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A Broader Mind through Community Service Learning

Last updated on 23 August 2023
Community Service Learning (CSL) is an educational approach that allows students to address real-world issues in collaboration with societal actors. VU Amsterdam has a unique take on CSL, which is part of its Broader Mind programme, and coordinated by the Athena Institute.

Part of A Broader Mind

Community Service Learning (CSL) is a VU-wide education approach that is incorporated in the VU strategy. It is part of A Broader Mind, as it enables the various forms of development that this programme pursues. By engaging with diverse groups of people in society and by addressing real-world problems, students develop themselves in ways that cannot be accommodated for on campus. Moreover, CSL broadens academic perspectives by facilitating interdisciplinary collaborations between students from various backgrounds.

Origin of Community Service Learning

Community Service Learning emerged in the 1970’s in the USA. Since then, CSL spread across the world and approaches evolved. However, the starting point and cycle remained similar: a CSL course is typically established within one discipline and focuses on one specific societal challenge. At the end of each course, commitments to the issue and collaborations with the societal actors are terminated. 

Reciprocity through a thematic approach

The VU's CSL team discovered that reciprocity significantly increases through a more continuous form of Community Service Learning, in which students build on the insights and actions of previous group of students and courses. To that end, the team developed a new, thematic approach, for which they established knowledge alliances: networks of academic and societal actors who collaborate long-term on a broad societal topic, such as sustainability, mental health and inclusive public spaces. In 2022, the thematic approach was acknowledged by the Triple E Awards.

Want to join one of the theme-based knowledge alliances? Contact the CSL team.

Coordinated by the Athena Institute

Coordinated by the Athena Institute

CSL is a VU-broad programme that is coordinated by a team of transdisciplinarity experts at the Athena Institute: VU’s centre of excellence in shaping science-society interactions. These dynamics are often delicate, as there are many different actors and interests involved. The Athena Institute has 40 years of experience in organising inclusive multi-stakeholder processes and knows all about the required competencies.