Community Based Learning Guidelines

To: Faculty

From: Elena Klaw, Director, Center for Community Learning & Leadership

Dear community engaged faculty,

Our realities have shifted rapidly and we must suspend all in-person service-learning contact until public health guidelines change. 

However, this is an opportunity for us to engage students in a way that allows them to reflect on the fundamental structures of society and the huge divides that determine our access to resources and support. At the Center for Community Learning and Leadership, we are shifting all trainings, outreach, and assessment efforts to a digital format for now.  Using social media, look out for our anti-violence and "Get Out the Vote" campaigns generated by Students Demand Action, our upcoming "Visits with a Vet" recorded interviews by VET Connect, and ongoing recruiting for AmeriCorps Civic Action Fellows. 

Since our students love using social media and making videos, this is an easier transition for them than it is for most of us! With permission, I am sharing the top-notch guidelines and suggestions for new forms of community-based learning compiled by Jennifer Alkezweeny at Portland State University. I have modified and tailored this list to address our needs at SJSU. There are many useful hotlinks included and I think you will find this to be an extraordinary resource for CBL. Please allow flexibility in students' service hour requirements, assignments and timelines, while placing safety and public health as a first priority.

The CCLL team will be available by email and Zoom during this time. 

With great appreciation,
Elena Klaw, PhD

Professor, Psychology
Director, Center for Community Learning and Leadership

Community Based Learning in times of Social Distancing, Isolation and Quarantine

As we adjust to our new temporary reality in the face of COVID-19, there are many factors to consider when thinking about transitioning your Community Based Learning (CBL) Course to a remote environment.  While there are many examples of CBL in online courses, those were often constructed over a longer period of time and could still have students active face to face in their community. 

Remember this quick switch in teaching and learning is likely uncharted territory for us all, including your students and community partners. High quality community based learning isn't about logging a certain number of hours, it is about being responsive to community partner needs. Perhaps at this time, the ultimate way to be engaged in the community is in ways that are grass-roots and emerging as the situation unfolds.  

Note, the information here does not supplant directives from the institution or government regarding social distancing, isolation, and quarantine.  This is simply a collection of ideas that might help keep your course community connected learning goals moving during this disruption.  Use your best judgment for how to proceed.

Connect with your Community Partner(s)

Our community partners are also facing a disruption in their day to day operations. Here are some things to keep in mind when reaching out to them: 

Read their website

Read their website and social media posts to see what they have already shared about impacts. They may be closed entirely, operating with limited services, limiting outside contacts, etc. Be mindful of the additional burden planning for students might cause as well as the additional support that might be beneficial. 

Read CDC messaging to community organizations

See what the messaging is going to community organizations from the CDC.

Reach out to your partner contact

Reach out to your partner contact (email is likely best at this time, plan for delayed responses). Let them know the current status of classes at SJSU. Come with an idea in mind of what may be reasonable for your students to still do. During this time, it may be appropriate for some CBL activities to carry on normally. However, the vast majority involve person to person contact and will have to be shifted to remote forms of engagement.

Have an open conversation

Have an open conversation about the current changes.  Are there other needs they have that are different than your usual involvement that might work for all involved? 

Make a plan

Move forward with student engagement in some way. Again, think of all the parties involved.  As you develop a plan with the community partner, factor in the new realities for your students.  Keep reading below for ideas on ways to get creative with CBL in this time.

You might decide to suspend CBL temporarily. Set a time with your partner where you will check back in. While SJSU is currently slated to be online for the next couple of weeks, that could be extended. Your partner organization may also have shifting restrictions. Decide when you'll check back in and keep plans flexible for shifting impacts for both SJSU and the community partner. 

Consider connecting with a different partner. Consider other community partners and efforts that might need support. Follow the same steps to check in with them and make plans.

You might suspend direct CBL for the term.


Use this time with your students to learn about the impacts of the pandemic in community organizations. (see below for more resources to guide that reflection).

CBL Remote in a Pinch with your Partner

If it is possible to transition to remote/online engagement with your community partner or a new partner, here are some ideas that might work with your course and partner needs: 


  • Conducting background research or gathering best practices or other information requested the partner(s)
  • Conduct online research on best practices or develop tools for program assessment 
  • Create a listing of grant opportunities that may be applicable for their organization
  • Remote interviewing current/past clients about their experiences, impact of the organization on where they are today

Content/Product Creation

  • Create marketing or social media content for future use by the partner
  • Create brochures or other materials for information-sharing
  • Create birthday cards to give to a local housing shelter or senior center
  • Taping, recording, or streaming performances or workshops to benefit community partner(s)
  • Create a resource (build a website?) of activities for after-school programming 

Virtual Connecting

  • Provide support via phone or web based meetings with agency team member support to those being served by the organization or others in the community
  • Work with staff to share videos or use technology to continue visits with residents or patients of retirement home facilities
  • conducting virtual or phone-based educational supports for youth and adults


  • Offer (or compiling, researching, or brainstorming) strategies that provide indirect support from volunteers as a result of coronavirus
  • Write a positive review for the organization to help with their marketing efforts
  • Virtual Volunteering

There are many ways to do meaningful things for the common good or directly with other in a virtual way.

Reflection on COVID-19

From Loyola University: Leveraging the Learning Opportunity of a Global Health Situation

Analyze the COVID-19 outbreak and public responses to it (including changes in university policy) through a lens that is attentive to underlying structures of power and inequality

Offering students a conceptual framework (and a corresponding digital platform) that presents 'consciousness-raising' as a radical and transformational mode of social change (rather than 'helping' or 'serving' per se)

Discussion of the xenophobia that is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Non-CBL ways to connect your course to the community

It's possible that the best option for now is to not have students directly connected to the community. If that is the case, there are many resources for exploring the concepts of community with your students. Here are just a few:

Discuss and reflect on the notion of community and the various forms it takes (recognized 501C3 Organizations, grassroots organizations, neighbor to neighbor connections, family and friends). 

Check out the Kanopy database through the MLK Library to see what streaming videos they might have available to enhance the course.  There are many wonderful documentaries and educational films available through Kanopy.

Explore the ideas around community engagement and social justice.

National Issues Forums has a great collection of resources that explore a variety of issues. You could have students read the materials and engage in an online discussion. The website has resources for how to structure the experience. 

Everyday Democracy has a collection of downloadable resources focused on community change. This includes stories of change makers, tools, as well as a democracy and equity reading list

Engage students with initiatives and resources from California Humanities

Teach students how laws are created, help them discover who their elected officials are, have a discussion about the importance of advocating for what you believe in. 

Think about what organizations and businesses are impacted by COVID-19. Perhaps some of them would benefit from positive Google or Yelp reviews if the students have interacted with them? 

Connect students to organizations that emergency resources such as the Red Cross, and Second Harvest Food Bank

Things People in Our Communities Might Need in These Times

  • Healthy people who can go to the grocery store for them and doorstep deliver groceries for them
  • Google Hangout/Facetime conversations to counteract the physical social isolation
  • Extra craft/art supplies, books, videos for families with kids at home
  • A kind note/letter to organizations serving communities of color who may be facing xenophobic reactions
  • Interruption of xenophobic reactions [pdf] on social media or in conversations
  • Calls or emails to elected officials to advocate on behalf of needs in this time
  • Check-ins with folks you know are living alone and/or are isolating or in quarantine
  • Notes of thanks to those in leadership roles or in positions that are not able to stay home.  
  • Quarantine Chat. Allows users to receive phone calls from other random users who want to talk. 

Other Related Resources

Credits from Jennifer Alkezweeny

Huge thanks to all the various people and organizations who are posting resources. I pulled from a great variety here and tried to link directly whenever possible. If you see something that needs better attribution, please let me know.

Here are some of the sources of this content in addition to my own contributions: The Service-Learning Higher Education List Serve; Troy University; Portland Community College; PSU Office of Academic Innovation; Iowa Campus Compact; IUPUI; Loyola; GivePulse; Community Service and Service Learning Professionals Facebook Group; and more!