Engaged Teaching

Why Get Involved?

Engaged pedagogy is a powerful method of teaching, learning and scholarship. Faculty choose community engagement as a pedagogy because it can enliven course content, present diverse perspectives, bring “theory to life” and demonstrate the application of disciplinary knowledge. We know that well constructed, engaged courses lead to better and more critical learning outcomes for students. The community experience facilitates the development of cognitive skills (problem solving, synthesis, interpretation, analysis), the development of reflective skills (recognizing context as critical to content) and disciplinary goals. Engaged pedagogy also creates a space for the university to contribute value in reciprocal relationship with community partners to our community. Engagement can take many forms: not only direct service with a community-based organization, but also research, advocacy, writing, translating, organizing and other activities undertaken with the support of a community partner.

Type of Engagement


Engaged Research

In URBN 1870Z, students conducted community-based research with housing justice organizations in Rhode Island. Students in AFRI 1075 engaged community-based organizations and individuals to analyze the university's impact on local housing and researched models of universities addressing their impact.

Data Analysis

In POLS 1820X, students produced case studies contributing to a meta-analysis of democratic erosion around the world for USAID’s Democracy, Human Rights and Governance division.

Educational Content Development 

Students in GEOL 1960 developed earth science modules for elementary schools and delivered them or supported teachers in doing so. Students in LITR 1152C created videos and led online sessions with schoolchildren reading and writing poetry.

Product Development 

In CS 1951I teams of students have worked with non-profits, public agencies, researchers, and social entrepreneurs to develop new technological products that contribute to social change. 

Program Development

In PHP 1820 students developed projects that address health literacy challenges facing people who are incarcerated. Amos House engaged students in developing programs for people in recovery.


Students in ENVS 1574 contributed to Climate & Development Lab research and advocacy projects grounded in partnerships with state, national, and international organizations.


Students in EDUC 1890 created a website disseminating resources for low-income families in Rhode Island supporting their children’s education. Rhode Island for Community & Justice (RICJ) engaged students with videography experience to help RICJ create social media messaging and videos.

Translation / Interpretation

Brown’s Center for Language Studies and Annenberg Institute are connecting people with language expertise and the Providence Public School District to support communications between schools and families. 


The GAIA Vaccine Foundation engaged a student in researching potential funding sources, writing and editing grant proposals, grant tracking, and reporting. 

Direct Service

Some organizations, such as Connect for Health, continue to engage many students who work directly, but remotely, with people seeking access to basic resources.

Multiple Types of Engagement, Reflecting Various Community Partners’ Priorities

In ENVS 1555 in Spring 2020, groups of 3-4 students conducted research, developed website content, gathered and wrote food stories, and filmed interviews via Zoom—projects that could easily shift to be remote.

Practical Considerations 

  • Make your engaged course more visible to students through the Community-Based Learning & Research (CBLR) course designation. Modifications—including submitting your course for the CBLR curricular program—can be made in the Banner course proposal system until the last day of shopping period.
  • Community partners may have limited time, as many are responding to increased demand with reduced resources. The Swearer Center’s CBLR Course Mini-Grants enable instructors to pay partners for at least some of their time planning and implementing collaborative projects or speaking in a class. See more details and apply on UFunds.
  • Students engaging with partner organizations that work with minors or other vulnerable populations may be required to complete a background check before they begin working. The Swearer Center can provide logistical and financial support for background checks for students in CBLR courses during the early weeks of each semester. Please see detailed guidance here, and also refer students to that page. If you would like this support for a course you're teaching, please email Julie Plaut ([email protected]), Director of Engaged Scholarship at the Swearer Center, with as much advance notice as possible.
  • Most students will not be familiar with our local communities and contexts. In addition to your partners, you might draw on such resources as the Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice's Digital Slavery Legacy Walking Tour, the documentary “Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican?” and the other resources listed here.
  • Brown’s Digital Learning & Design (DLD) team has developed extensive resources for teaching online and hybrid courses; see Brown Resources for Teaching Online. Resources that may be of particular interest to engaged faculty include Virtual Community Building, FAQs, Technology Catalog, and Peer-to-Peer Tips. Faculty may also be interested in the University of Michigan's Best Practices for Online Community-Engaged Teaching and Learning resource. 

Finding Opportunities / Partners

  • Developing collaborative, mutually beneficial community-engaged projects takes time, so consider reaching out to a nonprofit organization (or public agency, social entrepreneur, etc.) with which you already have some kind of connection. With remote work, partners need not be local. 
  • To consult with a Swearer Center staff member on possibilities appropriate for the course you’re teaching, please complete this Google form; please note that it may not be possible to develop a partnership/project for a course during the same term the inquiry is submitted.
  • If you would like to engage with a school in the Providence area, see the Annenberg Institute’s list of existing K-12 engagement and outreach programs, and email Soljane Martinez ([email protected]), Education Coordinator at the Annenberg Institute, with questions or ideas.
  • Some opportunities with local partners are posted on BrownEngage; search those listings by clicking on the "Filters" button and then checking "Volunteer Opportunity" and, if desired, the "Only Virtual/Remote Events" box to limit results. If you don’t find a specific, relevant opportunity that way, you can see a list of all current Swearer Center partners in the "Partners" section of BrownEngage.

There are also national or international listings for remote volunteers (e.g., Omprakash and Catchafire) and organizations or projects offering digital opportunities (e.g., Amnesty International, the Smithsonian, Translators Without Borders, Mapping Prejudice).

Course Development Resources                                

Assessment Resources                                

  • VALUE Rubrics (Association of American Colleges & Universities, AAC&U) - The VALUE Rubrics can assist with the development of course objectives, assignment structures, and evaluation of learning outcomes. As AAC&U describes, they “were developed by teams of faculty experts representing colleges and universities across the United States through a process that examined many existing campus rubrics and related documents for each learning outcome and incorporated additional feedback from faculty. The rubrics articulate fundamental criteria for each learning outcome, with performance descriptors demonstrating progressively more sophisticated levels of attainment.”
  • "The Measure of Service Learning: Research Scales to Assess Student Experiences" (Bringle et al., 2004) - This useful volume provides an extensive compilation of scales for use in studying students in service learning classes. The scales measure a variety of constructs, such as attitudes, moral development, and critical thinking. In addition, the text includes a primer on measurement theory.          
  • Civic-Minded Graduate Scale & Rubric (Center for Service & Learning, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis) – This widely used tool identifies specific knowledge, skills and dispositions to describe how students develop civic-mindedness.