Community Service Learning

Community Service Learning (CSL) is a form of education in which students use their academic skills to solve currently existing social issues. This happens in close cooperation and interaction with a community partner.

Added value for students
For the students CSL has added value on an academic, professional and personal level. The most prominent example of improved academic skills is a deeper understanding of the scientific theory. When the CSL activities are properly related to the scientific knowledge on that theme, students will be encouraged to move between the real world and scientific theory. The professional added value for students is related to the improvement of communication skills and the development of their professional network. The personal added value of CSL revolves around diversity, openness to change and discovering new interests.

Added value for the faculties
CSL offers the opportunity to be better informed on and more involved in societal issues. Offering a CSL-activity can play a role in attracting motivated students. The knowledge that students gain can offer new perspectives and input for discussions during lectures. Also, CSL-activities can easily be coupled to research and publications. Finally, CSL offers the possibility to interact with other faculties and offer active education.

Community Service Learning is an important completion of the social involvement of the university. In the Institutional Plan 2015-2020 VU expresses its intention to structurally implement Community Service Learning within education. Our goal is to introduce a CSL complement within each educational program. In the institutional plan of 2015-2020, the VU annunciates the ambition to make CSL a structural and integrated part of the curriculum. In the institutional plan this is expressed as follows:

"Our students are socially involved and concerned. (…) Besides this, during their Bachelors, students can make a direct contribution to society trough ‘Community Services” activities. Through a ‘Community Service’ program, BSc and Msc students and teachers will work on societal issues brought to us by social cooperation partners. This can take the form of an internship or thesis research focused on problem oriented teaching assignments. Through this, students use their academic skills for the benefit of local and regional communities, and are triggered to enhance their skills in the field op leadership, cooperation and personal development. 'Community Services' contribute to the creation of an interdisciplinary, transboundary academic cooperation and international exchange. In addition, they can serve as the engine behind follow-up studies. The ultimate goal is that ‘Community Services’ are anchored within the educational system and research, and fit within the profiling themes of the VU."

We are striving to introduce (a form of) Community Service Learning within all the educational programs of the VU.

For master students who want to include CSL in their education, the VU offers the module Interdisciplinary Community Service Learning (i-CSL). The module is VU-wide and can be followed by students from any academic major. Students will approach a large societal issue - such as sustainability, digitalization, or inequality - from their different disciplinary backgrounds in the context of the graduation projects of their own programs. In parallel, they take a course that features integration through sharing insights, experiences, and knowledge within their interdisciplinary team working on the same overarching societal issue. As such, i-CSL offers an interdisciplinary CSL experiences and allows for broadening your view without compromising on the depth of your own research.

Read more about the program.

CSL can take different forms: research for the purpose of giving advice to existing social issues; assistance or internships; mentoring; empowerment of scholars, students, entrepreneurship and giving advice to community partners. Watch two examples from the Salvation Army (Leger des Heils) and Project VoorUit (only in Dutch, turn on subtitles in settings).

On the Community Service Learning website of the University of Gent (Belgium), different steps were described on how to realize a CSL-course:

STEP 1: setting (learning) goals

Within Community Service Learning it is important that the activities completed by students are relevant for both the students’ learning goals and for solving social issues as formulated together with a community partner.

STEP 2: building a relationship with a community partner

Within Community Service Learning, partnerships with an organization are being established (e.g. NGO’s, governments, social enterprises). When implementing CSL within a course, partnerships can be established with two starting points:

1. A teacher wants to introduce CSL as a form of education, which makes it possible to look for a suitable partnership with a community partner. This happens in close collaboration with the CSL-team.

2. An organization/institution is looking for students in the context of a relevant social project and needs to be matched with a concrete CSL-initiative of a teacher. The CSL team can mediate between the two.

STEP 3: Designing or adjusting a CSL-course

As in each course, educational activities are being developed, focused on the transfer, learning, use and integration of the educational content. Within CSL, three components are interwoven with each other:
1. Theoretical component
2. Practical component
3. Reflection component

The components within CSL complement each other and lead to two different categories of learning goals:
1. Academic learning goal
2. Social and personal learning goals

When implementing CSL within a course, each component is important. When recreating an existing course, this might include adding some changes to  the educational program.

STEP 4: Practical organization of the course

When starting the course, it is of high importance to explain to the students why and how CSL will be a part of their course.

STEP 5: evaluation of the students’ learning goals

As in other courses, the students learning goals and competences will be examined. When the students shows that all learning goals (academic, social and personal) were reached, the ECTS will be assigned to the student. It is of high importance to evaluate the quality of CSL within the course. This evaluation is important as a feedback to be able to maintain and improve the quality of the CSL component within the course. Based on these results it can be decided how CSL can be developed further and maintained within the course. Furthermore, it can be a motivational factor for both teachers and students if the quality of CSL can be demonstrated.

VU maintains a close relationship with different social organizations. They are the gateway to society and they are closely involved with Community Service Learning (CSL) at VU. District Amsterdam Nieuw-West is a preferred partner when it comes to developing CSL-activities within the city of Amsterdam. VoorUit is an important partner for creating a connection between citizens and other social workers within the community. Other partners are CORDAAN, Leger des Heils, Philadelphia, GGZ and other social organizations. On the theme of poverty there is a close relationship with the Voedselbanken in Amsterdam.

On an international level, VU works within the European Aurora network of universities. Furthermore, there is a collaboration with universities that were involved with the Erasmus + project Europe Engage. At the moment a European CSL-observatory is being established. As a consequence of the partnership on Diversity-topics between VU and UCLA there is more engagement with the Civic Engagement program at UCLA. Members of our CSL-team participate in international conferences and present updates on CSL developments at VU.

Ultimately, there is a close collaboration with prof.emertius Robert G. Bringle, who has, funded by ‘’Fulbright Expert Breuzenprogramma’’, visited VU a few times to give advice on the CSL and the A Broader Mind program.

A learning community is a group of people who share common academic goals and attitudes, who meet semi-regularly to collaborate on education designs. This learning community in particular is a place to share knowledge, exchange experiences on Community Service Learning (CSL) and to explore and build on opportunities to further develop CSL in our education at the VU.

learning Labs

We have developed a learning community through online platforms as well as through regular learning labs. Everyone who is either already working with CSL or interested in finding out more about CSL is welcome to join. Within the learning labs we share knowledge, exchange ideas and build towards new practices.

Sharing knowledge is about sharing best practices of implementing CSL at the VU, sharing examples of course designs, and receiving updates on the latest CSL research. We have a lot of knowledge within our learning community, and occasionally will invite guest speakers who share their expertise on particular priority topics.

We aim to facilitate exchange of experiences and ideas between the learning community members on various topics within the CSL context such as course design, assessment, ethical considerations and more. Community members can bring their own questions into the group via discussion on this online platform, or in person in the various learning labs. We also aim to establish a network for people to be able to connect and contact each other outside of these formal platforms to advice, collaborate and exchange.

CSL at the VU is not new and there are many successful initiatives. However, there are still many questions about for instance how to successfully facilitate CSL for larger groups of students, what would the scaffolding of CSL look like, and how to implement CSL in such a manner that it optimally benefits all stakeholders involved. we aim to build more opportunities to further develop CSL in our education at the VU in a more sustainable way involving collaboration between courses and faculties on larger societal themes and scaffolding the learning process.

If you are interested in joining the learning community please sent an email to

Annually, a conference or experiment seminar is organized by our CSL team. The next conference will take place in fall 2019 during the time period that Fulbright Fellow Robert. G. Bringle will stay at VU.

Click here for an impression on previous conferences (in Dutch).

If you are interested in joining the learning community please sent an email to: 

The following copies are available for loan: 

Berman (2015). Service learning: A guide to planning, implementing, andassessing student projects. ISBN: 1-4129-3672-1.Berman (2015). Service learning: A guide to planning, implementing, andassessing student projects. ISBN: 1-4129-3672-1.Butin (2010). Service-Learning in Theory and Practice. ISBN: 978-0-230-62251-7.
Cress, Collier and Reitenauer (2013). Learning through Serving. ISBN: 978-1-57922-989-4.Cress, Donahue and Associates (2011). Democratic Dilemmas of Teaching Service-Learning. ISBN: 978-1-57922-430-1.Dolgon, Mitchell and Eatman (2017). The Cambridge handbook of service learning and community engagement. ISBN: 978-1-107-15378-3.
Droge and Ortega Murphy (1999). Voices of Strong Democracy. ISBN: 978-1-56377-012-8.Furco and Billig (2001). Service-learning: the essence of the pedagogy. ISBN: 1-931576-57-2.Goddard, Hazelkorn, Kempton and Vallance (2016). The Civic Univiersity: The Policy and Leadership Challenges. ISBN: 978-1-78471-771-1.
Green and Johnson (2014). Crossing boundaries: tension and transformation in international service-learning. ISBN: 978-1-57922-619-0.Hardin, Eribes and Poster ( 2006). From the studio to the streets: service-learning in planning and architecture. ISBN: 1-56377-100-4.Jacoby (2015). Service Learning Essentials – Questions, Answers and Lessons Learned. ISBN: 978-118-62794-5.
Lee (2004). Teaching and learning through inquiry: a guidebook for institutions and instructors. ISBN: 1-57922-081-9.Maas Weigert and Crews (1999). Teaching for Justice Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Peace Studies. ISBN: 1-56377-015-6.O’Grady (2013). Integrating service learning and multicultural education in colleges and universities. ISBN: 978-0-8058-3345-4.
Ostrow, Hesser and Enos (1999). Cultivating the Sociological Imagination: Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Sociology. ISBN: 1-56377-017-2.Pelham and Sills (2009). Promoting Health and Wellness in Underserved Communities. ISBN: 978-1-57922-240-6.Savicki (2008). Developing intercultural competence and transformation: theory, research, and application in international education. ISBN: 978-1-57922-265-9.
Skubikowski, Wright and Graf ( 2009). Social justice education: inviting faculty to change institutions. ISBN: 978-1-57922-360-1.Stahly (2007). Gender identity, equity and violence: multidisciplinary perspectives through service learning. ISBN: 978-1-57922-217-8.Stephenson Malott (2010). Critical Constructions: Studies on Education and Society. ISBN: 978-1-68123-280-5.
Stoecker (2016). Liberating Service Learning and the Rest of Higher Education Civic Engagement. ISBN: 978-14399-13512.  Strait and Lima (2009). The future of service learning: new solutions for sustaining and improving practice. ISBN: 978-1-57922-364-9Tannenbaum (2008). Research, advocacy, and political engagement: multidisciplinary perspectives through service learning. ISBN: 978-1-57922-242-0.
Welch (2016). Engaging Higher Education: purpose, platforms and programs for community engagement. ISBN: 978-1-62036-383-6.Brewer and Cunningham (2009). Integrating study abroad into the curriculum. ISBN: 978-1-57922-348-9.


The project team Community Service Learning is part of the initiative A Broader Mind. Marjolein Zweekhorst (Athena Institute) is the leader of the CSL-part within A Broader Mind.

The CSL project team can be divided in two subteams:

Policy led by Wim Haan:

  • Sehida Begovic, student assistant communication and general support; 
  • Esther Haverkort, responsible for social relations and partnerships; 
  • Isabella van Ophem: connection with education/courses.

Research led by Marjolein Zweekhorst

  • Nadine Blignaut, postdoc researcher; 
  • Femke Hilverda, postdoc researcher; 
  • Suzan el Safti, junior researcher; 
  • Geertje Tijsma, junior researcher. 

Advisory board
There is an advisory board assigned for CSL, led by prof. dr. Joke van Saane (FRT). Members are: 

  • Hemme Battjes;
  • Marieke de Hoon;
  • Marjolijn Witte;
  • Hans Akkermans;
  • Gerhard van de Bunt.

Marjolein Zweekhorst and Wim Haan are present at the meetings of the advisory board.

If you have any general questions about Community Service Learning, please contact: