Name of the participant and other supporting staff if relevant

Titularis Prof. Karl Verstrynghe en Prof. Dr. Joke Bauwens

Educational support: Bieke Abelshausen en Lisa Ahenkona


Name of the module and discipline, level and  year of study

Reason and Engage, critical reflections on Humanity and Society’ is an institution-wide (cross-disciplinary) course, open for students from 3rd bachelor onwards. The course is offered in two variants: 3 or 6 ECTS. More info can be found at the online course description and the Univer.City website.


Short description of the project? Main goals, ambitions, strategy?

‘Reason and Engage’ is an interdisciplinary course that puts into practice the VUB’s vision on society and education. Evidence-based education, free research, co-creation, sustainability and civic engagement are the VUB’s core values. Based on these pillars, ‘Reason and Engage’ wants to stimulate critical reflection on some of the most urgent and challenging issues of our times. The course focuses on one overarching and thought-provoking topic each year. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) serve as framework to choose this theme. ‘Reason and Engage’ is based on the principle of community engaged research & learning (CERL).


CERL project title(s) & Name of community partner and/or any other supporting partners (public or private sector)

Projects AY 2020-2021:

Mensen als spreekbuis van hun denkbeelden, ism vzw Pigment 
Een Uniform Sanctiebeleid, ism vzw Samusocial 
Pixisme en beeldvorming, ism vzw Samusocial 
Laagdrempelige Sportdagen, ism vzw Sportpret
Demografisch onderzoek, ism vzw Sportpret
Studentvrijwilligers in tijden van Covid-19, ism UZ Brussel
Outsourcing van opleidingen, ism vzw ArmenTeKort
Wandel Je Warm, ism vzw ArmenTeKort
Vakantieklik, ism vzw Iedereen Verdient Vakantie
De Blinde Vlek, ism vzw Iedereen Verdient Vakantie
Rap op Stap, ism vzw Iedereen Verdient Vakantie

Structural Partners: deMens.nuHumanistisch Verbond – afdeling Brussel, WtnschpCrosstalksWeDecolonizeVUBUPVCitizenneDe Wereld Heeft Je NodigErasmus+ programme of the European Union & De Wetenschapswinkel – Brussel.


Can you provide any tangible info – e.g. module descriptor, learning outcomes, assignments, assessment criteria, …?

Academic learning goals

– The students distinguish, know and respect different academic perspectives concerning the overarching theme

– The students reflect critically on the arguments presented in the lectures, debates and scientific literature concerning the topics discussed

– The students can formulate their ideas and opinions with respect to the topics discussed

– The students can collect scientific arguments to strengthen their opinion

– The students can cooperate in an interdisciplinary group

– Students are competent to conduct science-based research in line with societal challenges

Civic learning goals

– The students can formulate evidence-based opinions and ideas and opinions, related to a societal challenge

– The students can share their findings with a broader public

Personal learning goals

– The students relate the acquired knowledge to their own study-expertise and -environment

– The students reflect systematically on their own thoughts and behavior related to the multidisciplinary teamwork and include feedback of others in this reflection

 The evaluation procedure for ‘Reason and Engage’ follows the pass/fail-principle. The evaluation implies both process and product evaluation. Process evaluation concerns the preparation on and individual contributions to lectures, group work, attendance and active participation in workshops and teamwork.  Product evaluation concerns the quality of tasks fulfilled and handed in.

The student monitors use an evaluation card.  Students are expected to evolve in the different components of the student evaluation throughout the academic year. The evaluations are combined in a global ratting: pass or fail. There are thus no ‘marks’. The evaluation of ‘Reason and Engage’ does not influence grading. There is no re-examination for ‘Reason and Engage’.

STUDENT OPINION PIECES: Keuzevak Redelijk eigenzinnig | Vrije Universiteit Brussel (


How was it taught, example: 

–        number of students?

–        groupwork or individual assignments?

–        How did you work with the partner?

–        how did the project proceed?

–        any reflection done with students?

–        evaluation or formal assessment of students learning?

–        Could or should we follow up with students?

–        Technology/platforms used?

The elective course attracts around 40-50 students each year. Students work in a multidisciplinary team on a project, in cooperation with a (non-profit) organization. The project describes a societal challenge in line with the overall theme. They raise questions and dilemmas that can be approached from different disciplines. Throughout their multidisciplinary teamwork, the students have to formulate an innovative solution, recommendation or opinion related to those needs. Based on exploratory surveys and lectures, the problem definition is fine-tuned and delineated. Each team formulates a central research question and develops a research plan. At the end of the second semester the student teams present findings and  proposals during a public event: an exposition where the students’ end products are exposed, serving as final evaluation.

Students are provided with up-to-date academic information through the public activities along which the course is built: a series of cross disciplinary lectures, debates and workshops, in which academics, researchers, professionals and active citizens elaborate on the topic from a specific perspective and/or academic domain. These activities take place on diverse locations in Brussels and are open to the general public.

During colleges students work in team and are supported by the student monitors for the analysis and processing of provided and gathered information. Teams present their findings and reflect on the cooperation in team and with the organization.

In addition, students are expected to work autonomously. They need to gather and process information, organize contact moments with the organization and formulate answers, findings, conclusions to the formulated learning goals. During the first and second semester, helpdesk and intervision moments are organized to monitor the teamwork.

‘Reason and Engage’ closes with an event where final findings and recommendations are presented to a broad public (the education team, non-profit organizations and peers).

COURSE-SHEET: Reason and Engage. Critical Reflections on Humanity and Society (


What have you changed about your programme/course in relation to CERL?

In previous years a project call was made to non-profit organisations to submit a topic, and research question relevant for their organisation. This topic was each year aligned with the overarching theme of the course. However, it was experience that a mismatched often occurred between the expectations of the organisation and the expectations from the course. This in some cases resulted in a challenging collaboration. Furthermore, as students were assigned to a topic and organisation, motivations for the project work were something low. From this year onwards the students, under the guidance of the educational team, are free to choose a topic and contact organisations that would be interested to join in a collaboration. Together with this partner, the students define the research questions and goals of the project. This, we expect, will allow for a more intrinsic student motivation and more in-depth alignment with the goals of both the organisations and the students.


What did your students learn or how will they benefit?

I was very happy with the results of the project. It gives me a good feeling to know that I’m contributing to something that is bigger than myself. (Student)

 The added value for students. The CERL-experiences give students a chance to experience the complexity of ‘real-life’ problems. They experience unforeseen negative impacts of their actions or solutions to problems first hand. Reflection in this is key. Self-reflection but mostly reflection in a ‘trans-(or at least inter-) disciplinary manner. The CERL experience also makes challenges more tangible and brings students out of their academic comfort zones. Linking the CERL experience to theory is essential to make the mind-shift towards a more holistic (and less disciplinary) ‘community thinking’.


From your perspective as an instructor, what did you learn or were the benefits?

As an instructor, the experience is very enriching. Each year you learn new method and ways of cooperation from the students and organisations. You are shown the creativity of students when dealing with complex and challenging topic. As the theme of the course is different each year, as an instructor you are also given the change to learn in-depth about a new socially relevant societal issue.


What do you think the benefit was to the partner? Do they have any feedback from the partner?

Most partners indicate the experience was beneficial for them. At the least, a joint learning process is reported by the organisation. Furthermore, as the students in collaboration with the organisation decide on a tangible outcome (end product) for the project, organisations have at the end of the project an end product that is readily applicable in their everyday working. Furthermore, organisation indicate that they are impressed with the motivation and work ethic of the students.


How could/will you improve your CERL teaching practice next time?

–        Continue to reduce the workload for students. Especially for 3ECTS students the workload is high and needs to be reduced still.

–        For lecturers: the work-load. Community driven research and learning often leads to a difference in expectations from students, lecturers and organizations. These are not always visible unless there is a problem. Guiding more than 10 CERL projects is too demanding for one lecturer. You miss possible challenges students might be facing.


Any challenges and how you overcame them?

–        CERL projects are very challenging and challenges occur on various aspects of the project varying from administrative challenges, communication, student guidance, alignment of expectations, learning goals. As there is no ‘one size fits all’ solutions, we experiment with various teaching methods, course organisation, administrative burdens and collaboration practices. The course evolves with the experiences gained each year. Working with CERL project in a academic setting is currently very much a trail and error experience.


Any resources that are publicly available that you want to share? 

See hyperlinks above