The Importance of Community-Engaged Learning at The Centre for Community Partnerships

Happy 2021, and welcome back to school! I hope everyone has had a restful and wonderful winter break!

As I transition back into my work with the The Centre for Community Partnerships (CCP),  I thought I would begin the New Year by focusing more on Community-Engaged Learning (CEL), and how the CCP incorporates CEL in our wider mission!

CEL entails the importance of taking learning beyond academia, and at the CCP, we work directly with faculty members who teach “Community-Engaged Learning” or CEL courses. These courses allow students to work directly with community partners and leaders in their field of study. We discussed the benefits of community-engaged initiatives! 

CEL is important particularly, because it develops a multi-faceted view on education. Multi-perspective education entails seeing things from various different positions. One popular course at the university is “The Role of Pharmacy and Toxicology in Society”, where students have the opportunity to learn about harm reduction by working directly with community organizations. If the students were only learning the pure science of drug interactions, for example, they would not necessarily be able to gain a deeper understanding of what this means to people, people who work on the frontlines, the people they serve, and so on. 

At the CCP, we prioritize multi-perspective education, because so many experiences can come into play: the rich lived experiences of community members, of students, of faculty. Being in CEL courses allows students to broaden their horizons, learning directly from community organizations, activists and community members who are most impacted by a subject or issue, and who can therefore offer deep expertise.

This picture displays a group of five students in a classroom, discussing a project that has to do with Community-Engaged Learning.
Credit// Student Life @ UofT

However, these goals of CEL are not only offered through courses, but also through some of the CCP’s main programming such as the Community Action Groups or CAGs program. Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak about this with one of my colleagues at the CCP, Nasma. Nasma was a participant in the CAGs program over Summer 2020,  and shared with me how she envisioned CEL as the highlight of her experience.

Nasma pinpointed how she not only admired CAGs for encouraging a more one-on-one relationships with community organizations, but simultaneously fostering a relationship with them that is mutually beneficial. Her experience motivated her to get involved in the planning of CAGs for Winter 2021, involving overseeing the students signing up for the program and their work together with a group facilitator who is in charge of leading the weekly meetings. Particularly during the pandemic, Nasma and I discussed how to get students actively engaged while  integrating projects that are informed by community organizations and community priorities. 

My discussion with Nasma allowed me to reflect on my own experiences within my work-study and the new creative forms of thinking I’ve gained. Throughout my work with the CCP, I’ve witnessed how CEL transforms education by connecting students with possibilities outside the classroom. This pandemic has truly necessitated new models for community-engagement. It’s important to emphasize engagement as the heart of any partnership with our community.

Interested in learning more? You can read more about the principles of community-engaged learning in the Experiential Learning Hub modules here:  

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