Innovative Civic Engagement Pedagogy at CLDE 2018

  • Post category:8.1 Editorial
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By Bethany Fleck | (Introductory Essay: eJournal of Public Affairs, Special Issue)

Those who attended the 2018 Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Meeting (CLDE18) held in Anaheim, California, from June 6 to 9, are aware of the expertise shared and the synergy created among the participants working toward the advancement of civic learning and democratic engagement on campuses and in communities. This special issue of the eJournal of Public Affairs highlights exemplary work that was presented at the meeting and that has since been further developed into peer-reviewed scholarship ready for broader dissemination. Readers who attended CLDE18 will be reinvigorated by this collection of articles, while those who could not participate can now join the conversation. Though the journal editors considered manuscripts describing a number of exemplary programs, this special issue focuses on projects related to innovative civic engagement teaching pedagogy.

Author Note

Bethany Fleck, Department of Psychology, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Bethany Fleck, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Plaza Building, 220AC, Denver, CO 80217-3362. Phone: (303) 615-0415. E-mail:

A young woman answers questions to a small group of people

Innovative civic engagement pedagogy combines two fields: the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and the advancement of civic learning and democratic engagement by colleges and universities. Having worked in both areas, I am particularly excited to present this special edition, which links the two. Specific pedagogies that promote civic engagement include (but are not limited to) service-learning courses, community-based research, American Democracy Project (ADP) programs integrated into course work, internships, program and university-wide initiatives, and other experiential learning opportunities. This special edition highlights the ways campuses foster civic engagement, examines considerations related to innovative civic engagement teaching pedagogy, and discusses the assessment of civic outcomes—work that was at the heart of CLDE18.

The annual CLDE Meeting is co-organized by ADP, The Democracy Commitment, and NASPA Student Affairs Administrates in Higher Education, and is “intended to facilitate exchanges of knowledge and develop a sense of community around our shared civic learning and democratic engagement work” (American Association of State Colleges and Universities [AASCU], 2018, p. 4). During the meeting, participants focused on the emergent theory of change, which poses four important questions: (1) the purpose question: “What are the key features of the thriving democracy we aspire to enact and support through our work?”; (2) the learning outcomes question: “What knowledge, skills, and dispositions do people need in order to help create and contribute to a thriving democracy?”; (3) the pedagogy question: “How can we best foster the acquisition and development of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for a thriving democracy?”; and (4) the strategy question: “How can we build the institutional culture, infrastructure, and relationships needed to support learning that enables a thriving democracy?” The articles in this special edition reflect the discussions that took place around these questions at CLDE18 but center most significantly on pedagogy. In addition, meeting conversations focused on the various contexts and campus cultures that foster the “civic ethos of campus,” “civic literacy and skill building as a goal for every student,” “civic inquiry integrated within the majors and general education,” “civic action as lifelong practice,” and “civic agency” (AASCU, 2018, pp. 4-5). As attendees explored these ideas at CLDE18 so too do the articles comprising this special issue.

The scientific study of pedagogy through SoTL has seen great advances in the past 20 years as its own field of research. Teachers have long reflected on pedagogy, thinking in depth about what works (and does not) in promoting the success and achieving the academic goals of their students. Such reflection, study, and sharing of expertise are essential for undergraduate student success. Teachers, administrators, and student support staff improve their practice through SoTL, which provides a platform for communicating ideas, sharing best practices and new innovations, and assessing techniques for intended impact. Because of specific advances in its methodology, SoTL has become more established as a valuable product of scholarship, worthy of faculty time and effort, as well as faculty retention and promotion.

My psychology colleagues Gurung and Landrum (2014) described SoTL as “the focus on theoretical underpinnings of how we learn, the intentional, systematic, modifications of pedagogy, and assessments of resulting changes in learning” (p. 1). The articles in this special issue represent important contributions to SoTL in that they share techniques and innovations for promoting civic learning and democratic engagement. While more rigorous research methods and assessment are needed to advance such scholarship, I argue that scholars and practitioners need a place to share ideas about classroom activities and projects, and to communicate program goals and institutional initiatives around promoting civic learning and democratic engagement on U.S. campuses. This special issue meets this need. Published collections of SoTL materials have the capacity to bring educators from different areas of study, different institutional roles, and different research interests together in conversation. When reminded of their shared focus on undergraduate education, educators can learn lessons from each other. For example, innovations in a biology course could be applied to a psychology course, and lessons about community-based research as a pedagogy can be applied across an entire campus. I hope this special issue contributes to readers’ motivation and understanding around such methods, encouraging the application of the authors’ various ideas to ongoing work with students.

Contents of the Special Issue

This issue of the eJournal includes eight peer-reviewed articles, two book reviews, and three videos featuring the “CivEd Talks” that were delivered during the CLDE18 plenary session.

The lead author of the first article, Nicholas D. Hartlep, is the 2018 recipient of ADP’s John Saltmarsh Award for Emerging Leaders in Civic Engagement. Each winner of the annual award winner is invited to submit an essay for publication in the eJournal. For his essay, Dr. Hartlep organized the nine most recent Saltmarsh Award winners to collaboratively write the article that appears as the first in this special issue, entitled “Toward an Innovative Civic Engagement Pedagogy.” In addition, John Saltmarsh himself contributed by providing concluding remarks about pedagogical practice. With its multiple perspectives on ways to promote civic engagement in various contexts, this essay sets the stage for the other pieces in the issue.

The remaining articles move from discussions of specific classroom techniques or projects to broader considerations of campus-wide initiatives or programing. In “Civic Engagement in the Online Classroom: Increasing Youth Political Engagement in an Online American Government Course,” Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan provides a detailed description of how she integrates civic engagement into her online teaching. She discusses challenges and opportunities of online civic engagement pedagogy and also presents assessment data from her study that will help readers understand related student outcomes.

Colleagues Adrieen Hooker, David Wang, and Carol-lynn Swol, in their article “Infusing Creative Energy to Encourage Civic Values and Action in Project-Based Learning and Community-Based Research,” offer two case studies exploring how creative energy is used to apply civic skills and enable collective action in art and design courses. The authors discuss how two specific pedagogies, community-based research and project-based learning, were utilized to solve “wicked problems.” Their discussion provides readers with a fitting preview of the topics addressed in the videos of the CivEd Talks from CLDE18 (links to which are included in this issue).

Danielle Lake, Marc Lehman, and Linda Chamberlain also address wicked problems in their “Engaging Through Design Thinking: Catalyzing Integration, Iteration, Innovation, and Implementation.” The authors reflect skillfully upon a project-based undergraduate course that engaged students in collaborative participatory action, offering specific “pedagogical strategies for transdisciplinary, collaborative, community-based learning that responds to a ‘real-world need’ in ‘real time.’”

In “Fake it ‘Till You Make It’: Debunking Fake News in a Post-Truth America,” Joseph Zompetti and Molly Kerby present a timely and relevant discussion about the development of fake news and its powerful influence on political discourse. In connection with the theme of this special issue, the authors give attention to pedagogies that can help students evaluate news and social media sources, a skill that could (and should) be embedded into a range of higher education courses.

Moving into more programmatic contexts, Mark Wagner and Katey Cleary, in their article “Blackmaleness at a Public Regional University,” provide an analysis of three case studies of Civic Corps projects. They focus specifically on challenges faced by Black male collegians during their academic careers, in hopes of inspiring more research on the ways colleges and universities can ultimately eliminate inequities by building and/or enhancing civic engagement and service-learning programs.

Authors from multiple institutions came together to write about the ways in which the emergent theory of change (the focus of discussions at CLDE18) can be applied to initiatives and programs at higher education institutions across the United States. In “Taking a Deep Dive into the Emergent Theory of Change,” Lindsey Woelker, Kristina Gage, April Marshall, Tara Centeno, and Scott Smith consider each of the four questions that the theory seeks to answer, and explore how to apply each to actual practice. Indeed, readers stand to learn much from this article about the way in which educators can come together to reflect, talk, and recognize their various roles on their campuses as community-engaged scholar practitioners.

In this issue’s final scholarly article—“Creating Cohesive Paths to Civic Engagement: Five Approaches to Institutionalizing Civic Engagement”—authors Garret S. Batten, Adrienne Falcón, Jan R. Liss, and Arielle del Rosario assume a broad scope, focusing on the need for civic engagement program design throughout the entire undergraduate experience. They promote and recommend specifically the institutionalization of civic engagement curricular mapping. Through such work, their consortium—Project Pericles—has identified five types of programs organization that campuses might consider utilizing in their efforts to strengthen their community engagement.

This special issue also includes two book reviews. First, Lori McKinney and Lisa Kim provide a much-appreciated faculty and nontraditional student perspective in their review of Learning Through Serving: A Student Guidebook for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Across Academic Disciplines and Cultural Communities (2nd Edition) by Cress, Collier, and Reitenauer (2013). Martin Shapiro then reviews Factfulness: Ten Reason We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Rosling, Rosling, and Rosling Rönnlund (2018), providing an overview of the content as well as favorable reflection on the book’s merits.

Completing the issue are three inspiring CivEd Talks that were recorded during the CLDE18 plenary session and that center on wicked problems on campuses and within larger communities. These talks are brief but powerful stories emerging from CLDE18 member experiences, research, and practice that challenge viewers’ thinking about important issues. In particular, the 2018 CivEd Talks focused on the wicked problems of hunger and homelessness, climate change, and undocumented students. Clare Cady, director of Community Engagement at Temple University and founder/director of the College and University Food Bank Alliance, spoke on “Hunger, Homelessness and Action to Include Today’s Students”; Sian Proctor, professor of geology at South Mountain Community College, spoke on “Climate Change Action Through Student Resiliency Ambassadors”; and Joel Pérez, vice president and dean of students and Title IX coordinator at Whittier College, spoke on “Dream Deferred: Broken Promises for Undocumented Students.”

Looking Forward

I hope that the collection of work provided in this special issue inspires readers to continue their own efforts to advance civic learning and democratic engagement on their campuses and in their communities. Specifically regarding pedagogy, I encourage readers to reflect on the courses, programs, and institutional-level initiatives described in this issue and to determine how these ideas might fit into their own work. As scholars and practitioners, we must continually reflect on and move forward the scholarship of teaching and learning. I recommend more assessment of these ideas and advocate rigorous methodology in the scientific study of innovative civic engagement teaching pedagogy.

Finally, I urge readers not to miss out on next year’s discussion. Please consider attending the 2019 CLDE Meeting, to be held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, June 5 to 8. Find additional details and register online by May 1, 2019, to receive the early-bird rate.


American Association of State Colleges and Universities. (2018). 2018 Civic Learning & Democratic Engagement Meeting organized by ADP, TDC, and NASPA. Retrieved from

Cress, C. M., Collier, P. J., & Reitenauer, V. L. (2013). Learning through serving: A student guidebook for service-learning and civic engagement across academic disciplines and cultural communities (2nd ed.). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Gurung, R. A. R., & Landrum, R. E. (2014). Assessment and the scholarship of teaching and learning. In D. Dunn (Ed.), Assessing teaching and learning in psychology: Current and future perspectives (pp. 159-171). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Rosling, H., Rosling, O., & Rosling Rönnlund, A., (2018). Factfulness: Ten reason we’re wrong about the world—and why things are better than you think. New York: Flatiron Books.


Dr. Bethany Fleck received her PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of New Hampshire. While there she also earned a Masters in the Science of College Teaching. Her research centers on cognitive development in childhood education and university classroom contexts. Both lines of research draw on developmental theory with the overall goal of enhancing the learning environment for students of all levels. Recently she has been working on a project that measures academic self-handicapping and other motivational constructs in urban middle school students. In the university classroom, her research as of late focuses on the effects of service learning, civic engagement, and syllabi manipulations.  Bethany is currently an Associate Professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver teaching courses in the human development and psychology majors. In her courses she is committed to an active, learner-centered approach to teaching.