develop the infrastructure to mainstream it across the university, UCL has developed a new pilot service: Community Engaged Learning Service (CELS).

The CELS offers services that cover:

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

Community Engaged Learning is a characteristic of the Connected Curriculum, UCL's framework for research based education and is one of the key themes for the UCL EAST programmes.

Background and aims of the Community Engaged Learning Service (CELS)

The Community Engaged Learning Service (CELS) is a pilot consultancy at UCL that aims to mainstream partnerships between faculty, students and community partners for the design of teaching and learning opportunities that enhance student experience, enrich academic practice and have positive social impact.

CELS is funded by UCL Culture and UCL Arena.

CELS is for new and existing UCL programmes that want to embed community engagement into teaching.

The aim is to ensure programmes follow best practice of community engagement and are pedagogically sound.

The new service builds on existing best practice across the institution, whilst further enhancing our understanding of how to work with community partners through:

  • Curriculum co-designing sessions
  • Conducting research
  • Developing networks with other Higher Education Institutions

The key principles and offering of CELS were co-developed by UCL staff, students and community partners during the first stage of the pilot in 2018/19.  

Aims of the CELS

To support academic staff by:

  • supporting, rewarding and showcasing existing best practice of Community Engaged Learning in the curriculum across UCL.
  • advising and supporting new UCL programmes or modules with Community Engaged Learning components to ensure that they are pedagogically sound and follow community engagement best practices.
  • offering advice to those interested in progressing their career using Public / Community Engagement for gaining HEA Fellowship or under the UCL Academic Careers Framework.
  • offering student training on Community Engagement/Public Engagement to interested departments.

To support existing and potential new community partners by:

  • understanding their needs and building their capacity, enabling them to confidently collaborate with the university in the curriculum
  • reaching out to identify potential projects they are interested in and link them with potentially interested academic staff
  • linking academic departments with the external networks of other UCL directorates through one point of contact (CELS) for developing teaching projects
  • holding university-community networking events with specific themes identified by both academic staff and community partners
  • developing guidance and resources for external partners and faculties
  • co-designing principles of collaboration with external partners in teaching and assessment to further enrich scholarship on Community Engaged Learning.

For the academic year 2019/2020 CELS received Knowledge Exchange Innovation Funding (HEIF) to continue developing curriculum co-design sessions and university-community networking sessions.

CELS has adopted a collaborative approach and we work closely with a number of teams within UCL such as: 

Services provided by CELS and how to access them

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

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 lunch hour sessions

An overview session, run once 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 community engagement best practice
  • understand what support and opportunities are available

To register: check 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 - CELS

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 or under the UCL Academic Careers Framework
  • 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

What Community Engaged Learning is

The concept of Community Engaged Learning

Community engagement is the partnership of university knowledge and resources with the public and private sectors to:

  • enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity
  • enhance curriculum, teaching, teaching and learning
  • prepare educated, engaged citizens
  • strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility
  • address critical societal issues and contribute to the public good.

The classification for Community Engagement for higher education institutions, strongly urges campuses to make an "ongoing commitment to establish partnerships with a high level of understanding and international practices specifically directed to reciprocity and mutuality, thus initiating and nurturing collaborative, two-way partnerships". (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (2007). Community Engagement Classification).

Community Engaged Learning marries community engagement scholarship with pedagogical theories and tools. It is a form of experiential learning where students enhance their learning by engaging with real-world issues and partners. Through this, they apply their theoretical knowledge to practice, develop transferable skills and become more life-ready.  

Specifically, the Community Engaged Learning Service at UCL 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)

The benefits of introducing community engaged learning into your teaching

Community engaged learning delivers benefits for students, academic staff and community partners.

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. 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.