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Communities and Students together (CaST)
Context: Globally, there are growing calls for Higher Education Institutions to become more civically engaged and socially relevant and there is increased public interest in the impact of universities on their localities and regions. Engaged learning facilitates students to apply theory to real-world contexts outside of the University and to co-produce knowledge with and for the community. Engaged learning provides students with the skills which increase their employability, and improve their personal and professional development, while communities gain access to skills to help develop, evaluate or communicate their work.
Objectives: The central aim of Communities and Students Together (CaST) will be to advance our knowledge and understanding of what constitutes a successful and sustainable engaged learning programme. We will explore existing initiatives and aim to incorporate successful elements in a series of new sustainable programmes in each partner university which enable community-based engaged learning for students to co-produce knowledge with and for the community. Participants: We will work with academics and education experts in each partner institution who want to improve the learning experience through innovative methods of engaged learning. We will aim to include students from all backgrounds and disciplines who wish to take part in an immersive and experiential learning programme working on a real world societal challenge. We will seek to work with local communities and civil society organisations who wish to develop mutually beneficial opportunities for students to work on real world challenges.
Activities: We will review engaged learning in the international context and in each partner country, and will seek to understand the practicalities and structure of existing initiatives, as well as capturing their impact on all stakeholders. Our Case Study Compendium will include an overview of the engaged learning landscape in each partner institution, and will provide an in-depth exploration of one or more case studies of engaged learning from each institution. Each partner will incorporate lessons from the previous two outputs in the development of an innovative engaged learning programme. The synthesis report will provide details of the engaged learning programme and pedagogy as well as a detailed evaluation of each new programme, and its impact on all stakeholders and the wider society. This output should help others in the field tounderstand what took place, providing enough detail to transfer the new innovations. At the end of the project we will hold an international conference and publish a collection of papers written by invited academics and community representatives. This output is likely to include discussions on the practical methodology of engaged learning, pedagogical strategies and approaches of engaged learning, as well as perspectives from both higher education institutes and communities, of the benefits of engaged learning in different contexts. Finally, we will create an Engaged Learning toolkit, which will be freely available online and will include e.g. Guidance for university strategy formation around engaged learning; Guidance on how to provide immersive and experiential learning programmes which tackle societal challenges; and a policy focussed short paper seeking to unpick the successful and less successful elements and processes of engaged learning.
Results and impact: CaST will provide each partner the opportunity to explore the role that engaged learning plays in its institution, on its students and on its local community. The project will create a network of European institutions with an interest in engaged learning and will provide them with a platform to share their knowledge and experience of what works and does not work. Through the exploration of engaged learning in six different European Institutions, we anticipate that we will identify different modes of engaged learning practice, each with different drivers, enablers and barriers to successful engaged learning practice.
Longer term benefits: We anticipate lasting benefits to all partners involved, to their students and to their local societies. As well as leaving a legacy of shared knowledge, the project will design and pilot a new engaged learning initiative in each partner institution. The ambition is for each of these initiatives to be mutually beneficial, and sustainable beyond the duration of the project funding. Moreover, it is anticipated that each Pilot may have the potential to be replicated or further scaled-up within other disciplines within each institution, or within other HEIs with a similar social context. We will also seek to understand any additional impacts including contribution to curricula or pedagogy and in making academic research accessible to the broader community.


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