Like many higher education institutions, Elon University is many things, including a place of opportunity and possibility. Since my last blog post, I was selected to serve as Elon’s next Faculty Fellow for Service-Learning and Community Engagement (SL-CE). By itself, this would be a fantastic professional opportunity; combined with my current work as one of Elon’s Center for Engaged Learning Scholars, it seems more like I have been gifted with a unique opportunity to further my research. My CEL Scholar research is focused on exploring immersive learning pedagogies. My work as the SL-CE Faculty Fellow for the next four years will require me to become much more deeply involved with the many forms of community engaged teaching and learning taking place at Elon and in the surrounding community than I have been up to now. I have incorporated service-learning into many of my courses and have been fortunate at Elon to be able to regularly teach an international service-learning course, but there are so many, many other versions of community engagement going on at Elon that I am only peripherally aware of. Most, if not all, of these pedagogies and methods of engagement are in some way inherently immersive. The world of service-learning and community engagement is rapidly going through a sea change of sorts, one where the tent under which the many variations are collected is growing larger, not smaller. Organizations like Campus Compact are moving towards language and messaging that is broad, seeming to be moving towards terms such community or civic engagement (Minnesota Campus Compact, 2018). For local evidence of this change in identity and definition, look no further than our own Kernodle Center, which this summer changed its name to the Kernodle Center for Civic Life (from the Kernodle Center for Service-Learning and Community Engagement).

I have been involved with service-learning and community engagement through my own teaching and research for many years. I have had opportunities to co-teach community engaged courses and projects with some great colleagues, and I have been able to partner with others on research into related pedagogies. While that has been both rewarding and productive, I am excited that I will now have a new perspective from which to view the work that many more of my colleagues at Elon are doing in this area. I now have, by definition of my SL-CE faculty fellow position, the impetus to investigate, assist, and attempt to further the work my colleagues are already doing in this area. Although I’ve only been in this role for the brief months of this summer, I have already been asked to either chair or participate on committees devoted to service-learning, civic activity, or community engagement; I have been able to help facilitate the formation of two year-long communities of practice designed to study or encourage service-learning and community engagement; and I have been presented with opportunities to network with faculty at other institutions and organizations about the many opportunities this work holds for institutions of higher learning. Put another way, the faculty fellow position has provided me with a distinctly different—and, in many respects, better—vantage point on the many community engaged immersive pedagogies that are taking place at this university. And, in terms of my research into immersive learning pedagogies, I may have just hit the jackpot.

At the core of service-learning and community engagement is the potential for students and teachers to authentically interact with communities within their respective environments, rather than in a simulated or constructed space like a traditional classroom. With service-learning and community engaged pedagogies, students are given opportunities to learn in authentic contexts—from the people, places, things, etc. that are part and parcel of a community—what Lave and Wenger (1991) would term “situated learning.” Part of my investigation to date has involved interviewing faculty colleagues here at Elon and also at other institutions. The conversations I had with three faculty members in Elon’s School of Education (Terry Tomasek, Katie Baker, and Joan Barnatt) were very informative about how Education students are involved in the local community; what my colleagues communicated was also profoundly eye opening. The types of initiatives that Education students are involved with seemingly push the boundaries of community engagement. Many of the student teaching placements in the local schools require Elon students to confront dissonant experiences in ways that it’s hard to imagine replicating in a classroom. In so many ways, this kind of learning experience is a profound example of situated learning, and of immersive learning.

Now that I am better aware of the rich and varied experiences Education students have through their student teaching placement, I hope to further engage with faculty in the School of Education about how I can support their community engaged teaching. I am hopeful that other possibilities, similar to what I just described, will emerge through my SL-CE faculty fellow work. If I’ve learned anything through what I’ve collected so far for my immersive learning research, it’s that I can’t do anything relative to my colleagues’ good work—provide assistance, research, write about, etc.—without first being aware of what they are doing. I believe that the reciprocal and complementary relationships that seemingly exist between my CEL Scholar research and the faculty support and development work I’ll be doing as the SL-CE Faculty Fellow will enable this to occur.


Phillip Motley, associate professor of communication design, is the 2019-2021 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. His CEL Scholar project focuses on immersive learning.

How to Cite this Post:
Motley, Phillip. (2020, August 24). “Service-learning/Community Engagement Opportunities and Immersive Learning” [Blog Post]. Retrieved from