What is Virtual Community Engagement?
Virtual Community Engagement is an instructional approach by which students participate in community-based placements and complete associated coursework online. Collaborative virtual partnerships are created between the coordinating institution, students, and their service placement (Strait & Sauer, 2004).
Virtual community engagement includes service learning, community-based research, and volunteer service completed in an entirely virtual environment.
How does Technology Impact Community Engagement?
The introduction of technologies in experientially based curricula allows for the effect of service to extend well beyond the classroom (Guthrie & McCraken, 2010)
Online education brings students together from diverse geographic, cultural, social, and economic areas of the country and world.
Collectively, this adds great variety and diversity of experiences that inform social action, ethics, and leadership within the framework of community engagement activities.
Tasks are carried out differently compared to traditional in-person community engagement activities. While different, technology allows for the virtual communication, development of content, and progress management etc.
Below are two toolkits to digitalize common community engagement tasks:
Toolkit to Digitize Service Learning Tasks
A list of resources that support educators and students transition to digital spaces to communicate, develop content, manage progress and carry out common service learning tasks. For more information about CSUSB's software, visit csusb.edu/its/software
- Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp
Community Data Collection
- Google Forms, Qualtrics, Social Media Surveys (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
- Google Docs, Slides, Sheets; Adobe Creative Cloud
Collaborative Resource Sharing
- Google Drive
- Instagram, Facebook, Portfolium, Camtasia
- Zoom, Google Slides, VoiceThread, PowerPoints with Voice Record Feature
Digital Service Learning Reflection Tools
Review this guide to help identify software that best suits your service learning reflection activities. Software is categorized by its ability to share the reflection activity with different audiences.
Individuals (Only student and faculty)
- Inside Blackboard: Assignment tool
- Outside Blackboard: Email, Google Drive
Teams or The Entire Class
- Inside Blackboard: Group Discussions, Class Discussions, Group Journal, Group Wiki, Group Blog
- Outside Blackboard: Google Documents, Voice Tread, Vimeo, Microsoft Office
- Inside Blackboard: N/A
- Outside Blackboard: Online Gallery (Flickr), Online Portfolio (Portfolium), Short Video Reflections (FlipGrid), Long Video Reflections (YouTube), Publications (ScholarWorks)
Benefits of Virtual Community Engagement [Strait &Sauer]
When conducting online courses, virtual community engagement offers excellent outreach to community organizations and fills a void in meeting community needs. Students will get the opportunity to gain real-world work experience and build long-lasting partnerships with their communities that will benefit their future careers. The experiences provide rich, authentic, hands-on training for students.
Virtual community engagement challenges students to think in new ways, explore new ways of problem solving, and raise critical questions about their learning and service. Students get the opportunity to wrestle with complex issues right in their own communities and to become a part of the solution. These solutions are shared with peers statewide, assisting other small towns and businesses that may have similar needs.
For those of you wanting to virtually redevelop the strong relationships with your current partners, and those of you looking to develop new online partnerships, we have compiled a list of ‘best practices’ and resources for developing and maintaining remote partnerships.
The three main categories below identify ‘best practices’ and should be addressed during the partnership development phase:
- Training for students, community partner, instructor
- Bridge synchronous and asynchronous methods
- Trial runs prior to live sessions
- Assess community partner and student technical capacity
- Clear expectations in memorandums of understanding
- Community partner access to course shell
- Use of groups; group space on course management system (eg. Asana)
- Community partner "reveal"
- Service related to learning objectives
- Appropriate typology
- Community partner and student feedback
Follow this 3 step resource guide to cultivate successful virtual community partnerships:
Virtual Service Suggestions
When considering the development of a virtual community engagement component for online courses, consider the following suggestions:
- Start small.
- Train the students.
- Plan for community partner contact.
- Plan extra time for unexpected outcomes.
- Include a reflection component
Taking Virtual Community Action
There are alternate ways to connect your course to the community. These resources below can help explore concepts of community with your students.
Here is an example of a Class Incorporating Virtual Community Engagement:
Reflect timeline (CSU Channel Islands - Reflection & Service Learning):
1) Before, 2) during and 3) toward the end of the experience
Reflection focus (Indiana University - Reflection Questions): Issue, Client, Self, Course
Reflection topics (Gateway Technical College - Service Learning Reflection Toolkit): What? So What? Now What?
Different levels of reflection (Oregon Campus Compact - Guide to Reflection): 1) Room to grow, 2) Quality reflection, 3) Mastery in reflection
Emotion and reflection (Felten, Gilchrist & Darby, 2006)
Teaching Resource Links:
- CSUSB Teaching Resource Center
- CSUSB Academic Technologies & Innovation (ATI)
- Reflection questions from Loyola University Chicago Center for Experiential Learning
- Community Engaged Teaching during Suspension of Face-to-Face Classes
- Advance HE Webinar: “Utilizing Service-Learning Projects in an Online Class”
- Facing History and Ourselves Corona Virus Teachers Resource Page
- Vanderbilt's Teaching in a Time of Crisis