Community Engagement Service Learning (CESL)

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Getting Started with Community Engagement Service Learning (CESL)

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What is Community Engagement Service Learning (CESL) at Red River College?

Generally, in post-secondary education, service learning is defined as “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.”

During the 2012-13 school year, a Strategic Action Plan Committee with cross-college representation was formed to identify the extent of student learning in RRC programs that takes place in the community. The reality is that, due to the applied nature of RRC’s mandate, college programs have been partnering with the community for decades. However, it hasn’t been defined and coordinated at the institutional level. So, besides creating an inventory of existing community-based learning activities, the committee also developed a definition for use at RRC.

Definition of Community Engagement Service Learning

Community engagement is any learning activity in the community undertaken by students in conjunction with their program at Red River College.

The Strategic Action Plan Committee determined that the commonly accepted formal definition of Service Learning is too narrow to reflect the scope and variety of community engagement activities desired at RRC. The committee recommended that Community Engagement Service Learning be recognized by a range of each of the following characteristics:

  1. Combines academic coursework with non-paid service in the community.
  2. Integrates meaningful community service with instruction, assessment, and student reflection for credit.
  3. Demonstrates evidence of service to a community as a primary purpose of the activity.
  4. Addresses authentic community needs.
  5. Involves collaboration by all stakeholders (faculty, students, and community organization representatives) in design, planning, implementation, reflection, and follow-up.
  6. Emphasizes real world critical thinking and reflection, communication, problem-solving, and teamwork skills.
  7. Assesses evidence of learning related to course learning outcome

The Strategic Plan Action Committee proposed that this definition include a continuum of community engagement activities and practices - ranging from volunteer activity through project work, practicums, co-op education, clinical placements, to formal service learning projects, and that all should be included under the above RRC definition.

The Strategic Plan Action Committee also recommended the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Innovation and Research (TEIR) establish a steering group to organize and support a community of practice related to community engagement and service learning.

What is the Vision of the Community Engagement Service Learning (CESL) Initiative?

The vision for the CESL initiative is to coordinate planning, promotion, design, development, and delivery of curriculum to enhance the success of RRC students, faculty, and staff in a wide range of community engagement service learning projects. The initiative is an integral part of the renewed College-Wide Learning Outcomes and will support the implementation of all six CWLO, especially “Contribute to Community”.

Why is this important?

In a related initiative from the Strategic Plan, RRC has renewed the set of College-wide Learning Outcomes (CWLO) to reflect the current competencies expected of graduates from all our programs. CWLOs have been an embedded value at RRC since 2001 with adoption of the Conference Board of Canada’s Employability Skills. The renewed CWLO are now being implemented and the CESL activities will support the process.


The purpose of the Community Engagement Service Learning (CESL) initiative is to coordinate College-wide supports for a variety of experiential learning activities for RRC students in the wider community. The initiative integrates with and supports implementation of the six College-Wide Learning Outcomes (CWLOs), especially “Contribute to Community”.


As part of the implementation of the College-Wide Learning Outcomes, the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Innovation, and Research (TEIR) is responsible for providing support to Chairs and faculty. As “Contribute to Community” is one of the six CWLO, the CESL initiative will provide support to faculty to enhance successful teaching, practice, and assessment of that particular competency, as well as the others.

The former Dean of TEIR, Kathryn McNaughton, sought to coordinate a variety of activities focused on enhancing design, development, and delivery of student opportunities to learn in the community. This will be accomplished through ongoing coordination of professional development, support for learning communities, resource sharing, research, and recognition of experiential learning through various existing models of community engagement.

Who is involved in the CESL initiative?

CESL Steering Group

This College-wide initiative is managed by the TEIR Management Group under the title of the Community Engagement Service Learning (CESL) Steering Group. The group consists of the Dean of TEIR, and the directors representing each department within TEIR.

  1. Kerry Macdonald, Director, Library Services
  2. Kurt Proctor, Chair, Teacher Education
  3. Matt Miles, Manager, Learning Technologies / Acting Manager, Program and Curriculum Development
  4. Lauren Waples, Manager, Recognition of Prior Learning


This initiative is led by the CESL Team with representation from each department within TEIR. The team will be responsible for the coordination of college-wide supports for a variety of activities focused on enhancement, further development, and delivery of community engagement and service learning in RRC programs in support of the implementation of all six CWLO, especially “Contribute to Community”.

  1. Craig Edwards, Curriculum Consultant, PCD
  2. Lauren Waples, RPL Faciliator
  3. Melissa Goulbourne, Teaching & Learning Designer, TLTC
  4. Mark Nelson, Systems and Services Coordinator, Library

CESL Faculty Network

The CESL Team is facilitating the sustainable formation of an informal cross-college representative group of faculty and support staff from RRC Schools and departments. The network welcomes anyone involved in extending the classroom into the community for the mutual benefit of community organizations and RRC students.

The CESL Faculty Network is a learning community of RRC faculty and staff involved with organizing and coordinating learning opportunities in the community, related to their program and courses. You will collaborate with the CESL Team to communicate and disseminate information to School faculty and support staff.

College wide faculty representation is desired from the following Schools and departments:

  1. Business and Applied Arts
  2. Continuing and Distance Education
  3. Construction and Engineering Technologies
  4. Health Sciences and Community Relations
  5. School of Indigenous Education and Community Relations
  6. Transportation, Aviation & Manufacturing

Along with support staff from:

  1. Student Services
  2. Language Training Centre
  3. International Education
  4. Diversity and Intercultural Services

How will the CESL Team function?


The CESL Steering Group, takes a lead role in sponsoring and resourcing the CESL initiative. This includes communicating and promoting the value of CESL to VPs, Deans, and Chairs.

The CESL Team consists of representatives of the four departments of TEIR: Teacher Education, Learning Technologies, Program and Curriculum Development, and the Library.

The CESL Team is responsible for the identification and completion of the deliverables (see below).


The CESL Team will consult and collaborate with internal and external stakeholders to support the enhancement, development, and sustainability of experiential learning opportunities relevant to faculty, students, and community partners. Based on this consultation, the CESL Team will determine needs, coordinate activities, deliver professional development, and evaluate the CESL initiative’s effectiveness in supporting the CWLO implementation.

In addition, the CESL Team will meet regularly with the Chair and Faculty Consultation Team for feedback on project deliverables and suggestions for innovation and development. They will also report regularly to the CESL Steering Group.

What are the deliverables?

The CESL Team will develop and implement a multi-faceted and integrated model for community engagement and service learning activities. Some elements of the model include:

  1. A coordinated program of professional development offerings for faculty and staff at various times of the year
  2. A marketing and communication plan to promote community engagement activities both internally and externally
  3. Mechanisms through which to share resources, projects, contacts, and research related to community engagement
  4. Content and media development to facilitate collaboration and sharing of information, CESL projects, assessment tools, and web sites related to community engagement service learning
  5. Document, recognize, and celebrate existing CESL projects at RRC
  6. Development of a defined Learning Community focused on various types of community engagement
  7. An annual assessment and report of the CESL program with recommendations for the following year including timelines, team members, marketing, organizational structure, and content.

When will this happen?

The CESL initiative will be ongoing due to its integration with and support of the program implementation of the six College-Wide Learning Outcomes (CWLO), especially “Contribute to Community”.

Each school year will have a set of deliverables identified by June of the calendar year for implementation starting in the new school year. These deliverables will be identified through discussion with the CESL Steering Group, the CESL Team, and the CESL Chairs and Faculty Consultation Team.