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Distance Teaching with Service Learning and Civic Engagement BETA

A Toolkit from University of Maine at Augusta, and University of Southern Maine

Print Version of the Toolkit: uma.edu/faculty-cedoc

Designing a CE Project

Who Begins the Project and Where: Designing Agency

Remember that a Civic Engagement or Service Learning Project design revolves around a community partner’s needs in relation to the discipline and learning outcomes you’ve designed. Consider the following options for finding a Partner and designing your Community Project:

  1. The faculty member finds a local partner and designs the project.

  2. The faculty member finds a distance (or national) partner and designs the project.

  3. Each student finds a community partner locally and designs the project with that partner (under the faculty member’s guidance) separately

Option 1: Faculty member finds a community partner local to the home-campus and works with that partner to define a project for students to complete.

Drawing on the notion that online students may elect to live near a campus community, this model allows faculty to create much of the project outline upfront while still evoking the community connection in learners by connecting them to a partner they will recognize. According to a US News review, about half of online learners live within 50 miles of their home campus, and another 65% live within 100 miles. [1] In this model, you would create much of the project outline when you design your course before the semester begins. This model is ideal for faculty who need to be absolutely certain about the steps and interactions of a project are completed for a partnership. This is an excellent option for faculty who:

  • Are new to distance teaching

  • Are new to service learning or civic engagement

  • Have more content to cover (lectures or lessons)

  • Are teaching 100/200 level courses (or other entry level courses)

  • Have a population of newer students who may not have acclimated to university life yet

  • Already has a Partner in mind

Option 2: Faculty member finds a distance or national partner and connects with that partner using teleconference technologies to define a project for students to complete.

In many fully distance courses where students meet at remote sites or who take their courses fully online from home, finding a community partner that engages the learner may be challenging. For Civic Engagement to be deeply meaningful for a learner, one step in that design is to ensure that the learner connects to a partner she recognizes--one with whom she can have an observable, positive impact. In distance courses where students are scattered all over the state, country, or even world, this layer of engagement can be difficult to facilitate.

In these situations, a faculty member may wish to select a Community Partner with a broad service reach or a web-based community, such as programs with a national or American Association connection. Examples include the American Association of Poison Control Centers, National Suicide Prevention, or any medical research program. This option is ideal for faculty who:

  • Have taught online or at a distance previously and are comfortable with the process

  • Have some background with service learning or civic engagement

  • Have worked with Community Partners before

  • Have some understanding of technology for meeting “live” with others at a distance

  • Have a population of upper level students or students who are not new to online learning

  • Already has a Partner in mind

Option 3: Students are tasked with finding a Community Partner locally, pitching a project to the instructor based on that partnership, and designing the project themselves.

In some cases of “extreme eservice learning” it may be advisable for faculty to direct students to evolve their own partnerships and projects within the course design. In these cases, students generally spend some time orienting to the learning content and goals in the early days or weeks of the course, and then they identify a local community partner, design a project with that partner, and pitch it to the faculty member for guidance. Another way to consider this option is “differentiated assessment,” where the faculty member outlines the needs of the learning environment, but the student is the first to identify what a possible assessment should look like. In this scenario, the faculty member has the ultimate say in what or how the student approaches the project, as well as guidance for how partners are invited into the process. Partners report directly to the faculty member on the experience of working with the students, and students produce content straight for the partner within the scope of class while staying current with their content lessons along the way. 

This is a good option for faculty who:

  • Have adult students with significant work experience in the subject area or project

  • Have upper level (300/400) or Graduate students

  • Have fully online learners who live around the state or country and will be more likely to be engaged by working with a local partner

  • Have students who have a deep interest in the field and who may have initiated groundwork for the project

  • Have a clearly designed syllabus with procedures for pitching a project to the instructor and receiving guiding feedback along the development of that project

  • Have experience working with internships, field-placements, clinical studies, practicum, or other partner-based learning situations

  • Are extremely organized and plan-full


  1. Haynie, Devon. “Younger Students Increasingly Drawn to Online Learning, Study Finds.” US News, 2015. Web. Retrieved from: https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2015/07/17/younger-students- increasingly-drawn-to-online-learning-study-finds on 10 April, 2017.

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