Community engaged learning (CEL) has been identified as a high impact educational practice that can have profound influence on learning and improve student engagement (Kuh, 2008). Despite the potential to provide a meaningful learning experience, CEL opportunities are not widespread at large research institutions, and most examples arise from optional co-curricular activities or small classes (Holander, 2011). Current realities of increasing class sizes and decreasing resources can make implementing CEL challenging. Creative thinking is required to modify the critical elements of successful CEL to suit broader educational needs.

This paper provides a tangible model for CEL assignments that can be adapted to suit medium to large classes, with an honest discussion of the lessons learned in the process from student, faculty and community perspectives. Based on key concepts of reciprocity, shared decision-making and mutual benefit we designed a novel CEL assignment in a large 4th year course (>100 students). Briefly, student teams researched one of five priority areas identified by Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) to write an evidence-based literature review. Based on these findings, students worked with WDGPH experts to translate their research into practical recommendations and tools to advance WDGPH programming. An end-of-semester showcase was used to highlight these applied projects.

Students identified real world relevance and the opportunity to be creative as the main advantages of the assignment. Surprisingly, community partners identified the opportunity for leadership and mentorship as an unintended but welcomed benefit to the program. From a faculty perspective, the time required to coordinate and grade the projects during the teaching semester was manageable although the quality of student projects varied significantly. Future offerings should consider strategies to provide more tailored feedback to all students and to encourage a balance of effort between the research and applied aspects of the CEL project.