Community-Based Learning & Research

Community-Based Learning and Research (CBLR)

Community-based courses provide learning experiences that enrich the understanding of important social, civic, and ethical issues; foster inquiry outside the classroom; enable knowledge creation in partnership with community agencies; and build skills and competencies valuable for life after Brown. The importance of community-engaged scholarship was reaffirmed in Brown's strategic plan, Building on Distinction: "Consistent with our mission to serve 'the community, the nation, and the world,' learning that connects academic and real-world experiences is central to the undergraduate experience at Brown."

Community-based learning and research (CBLR) courses are required elements of the Engaged Scholars Program; students who are not pursuing the Engaged Scholars Program are strongly encouraged to explore ways of integrating CBLR courses into their liberal arts education at Brown.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching defines community engagement as "the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity." At Brown, we have identified four core criteria for defining and designating community-based learning and research courses. CBLR-designated courses:

  • Involved collaboration with one or more community partners to investigate an important social challenge or problem;
  • Incorporate in-depth community-based experiences (typically undertaken outside of the classroom) into the learning and/or research objectives of the course;
  • Provide structured opportunities for reflecting on the relationship between classroom learning and real-world experience, with the goals of deepening the understanding of course content and exploring questions of identity, agency, and social responsibility; and
  • Create products or outcomes that are shared with the community partner and/or broader public.

Finding CBLR Courses

CBLR Courses can be found by visiting [email protected] and selecting "CBLR Courses" from the curricular programs filter at the bottom of the site.

Process for adding the CBLR curricular designation to a course

As with other curricular programs, courses under consideration for the CBLR designation may be submitted via the Banner course proposal system (by selecting "yes" in the "curricular programs" field and then choosing the appropriate type) either at the time the course is first proposed or by initiating a "modification" for an existing course (modifications can be submitted in Banner until the last day of shopping period). A recent syllabus should be attached, explicitly identifying two or more of the elements listed above as key course objectives, bolstered by at least one assignment.

Courses will be reviewed by the College Curriculum Council; they are also reviewed by an academic dean with expertise in community engagement and at least two faculty members with expertise in an area represented in the designation. CBLR courses are then reviewed regularly for effectiveness in meeting the goals of the curricular designation.

Support for Developing CBLR Courses

The Swearer Center for Public Service can assist instructors seeking to develop Community-Based Learning and Research courses with course design, identification of potential partner organizations, and through financial support in the form of its mini-grant program (up to $500, awarded on a rolling basis), which can fund expenses related to transportation, filed trips, guest speakers, etc. 

Opportunities for Student Feedback on CBLR Course Elements

In addition to the standard course feedback questions asked of students enrolled in all undergraduate courses, students in CBLR courses are asked to reflect on the effectiveness of the community-based components of the course and on the impact of these elements on their overall learning and the development of their academic pathway moving forward.