CEL initiatives at Brandeis are devoted to expanding the circle of participation in the educational process, drawing students, faculty, staff and community members into thought-provoking conversations about ideas, citizenship and social responsibility. CEL courses offer faculty exciting opportunities to experiment with new teaching strategies and to expose students to important challenges and resources in local communities in the Greater Boston area and around the world.
Although they are often deeply fulfilling, these courses frequently pose special challenges for faculty. Since classes must work with community members who usually have to handle work, school and families of their own, a certain amount of flexibility is required on the part of all concerned. It is thus helpful if the syllabus explains clearly that some "mid-course" corrections may be required. Since students may encounter challenging social conditions in their off-campus projects, it is helpful to build reflection and assessment exercises into the design of the class, allowing students safe spaces in which to reflect upon their emotional reactions, their class and race-based positions and their ethical responsibilities. Many faculty teaching community-engaged courses find it helpful for students to keep a journal during the semester and to submit a "portfolio" documenting the community-oriented work they have accomplished. It is often helpful for students to produce some sort of written document at the end of the semester, informed by the class readings and their experiences off campus, recommending future steps for action in the community. Many community-engaged faculty also find it helpful to keep a teaching journal recording their experiences inside and outside of the classroom.
Careful thought must also be given to transportation and related logistics, and to developing and maintaining partnership with individuals and organizations in the community. It is important to reflect on what the advantages of participation of the project are for students and for community partners, and to make sure that no one is being exploited or unduly pressured. If research is being conduced that may lead to publication in any form, faculty and/or students will probably need to go through the Institutional Review Board/Protection of Human Subject process.
Many faculty find it helpful to work closely with a Community Engaged Fellow (an undergraduate peer assistant or TA), who often takes primary responsibility for arranging transportation and logistical matters, coordinating with community partners and guiding students in reflection exercises. In addition, ExCEL Fellows may be able to assist with the development of new CEL partnerships and projects. Many members of the Waltham Group, the principal student volunteer organization, have extensive familiarity with local social service agencies and are happy to share their insights and experience.