Community-based learning, teaching, and research during COVID-19

The Reverend John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., announced on March 18, 2020 that the University of Notre Dame is suspending in-person classes beginning Monday, March 23 and continuing through the end of the spring semester, to be replaced with virtual instruction and other alternative learning options. This will have direct consequences for students’ ability to engage with local community organizations during this time. If you teach or supervise students working with a community organization, please reach out to your community partners to collaboratively determine the most appropriate course of action during this time. We wrote to our broad list of community partners to report on Notre Dame’s current plan and encourage them to communicate with you directly about how disruptions on all sides might impact community-engaged courses and other community-university activities. Please discuss changes to student expectations with relevant community partners and communicate those clearly to students. This letter includes a set of recommended best practices, potential strategies, and on-campus resources that might be useful as you adapt your community-engaged teaching, research, and learning in the upcoming weeks.

First, as you move forward with your community-engaged work during this time, please remember the following:

Adhere to the University’s guiding principles for safety and equity. The University asks faculty to do all they can to promote social distancing while also maintaining instructional continuity: the University is open but operating under different methods. As you make decisions about how to continue community-engaged work, keep equity in mind. Be mindful not to advantage students who might have resources to do engaged work such that their grades would be unfairly raised compared to those who do not have such access. Differentiation of work is fine and often necessary for community-engaged work, but make sure those differences do not disadvantage some students.

Communicate with your community partners and students early and regularly. Recognize that this is a fluid situation with few precedents, and that details might change with little warning. Be in regular conversation with your community partners and students to share key information and coordinate efforts. Note that our partners are experiencing their own changes in programming, so it is essential to talk about what is and is not possible given their own capacity and priorities.

Collaborate on changes to student work. Make final decisions about changes to student expectations, deadlines, and communication only after thorough discussion with all relevant partners. Discuss each partner’s organizational strategies related to the Coronavirus and ensure planned student activities are consistent with these plans. Fully and promptly communicate all changes to affected students and partners.

Compensate for lost resources when possible. The decision to cancel classes has affected an important resource (student volunteers) for many local organizations. When possible, adjust (not eliminate) student activities in order to preserve benefits for partners. Consider, for example, whether students may be able to complete at least part of their community-engaged work remotely or if there are other projects students can complete with a community partner while away from South Bend.

Second, with this in mind, consider using one or more of the following strategies to adapt your students’ work in the community.

Adjust the scope of student work. This may include limiting the community-engaged activities that students are expected to complete so they can fully satisfy course/program requirements when in-person classes are in session.

Adjust the timeline of student work. This may include reducing the total number of hours students are expected to spend in the community during the semester, potentially eliminating community-engaged assignments/projects while in-person classes are canceled.

Adjust the nature of student work. This may include revising or creating alternative community-engaged activities that students can complete remotely before April 13. Alternatives to discuss with your community partner include:

  • Conducting background research or gathering best practices or other information requested by a partner;
  • Taping, recording, or streaming performances or workshops to benefit community partner(s);
  • Creating digital and other social media content, print program materials, or other methods for information-sharing;
  • Undertaking assessment, evaluation, or feedback via phone or web-based services;
  • Conducting virtual or phone-based educational supports and/or tutoring for youth and adults;
  • Connecting with partners in their home community who address similar issues to provide benchmarking and additional expert input relevant to their engaged work

Finally, numerous resources related to community engagement--including as part of online courses--are available to help you navigate the upcoming weeks. Some of these resources include:

  • The Center for Social Concerns. A leading campus voice in community-university partnerships, expert staff at the Center can provide feedback and recommendations for effective partnerships.
  • Instructional Continuity Database. The Provost, in collaboration with ND Learning and the Office of Information Technology has shared valuable resources (available at that can be used to maintain instructional continuity during this time of social distancing. This information is specific to Notre Dame.
  • Resources for Online Community-Engaged Learning. Also known as Digital Service Learning, strategies for creating effective online opportunities for students to work with community partners is a growing part of research in community-university partnerships. Introductions to Digital Service Learning methods and strategies can be found here and here. This recent webinar provides an in-depth view of how one faculty member successfully transitioned a face-to-face community-engaged learning course to an online version.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to community-engaged teaching, research, and learning. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us during this unexpected and fluid time.


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Upcoming Events

September 2021

Information Session | ISSLP 2022 (In-Person and Virtual)
Sunday, September 26, 2021 - 7:00pm to 8:00pm

October 2021

Signs of the Times Brown Bag Lunch Series | Refugees
Friday, October 1, 2021 - 12:00pm
Information Session | ISSLP 2022 (In-Person Only)
Monday, October 4, 2021 - 7:00pm to 8:00pm
What to do with my Ph.D.? Community Engagement Career Paths
Tuesday, October 5, 2021 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor
Tuesday, October 5, 2021 - 7:00pm
The Social
Thursday, October 7, 2021 - 4:30pm to 5:30pm
Information Session | Catholic Social Tradition Minor
Tuesday, October 12, 2021 - 6:30pm to 7:30pm
Information Session | ISSLP 2022 (In-Person and Virtual)
Wednesday, October 13, 2021 - 7:00pm to 8:00pm
Application Close | ISSLP 2022
Monday, October 25, 2021 - 12:00am to 11:45pm

November 2021

Labor Café First Friday
Friday, November 5, 2021 - 5:00pm to 6:00pm
Dignity and Justice Workshop
Friday, November 12, 2021 - 10:00am to 1:00pm
Higgins Labor CLASSics | Blue Collar (1978)
Sunday, November 14, 2021 - 3:00pm

December 2021

Signs of the Times Brown Bag Lunch Series | Housing
Friday, December 3, 2021 - 12:00pm
Labor Café First Friday
Friday, December 3, 2021 - 5:00pm to 6:00pm