What is Community Engaged Learning?

Community engaged learning (CEL) is a form of experiential learning where students engage with a societal issue in close collaboration with multiple stakeholders (peers, instructors, societal partners, citizens). Key characteristics of CEL are community engagement: students work on a scientific challenge with direct societal relevance, often in close collaboration with citizens; reciprocity: all parties contribute to and benefit from the activity; and student reflection: which strongly supports the linking of practical experience with scientific theory, shapes personal identity and fosters self-regulated learning. CEL has been researched extensively, especially in Anglo-Saxon countries. Apart from fostering civic engagement, CEL is considered a high impact learning approach supporting many other skills, including cognitive skills, career identification, interpersonal skills, and more.

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The Stadsklooster assignment made me feel connected to others, both with my fellow students and local residents and volunteers.
Solena Leonard, participant in the CEL course 'Dutch language and culture'


For the CEL course ‘Dutch language and culture’, non-Dutch-speaking students are linked to various social projects in and around Middelburg. One such project was Stadsklooster Simpelhuys, a social centre for residents of the Zeeland capital.

“Stadsklooster Simpelhuys can be found next to UCR’s buildings. Students used to come to the chapel of the Stadsklooster every week at a certain time to have their meditation lunch. They then had a moment of silence in the chapel around a text or musical contribution. The contacts thus created led to participation in the CEL course ‘Dutch language and culture’ in cooperation with local social partners,” explains Jan Zwemer. As a volunteer, he was actively involved in Stadsklooster activities and maintained contact with students.


One of those students was the Belgian, but French-speaking, Solena Leonard. Together with four more fellow students, she organized activities for the Stadsklooster. Those activities included a concert by UCR students, in which Solena also played guitar herself, a lunch meditation and an open day. “We were received very kindly by the volunteers which made us feel really welcome. Since we were required to speak Dutch, we were able to put our Dutch lessons into practice right away.”

Besides practicing the Dutch language, the project provided Solena with even more. “Because I had to manage a number of projects myself, I was also able to work on my leadership skills. And besides, it was instructive to work on a project together with others. An important learning point for me was that I have to make choices and cannot always implement everything I have in mind. Sometimes you just have to adjust your expectations.”



Zwemer experienced the collaboration as very positive. “It was nice to work with this group of talented and critical young people. The average age of the volunteers was well over 60. With the arrival of the students, a distinctly different age group entered the walls of the Stadsklooster . I think it is useful to introduce students to activities that have a social need and the use of volunteers in them.”

Solena also looks back on an enjoyable time. “The Stadsklooster assignment made me feel connected to others, both with my fellow students and local residents and volunteers.”