Striving for Institutional Change

Title of Proposal

Striving for Institutional Change: Five Years of Learning within the Network for Community-Engaged Learning

Presenter Name(s)

Holly Stack-Cutler
, Lorraine Woollard
, Sara Dorow


The Community Service-Learning program (2005) produced an inventory identifying 114 community-engaged teaching and learning opportunities (CSL, co-op, practica, internships) at the University of Alberta. We subsequently invited 31 key individuals to a roundtable discussion to explore potential benefits of establishing a network for community-engaged learning (CEL). Discussions that ensued lead us to believe there were significant benefits if we formed this network; we secured a grant from the university’s Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund and N-CEL—the Network for Community-Engaged Learning—was born. Our grant monies exhausted, we have produced two comprehensive reports—based on workshops, focus groups/interviews, surveys, discourse analysis, and community–university partner discussions—what have we learned? Our Report on Community-University Engagement (Stack-Cutler & Dorow, 2009) outlined recommendations to promote and sustain CEL, such as make CEL opportunities accessible and visible throughout the university and community, and create supports on campus and in the community to promote effective CEL opportunities (e.g., Dugery & Knowles, 2003). Each broad recommendation includes specific activities that could be undertaken to meet each recommendation. In Connecting Campus and Community for Learning (MacDonald, 2010) we identified key issues involved in creating, sustaining, and enhancing CEL initiatives (e.g., need for campus-wide infrastructure to link and support fragmented CEL initiatives, recognition and valuing of engaged scholarship throughout the campus). We learned that CEL promotion takes time and involves challenges due to complicated politics that underlie any such endeavor. Institutional and cultural issues in a large university make it an arduous task to work across faculties and, in particular, across professional and liberal arts approaches. Units on campus are disconnected because of diverse CEL priorities, resource availability, and partnership histories with public and nonprofit/voluntary sectors. Also, research versus teaching priorities and recognition may not always comfortably co-exist in the institutional culture of a large research university, at times resulting in an either/or approach rather than integrating priorities for a richer learning environment (Brukardt et al., 2006). Further, interests of university administrators and practitioners (instructors, program administrators) of CEL may differ in terms of timelines; student learning objectives/expectations/products; resource allocation (Leiderman et al., 2002); and relationship reciprocity.

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