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Community-Based Learning During COVID-19

Community-based pedagogy values the knowledge in our communities, place-based insight, detailed reflection, and situating knowledge within appropriate contexts. Community-based activities can help students feel connected to the class, to the community, and to issues currently demanding society's attention. Our current circumstances highlight the need for, as well as opportunities to practice, a civically engaged education that is attentive to the histories, needs, and momentums for change in our communities.

While many of our traditional means of community engagement are curtailed because of COVID-19, the core principles of community-based pedagogy are still applicable, and our staff is ready to think creatively with you to continue this important work.

How will CBL be different this fall?

In the red and orange phases, University sponsored travel for students is prohibited, and in the yellow phase it is discouraged. However, there are opportunities available that don't require in-person activity. These innovations will require familiar and new forms of support from the CCE. 

Our course support grants continue to be available to help faculty connect their students to different forms of expertise and opportunities for making and testing knowledge. 

Below are suggestions for how to pivot your traditional modes of community-based learning during COVID-19. In addition, the CCE will be hosting virtual Brown Bag Discussions all semester, as well as One Book, One Richmond events and We the People, a series of election-related discussions and events.

Study Trips 

Study trips include field trips, service trips, and participant observation and shadowing. Virtual or on-site, the pedagogy is largely the same, and this is good advice for designing the assignment.

  • More museums are posting virtual tours and resources, including The Valentine, the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. You may also explore the published list of The 75 Best Virtual Museum Tours Around the World.
  • For local sites, consider doing your own walking tour on camera. The CCE could potentially fund a videographer to go with you and edit the video.
  • We are building out Discover Richmond and Issue Exploration pages on our website with content that you and students could engage with from anywhere.  If there is a Richmond region destination or topic that you are hoping to connect with, let us know. We are happy to share the virtual resources we have gathered. We can still offer facilitated discussions about this content and connections to community voices.
  • Students may be all over the world. You can encourage them to explore their own context while following local guidelines for public health.

Student Volunteering 

Student volunteering, sometimes also referred to as service-learning, is volunteerism that connects back to classroom learning.

  • Many of our partners will be posting opportunities, including virtual mentoring and tutoring, throughout the semester in SpidersEngage.  Not everything, however, is there. Contact Terry Dolson (tdolson@richmond.edu) to talk about opportunities.
  • UR Downtown is continuing its partnership with United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg to assist taxpayers virtually, and student volunteers are needed.
  • We've posted additional virtual opportunities on our Serve from Anywhere page. 

Collaborative Projects with Community Partners 

Collaborative projects with community partners include data analysis and research projects, producing community-engaged creative works (such as documentaries, murals, or exhibits), organizational studies and consulting, and sharing course materials. 

  • Partners are still looking for help on projects and many can be done without ever meeting in person. Contact Derek Miller (dmiller4@richmond.edu) if you are interested. 

Bringing Guest Speakers into the Classroom 

Guest speakers from the community come to class to share their expertise and experience in a subject. Frequently, future opportunities for engagement evolve from these discussions.

  • CCE offers honoraria to speakers and, for this semester, we offer the same rate for virtual visits as for in-person. 
  • Consider engaging students in the process of making the speaker experience more interactive. Students can: research the speaker and introduce him or her; formulate questions and ask them during the talk; write "thank you" notes which highlight their takeaways from the talk.  
  • Consider having students write down what they expect they will hear from the speaker before the talk, then ask them to revisit their writing after the talk and write about what surprised them.  
  • Connect an assignment: what can students gather during the talk that they could use for a project?

Clinical Education, Internships, and Student Teaching 

Students complete an internship, student-teaching, or clinical education with a community partner, usually (but not always) for the duration of a semester. 

  • Civic Fellows successfully completed virtual internships this summer. Contact Derek Miller (dmiller4@richmond.edu) if you would like to hear more about what worked for them.

Image: Detail of James A. Harris to Family, Letter, September 10, 1945 from the Library of Virginia's Making History: Trascribe online database.