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Community as Co-Educator

Staff members of community organizations have unique knowledge and skills that can contribute to the educational experience of Illinois State students. We encourage community partners to embrace their role as co-educators. Each interaction with a student is an opportunity for the student to learn, regardless of if they are a one-time volunteer, sitting in a presentation, working on a service learning project, or a semester-long intern.

Think about the ways students can benefit from the experience with a community organization. Some questions to consider (adapted from the book Community Partner Guide to Campus Collaborations) include:

  • What might students learn if they assist your program/organization?
  • What are the academic dimensions of your work (readings/research about the field or social issue)?
  • What knowledge might they gain about a particular discipline or subject area?
  • What skills might they gain for a chosen profession or career?
  • What insight might they gain regarding personal strengths, values, attitudes, or character?
  • What can you share about your own experience that might be interesting or important for students to know?

Connecting to Career

Community engagement experiences help students to develop transferable skills that can be utilized in internships and jobs. They also help students explore careers. We encourage community partners to talk with students about career interests and what they are learning from their experience with the organization as well as share their personal journey to their profession.
If time allows, help students to meet staff at your organization and learn about a variety of positions within the organization. Help them consider what kinds of knowledge, skills, and experience lead to related careers.


Reflection helps to make meaning of an experience. Often it is the role of the instructor to design reflective activities and assignments to help students make meaning of their service learning experience and connect it to the course content. This does not mean community partners cannot participate in or facilitate reflection. When participating in a traditional service learning project (intentional community partnership incorporated into a class), you can ask the partner instructor to participate in reflection discussions. That is particularly encouraged if reflection is taking place on-site.

Community partner participation in reflection can enhance student learning by providing perspective. Even when the work with students is not part of a service learning project, reflection is still key for helping students make meaning. Community organization staff can lead student volunteers through reflective activities and/or discussions or even just intentionally and regularly engage the students in conversations about their experiences.

The simplest approach to reflection is the What? So What? Now What? approach.


  • What happened?
  • What did you do?
  • What did you observe?
  • What is the social issue you engaged with?
  • What population is being served?

So What?

  • So what does this matter?
  • Was your work beneficial?
  • How was your experience different than you expected?
  • How does the work you did address the social issue?
  • Why did you like/dislike your experience?
  • What did you learn (a new skill, clarify an interest/disinterest, etc.)?
  • What personal experiences and/or lenses do you view the experiences through?

Now What?

  • Now what will you do with this information/experience?
  • What seems to be the root causes of the issue addressed?
  • What other work is currently happening to address the issue?
  • Is there future action you could take to stay involved with this community organization/social issue?
  • What would you like to learn more about, related to this project/issue/organization?
  • How has the experience challenged a preconceived notion?
  • If you could do the project again, what would you do differently?

Civically Engaged Learning Goals

Illinois State established the Civically Engaged Learning Goals to create intentionality in instruction and program delivery. Use of the learning goals ensures faculty/staff are purposefully and overtly connecting what they are doing (in a course or co-curricular activity) to the end goal: to further the civic skills, knowledge, disposition, and participation of Illinois State students.

A single course/experience will not produce a complete civically engaged graduate, but as a collective experience, the integration of all civic experiences at Illinois State will help produce these shared outcomes. While learning outcomes are typically driven by the faculty/staff, we encourage individuals to communicate and agree upon those outcomes.It is also helpful for community organizations to know the broad goals guiding civic experiences.