The College

Community-Based Learning and Research

Community-Based Learning and Research (CBLR) courses engage students with community partners to investigate important social issues.

CBLR courses enrich a student's understanding of important social, civic and ethical issues. They foster inquiry outside the classroom, enable knowledge creation in partnership with community agencies and build skills and competencies valuable for life after Brown.

The importance of community-engaged scholarship was reaffirmed in Brown's strategic plan, Building on Distinction: "Consistent with our mission to serve 'the community, the nation, and the world,' learning that connects academic and real-world experiences is central to the undergraduate experience at Brown."

As a Brown undergraduate, you are strongly encouraged to explore ways of integrating CBLR courses into your liberal arts education at Brown. A CBLR course is a required element of the Engaged Scholarship Certificate.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching defines community engagement as "the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity." At Brown, we have identified four core criteria for defining and designating community-based learning and research courses. CBLR-designated courses:

  • Involve collaboration with one or more community partners to investigate an important social challenge or problem;
  • Incorporate in-depth community-based experiences (typically undertaken outside of the classroom) into the learning and/or research objectives of the course;
  • Provide structured opportunities for reflecting on the relationship between classroom learning and real-world experience, with the goals of deepening the understanding of course content and exploring questions of identity, agency, and social responsibility; and
  • Create products or outcomes that are shared with the community partner and/or broader public.

Adding the CBLR Curricular Designation to a Course

Courses under consideration for the CBLR designation (as with other curricular programs) may be submitted via the Banner course proposal system (by selecting "yes" in the "curricular programs" field and then choosing the appropriate type) either at the time the course is first proposed or by initiating a "modification" for an existing course (modifications can be submitted in Banner until the last day of shopping period of the semester in which it is offered). A recent syllabus should accompany the course proposal that explicitly shows how at least two or more of the elements listed above are intentionally included in the course design. (For example, these elements may be noted as course objectives or described in the syllabus’s description of a key  assignment or course expectations.)

Courses will be reviewed by the College Curriculum Council; they are also reviewed by an academic dean with expertise in community engagement. CBLR courses are then reviewed regularly for effectiveness in meeting the goals of the curricular designation.

Support for Developing CBLR Courses

The Swearer Center for Public Service is available to consult with instructors seeking to develop or enhance Community-Based Learning and Research courses. It also provides relevant online resources and financial support for expenses such as honoraria for community-based partners or speakers. (See the CBLR Course Mini-Grant program in UFunds; instructors can apply for up to $500 per semester, per course, awarded on a rolling basis.) The Swearer Center also supports the CBLR Fellowship, in which undergraduate students collaborate with instructors to plan and/or implement specific engaged courses.

Opportunities for Student Feedback

In addition to the standard course feedback questions asked of students enrolled in all undergraduate courses, students in CBLR courses are asked to reflect on the effectiveness of the community-based components of the course and on the impact of these elements on their overall learning and the development of their academic pathway moving forward. (See the text of the additional question here.)

For continual review, responses to these items will be aggregated and discussed by the College Curriculum Council and relevant Swearer Center staff every five years, to inform improvements in these courses and the environments that support them.