How to Use Campus-Based Learning?

Initial Publication Date: April 10, 2007

  1. Find Projects that are Appropriate to the Class
  2. Find Resources and People
  3. Contribute Back
  4. Assess Student Projects
  5. Maintain a Record

Find Projects that are Appropriate to the Class

Consider the campus links to the coursework you are teaching:

  • All campuses have a context which can be incorporated into your class activities. For example:
    • Carleton College geology students routinely study the channels of the Cannon River and Spring Creek, which are on or next to campus. After a severe storm in 1998, geology students assessed storm damage and presented their recommendations to campus facilities management.
  • The workings of a college or university also provide fertile ground for campus-based teaching. For example:

Find Resources and People

Students, staff and faculty in most institutions often work in different spheres.

As one University of Minnesota faculty member put it, "The faculty and students often see the staff as part of the furniture; the staff often sees the faculty and students the same way." Bridging this divide is crucial for campus-based projects.

By utilizing campus staff wisely, the students can benefit from a hands-on, real-world project; those staff members may also utilize some research and creative thinking about campus issues.

  • On a small project, simply have the students contact and interview staff who have knowledge in the area. Faculty can also have personnel come to class to present about topic areas and answer questions.
  • On a larger project, set up a committee with students, staff and faculty to advise the project. For an example see Carleton College's Environmental Advisory Committee
  • Prepare students: Students may need to be reminded about how to interview staff efficiently. Providing a reminder about interview techniques may be useful for students. For more information about interview techniques, see McDowell 1999 and United States General Account Office 2001. One common mistake by students is to wait until the last minute to ask for detailed information needed in a short time frame. Make sure that that students can ask for specific information with enough lead time for the staff to get the information for them.
  • Prepare staff: Most staff are pleased that students have taken an interest in their work. However, some staff may be uncomfortable offering data to students. If staff know how the information will be used, they often will be more likely to be receptive to sharing information. Faculty can talk to supervisors about the project and/or write up a short piece about the project for the students to add to an email request for information to help with this type of communication.

Contribute Back: Present Information to the Community

  • Have student researchers present information to campus decision-makers, as well as produce a written report or website. One useful part of a campus-based project is a ready-made group of potential reviewers. Campus staff may be willing to review presentations and potentially implement student recommendations.
    • All written campus projects should also include a distilled executive summary that can be used by campus decision makers.

Assess Student Projects: Faculty Resources for Assessing Campus-Based Projects

Maintain a Record: Archive Student Projects

A common problem at many schools is that student projects are lost at the end of a semester. If a department or program archives the student projects, then a subsequent group of students interested in the same topic can build upon the previous student's work.


Tips for an effective archive:

  • Designate a faculty or staff person as the repository for student projects. Keep a copy of the projects with this person.
  • Set up a permanent file in the reserve reading section of the library.
  • Set up a section for student projects on an campus environmental program's website. Make sure that you have permission from the students to put their information on the website. Have students provide an electronic copy of their work to upload. For examples of student projects on the web, see University of Minnesota's Sustainable Campus Initiative and Restoration and Reclamation Review
  • Have students hand in three hard copies of their papers and a disk with the electronic version. One copy will be returned with a grade and comments. One copy stays in the campus research archive and one is placed on reserve in the library. The electronic version can be easily uplinked to a website.