T1 subpage 5 : Strengthening community relationships and connectedness
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Strengthening Community Relationships and Connectedness


  1. Promote students’ connectedness: their sense of belonging, integration, and satisfaction with their life in HE
  2. Advance and deepen student engagement and involvement
  3. Relationships with instructors-mentors
  4. Community outreach
  5. Build and support partnerships with the wider community
    1. Internships
    2. Service learning
    3. Innovation and applied research
    4. Leadership development
    5. Volunteerism

HE students’ mental health concerns are closely linked to performance difficulties, dropping out, and other academic challenges (Bruffaerts et al., 2018). Moreover, HE landscapes across the world have changed, highlighting the need to embrace teaching and learning challenges. According to the literature (Bassett, 2020; Cachia et al., 2010; Fook & Sidhu, 2015; Pomerantz & Brooks, 2017), such challenges include:


To confront and surpass these problem areas, alternative models for teaching-learning have been developed and applied to meet learners’ unique needs. Such academic initiatives include programs, services, facilities, and learning communities that support the academic needs and goals of diverse students while also promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion on HE campuses and institutions. Examples are provided below.


Civic Engagement: Service and civic learning, as well as volunteering, are participatory education initiatives that involve students in work settings, thus promoting civic knowledge, associations, and action. Such involvement is information-rich and helps students to become culturally responsive as well as to develop and hone their reflective, critical, and strategic thinking. Participating in civic engagement programming has been associated with positive outcomes for students and HEIs (Bennett et al., 2016; Ellerton  et al., 2016). The approaches outlined below are examples of civic engagement HE initiatives.


Civic learning is a process through which young people develop the knowledge, skills, values, and commitments to interact effectively with fellow community members and so address shared problems (Barnhardt et al., 2019). Such programming includes initiatives such as ‘community learning’, where faculty members and students embrace and engage with community to student learning by combining academic work with community placements for all involved. The students’ community-based projects are locally relevant.


    • The Higher Education Learning Framework is an evidence-based approach based on seven principles. For more information click and download the pdfs below and see the Dr. Stephanie MacMahon’s presentation in the EMBRACE Webinar- “Learning, Engagement, and Belonging in Higher Education”.



Higher Education Learning Framework (HELF)

Download the HELF handbook (PDF, 1.5MB)
Download the HELF framework matrix (PDF, 1.4MB)


  • What does “learning is becoming” mean for you?
  • How can you incorporate some of the seven principles of the HELF framework into your teaching-learning practice?


Service-learning is a reflective, relational pedagogy that combines community or public service with structured opportunities for learning. One particular form of this is the capstone courses, which require students to draw on the knowledge they have obtained throughout their coursework and combine it with relevant service work. The pedagogical aim is either to explore a new topic or for students to synthesise their understanding of their coursework in one course or throughout the curriculum. This type of experiential engagement empowers students to transition between theory and practice, make professional contacts and accumulate experience (Ellerton et al., 2016).


Recordings of the main lectures, video presentations and materials from the individual sections are available at www.slihe.eu.


Also please view Dr. Pilar Aramburuzabala’s EMBRACE Webinar presentation in presentation in the EMBARCE Webinar- “Learning, Engagement, and Belonging in Higher Education”.


  • Student volunteering is a practice of giving, without compensation, one’s time for charitable, educational, or other activities which benefit others. Volunteering bolsters students’ knowledge base in different fields as well as increasing their leadership skills and employability (Cnaan et al., 2010).


Teaching strategies are of vital importance for engaging HES. Some examples are listed below.


  • Active teaching methods, including role-plays, educational games, field classes, trips and excursions, case studies, brainstorming, problem-based teaching, and simulation in the teaching-learning process. Such strategies are considered useful as they are flexible modes of instruction that allow students with different needs to engage actively with learning. They make students responsible for their learning while promoting critical thinking and independent learning (Educause, 2019).
  • Using visual methods. Technology and multimedia are the preferred methods of instruction and learning for all students, including those who need adaptive learning technologies (Galanek et al., 2018; Kortegast et al., 2019). Students find the use of multimedia engaging, facilitating the learning process. Visual methods enhance student learning and motivate learners to seek additional materials (Courts & Tucker, 2012). Students are encouraged to think creatively and critically when visual and multimedia technologies are used (Galanek et al., 2018).
  • The “flipped” or “inverted” classroom. This is a pedagogical technique in which students read new material (articles, chapters, books) or watch videos outside of class. Students are assigned the material before class and are told, either individually or in small groups, to prepare for class in their own time by gaining knowledge and comprehension of the subject matter. In the class meeting, both instructor and students facilitate learning by posing questions on applying, analysing, synthesising, evaluating, creating, and problem-solving, using their understandings from the readings (Mazur, 2009). Thus, students engage with the challenging aspects of the course material, aiding them to grasp the topic, and promoting problem-solving (Brandford et al., 2000).


Flipped learning provides students with opportunities to use their newly acquired knowledge, obtain feedback, and correct misconceptions in active classroom sessions, thus taking control of their learning and thinking in a metacognitive fashion (Bransford et al., 2000). This model is efficacious (Hamdan et al., 2013; McLaughlin et al., 2013; McLaughlin et al., 2014).


The inverted classroom places students at the centre of the teaching-learning process. Several activities can be used, including assessments using clickers or smartphones, question and answer sessions, fishbowl practice, and role play. Online aid for educators is available here:



For the PDF of the Definition, Pillars and Indicators, click here.

For the Spanish PDF of the Definition, Pillars and Indicators, click here.


Practices such as these transform the teaching-learning process. According to Blum, “the more that school learning resembles the successful learning that is so abundant outside of school, the greater the chance that some learning will take place” (2016, p. 2) Undeniably, reflecting on the teaching-learning process and the impasses involved is crucial to initiating and bringing about change, academic engagement, and meaning, as well as to students flourishing.


An example of reflecting on our teaching practices is presented in the Birmingham City University’s Team video.

  • What are the benefits of reflecting on our teaching practice?
  • Can service-learning initiatives be implemented in your department or HEI?
  • What strategies can be applied in your HEI to enhance the social environment?
  • How are academics at your university supported to achieve the work-life balance?