Mapping Community Based Learning

The Local Global Learning Project captured a snapshot of current Australian higher education subjects that facilitate global perspectives for students through their community based learning experiences.

Mapping was conducted from March to May 2015 to canvass existing curriculum practices and identify emerging themes to inform data collection and analysis tools. The mapping was based on publicly available information on Australian higher education institution websites. Information captured intended to reveal the kinds and extent of explicit treatment of global perspectives through community based learning experiences, the curriculum surrounding the experiences, subject aims and any references to student agency.

The first stage of the mapping involved visiting each Australian higher education institution website and searching with the following terms to identify relevant subjects:

  • Service learning
  • Work integrated learning
  • Student Placement
  • Internship
  • Mobility
  • Global citizen
  • Intercultural

The following criteria were then applied to determine which subjects would be included in the curriculum review:

  • An experience that provides opportunities for service in a community setting (local or international) with reference to intercultural environments, global perspectives and/or social justice curriculum content
  • Supported by a structured process of preparation, sense making, engagement in social issues and reflection, and
  • Within Australia and the Asia Pacific Region.

Information available about each subject selected for inclusion in the mapping was then compiled into one document, including subject title and code, subject description, subject outcomes and assessment. The information collected was then coded and assembled into a matrix for analysis. Coding focused on the disciplines offering these experiences, subject aims or intended outcomes, explicit or implicit references to global perspectives, curriculum labels used, the pedagogy or approach to the subject, assessment type, student agency and location of the experiences. Disciplines were categorised with reference to the ABS Australian standard classification of education structures (ASCED). Overall, 73 subjects across 26 institutions and 13 disciplines were found.

Where is community based learning taking place?

community based learning locationsIn reviewing data about the location of community based learning experiences, it is important to note that a large number of subjects did not specify where the experience occurred (22), whilst many used generic terms such as 'local' or 'international' (17).

In terms of Australian based experiences, Aboriginal communities were often constructed as an 'other' space rather than a local experience. For example, the Northern Territory (3) was specified as a destination alongside a number of international locations, or locations were referred to as remote Australia (2), or an Aboriginal community (3).

Internationally, destinations in Asia were referred to significantly more frequently than our Pacific neighbours, with India (8) being the most frequently cited destination, followed by Indonesia (6), Malaysia (4), Nepal (4) and Vietnam (4).

Many subjects (13) listed multiple locations as options for the experience.

Overall, a wide variety of destinations are offered across Australian universities.


In which disciplines is community based learning occurring?

Community based learning with global perspectives is offered across a wide range of disciplines, most frequently in the humanities and social sciences or teacher education. Some experiences were offered to 2 or more disciplines, whilst others were offered on an institution wide basis with the intention of bringing together students from a range of disciplines. Disciplines covered were:

  • Architecture and urban environment (1)
  • Language and literature (1)
  • Engineering and information technology (1)
  • Rehabilitation Therapies (2)
  • Business and Management (3)
  • Medical Studies (3)
  • Communication and Media Studies (3)
  • Nursing (4)
  • Human and Welfare Studies (5)
  • Public Health (6)
  • Society and Culture (7)
  • Institution wide offering (12)
  • Teacher Education (15)
  • Studies in Human Society (16)

Institution-wide approaches

A number of universities (10) offer an institution wide subject with a focus on community based learning and global perspectives.

Notable examples include QUT’s Community Engaged Learning Network, an intentional multi-disciplinary approach in recognition of the demand for graduates with the creativity and skills to navigate complex issues and operate in diverse, unpredictable environments. The Lab matches community organisations with students to work collaboratively on problem solving projects. The projects respond to community identified priorities. Participatory Action Research methods are used to engage community partners, students and academics to facilitate and improve the way that community based learning occurs. The experiences intentionally occur within the community sector as a way of exposing students to differing fames of reference than they may encounter in industry based experiences to provide opportunities for transformative learning and to challenge students to confront social justice issues (Smith, Shaw & Tredinnick, 2015).

Similarily, Southern Cross University’s Live Ideas Project enables community organisations to submit project ideas which are then promoted across students and academic staff to undertake either inside or outside of the curriculum. The flexible approach enables students to engage with the projects depending on their current studies .

University of South Australia also offers university wide service learning electives, in three scaffolded subjects, enabling students to build on their work with a community organisation over three semesters. Griffith, Deakin, La Trobe, Melbourne University and University of Western Australia offer a free choice elective for all students to participate in a community service learning, volunteering or internship experience. These experiences are structured within a curriculum designed to expose students to a range of community issues, for students to reflect on their role in the world and develop citizenship skills or attributes.

In a contrasting approach, Australian Catholic University has introduced two core-curriculum units that are compulsory across all undergraduate degrees with a focus on developing global perspectives. The subjects focus on the world, community and vulnerability and understanding self and society. While the subjects themselves are not community based learning experiences, they are complemented by a compulsory international internship for the Global Studies degree or voluntary internships offered across other disciplines at the university.


What labels are applied to the experience?

The Local Global Learning project has arisen out of a specific interest in service learning in Australia.

However, service learning is an emerging term and does not have widespread use in Australia in comparison to Asia, South America, South Africa or the United States. Experiences that were included in the curriculum map were assessed to be a “service learning experience” based on the curriculum content and pedagogical approach surrounding the experience combined with an element of service to community.

Institutions apply a range of labels to these type of learning experiences, as follows:

  • Service Learning (30)
  • Placement (10)
  • Field Education/Field School/Field Intesive or Fieldwork (7)
  • Not explicit (7)
  • Study Tour (3)
  • Volunteering (3)
  • Internship (3)
  • Practicum (3)
  • Action Research (2)
  • Professional Experience (2)
  • Researcher Education (1)
  • Capstone (1)
  • Student Exchange (1)
  • International Experience (1)
  • Work Integrated Learning (1)

The diversity of labels reflects the lack of a national approach to service learning in the higher education curriculum. Taking into account that this captures practice over a range of disciplines, it highlights the challenges in creating an easily identifiable and shared approach to the facilitation of citizenship, agency and global perspectives through community based learning experiences. While a number of academic staff share similar goals around their community based learning subjects, the diversity of labels indicates that staff may not identify as a group with shared intentions.

A number of institutions have adopted an explicit institution wide approach to service learning, with centralised service learning staff that either manage service learning opportunities or accredit subjects as a service learning approach. For example, The University of Western Australia has a University Policy on Service Learning which provides for a coordinated service learning approach across the University. The University website states that staff are encouraged to incorporate service learning as part of a formal educational experience. Subjects are accredited and will state in the subject outline that the unit is recognised by the University as a service learning Unit.

Similarily, University of South Australian (UniSA) has adopted service learning as an important approach in its Teaching and Learning Strategy. UniSA applies standards and definitions to ensure activities undertaken do constitute service learning, highlighting the importance of reciprocity and response to community identified priorities.   Griffith University has a centralised service learning team responsible for coordinating the institution-wide service learning subject. Both Griffith and University of Notre Dame are planning service learning conferences or summits over 2015/16.

Intentions and Assessment

What are the intentions behind the experience?

Not surprisingly, the majority of subjects mapped cited an explicit or implicit intent to develop professional or disciplinary skills (56), closely followed by knowledge of academic concepts or cognitive skills (54). Awareness of social and environmental issues was important to over sixty percent of subjects (44) with a smaller number extending these aims to social change, social justice or social responsibility (32). Cultural knowledge and skills were also important (42). WIL or work integrated learning was only explicitly referred to in 13 subjects, reflective of the service learning space which has a greater focus on providing community service. This indicates a number of shared goals and intentions across a range of subjects, disciplines and institutions.

How is it enacted and assessed?

The curriculum mapping revealed some limited information about the enactment and assessment of curriculum intentions, based on details provided in subject outlines. Working with community and integrating formal academic learning with practical experiences are emphasised across the majority of subjects. Group work or working in teams was important, as well as planning for the experience, conducting action research and reflecting on experiences.

In terms of formal assessment of learning outcomes for students, these mostly took place through the completion of a report on the experience, either to describe the experience or a technical report that could be used by a community partner to inform future actions. Reflective journals are commonly used, while many students were required to prepare for the experience with either a report about the community they would be visiting or a proposal about how they could work with the community during the experiences. Participation in the experience formed the part of some assessments, followed by a range of individually based assessment items such as host appraisal, presentations, quizzes, essays or field notes or participation in an online discussion forum. In one case, student performance was assessed by their peers.


How are the agentic qualities of students recognised and mobilised?

As a final point of analysis, the data collected for the curriculum mapping was reviewed to highlight any examples where subjects identified an intent to build student agency. A framework for agency informing the Local Global Learning project developed by Richards, Sweet and Billett (2013) includes personal epistemology, maximising learning opportunities, self-concept, assertiveness and resilience.

A search of subject outlines for these key concepts was undertaken to determine any intentions to develop these skills in students or to require students to demonstrate agency during the subject. Examples of agency were found in 26 subjects, with intents to facilitate students’ awareness of themselves and develop a personal epistemology most frequently cited, followed by emphasis on development of resilience and assertiveness and student agency in maximising their own learning.

Examples include:

Self-concept and personal epistemology

  • Cultural and educational knowledge and/or practices, values, beliefs, cultures and perspectives different from their own.
  • Personal and professional values, global social issues and cultural contexts.
  • Student’s role in the world.
  • Reflect upon self, and in particular, aspects of cultural self
  • Understanding the social realities of communities, families and students in primary school settings.
  • Reflect on preconceived notions about students from diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.
  • Maintain a balance between self, community and environment.
  • Values and attitudes concerning justice issues.
  • Personalised understanding of human rights, equality and justice.
  • Demonstrate greater personal insight into the impact of culture and history on teaching and learning contexts.

Resilience and assertiveness

  • Recognise one’s own limitations and how and when to access support.
  • Socially responsible leadership and responsiveness.
  • Demonstrate high level personal autonomy and accountability in planning, execution, communication and evaluation of projects.
  • Critically reflect on change agency.
  • Enhance self-resilience.
  • Demonstrate a deep understanding of personal accountability, strengths and weaknesses.

Maximising learning opportunities

  • Establish learning goals and participate effectively in teams.
  • Demonstrate professional engagement with colleagues and the wider community.
  • Work in multidisciplinary teams to design creative solutions.
  • Proactively negotiate a project or placement with the partner organisation and academic supervisor.
  • Actively participate in the experience and engage in reflexive practice.

Further to these constructs, some subjects explicitly aim to develop citizenship and facilitate action in students as a result of the subject, for example:

  • It is intended that students will become active members of their community with well-developed reflective skills for engaging in community, social, political and environmental issues or to promote equity and social justice.
  • Active citizenship and contribution to community; in order to foster sustainable communities.
  • Develop an ethical sense of social responsibility and citizenship.

Overall, the mapping reveals a number of academics are seeking to develop agency in students ranging on a spectrum of developing resilience and awareness of self, through to expectations of citizenship and student action related to social justice issues as a result of the subject.