Ease the pain!

02 September 2022

Educational project

Ease the pain!

What started as an experimental journey, resulted in a very successful learning experience for myself and my students. By implementing Community Engaged Learning in an elective course on pain, students experienced the relevance of the course by connecting to society and societal problems in the context of pain.

Background and goals

What do you do when your students really enjoy your elective course but do not see the relevance of it? It is not that students did not encounter authentic learning activities in the elective course on pain. On the contrary, students are exposed to different documentaries on patients in pain, have vivid discussions on topics related to pain (e.g., on cultural differences in pain behaviour), and reflect on a regular base on their attitudes and beliefs towards patients in pain. Well, what better way to give students authentic and relevant learning experiences via Community Engaged Learning projects.

Project description

Students worked together (max. 6 students per group) on societal problems related to pain. They defined their own project and searched for a suitable (external) partner to work with. In some cases, partners were highly involved as project owners while others were used as sparring partners. Students met during organised group meetings on campus, mostly in a stimulating, active learning environment where students had facilities to work hybrid with each other and the partner. The main teacher was a facilitator of the meetings. She was actively involved in the projects as coach. She herself learned with, and from the students. Projects were not graded, but a conditional ‘pass’ was obliged to pass the course.


At the beginning, most of the students were hesitant to start their project due to its openness and its lack of grading. Once they had chosen their topic and contacted the partners, they became highly motivated. Even the feeling of not being graded for the project faded away. They felt that the given ownership was rewarding on itself. As a teacher, it is rewarding to see that students became creative, motivated, and compassionate towards the partners. It was nice to see that students used the project meeting as interactive moments for discussion. Students’ time-on-task positively changed due to the project as well as the interactive environment. There were moments that students even worked longer than the scheduled time. Partners that participated, enjoyed time with the students. In some cases, they met frequently and connected to the students.

Projects and project outcomes were presented during the final project meeting.

Reflection: lessons learned

Implementing Community Engaged Learning in the elective course on pain was surprisingly easy to do. Later, I learned that the implementation process we followed, showed resemblance to steps in design thinking processes. Since the groups had weekly meetings on campus, the teacher could check students’ progression and could provide support when necessary.

One of the groups was attending the Sustainable Campus Challenge (October 2021) of the Utrecht Challenge Alliance as part of their project. This was a very successful experiment. Students presented their project during the Utrecht Science Week and even won the finals.

For next year, the final project meeting might be changed up. It would be nice for students to share their project with a larger group (e.g., faculty staff) in order for some projects to really find their way into the organisation.

Take home message

Students are very creative and open-minded when given autonomy on their projects. Give students control, support them, lean back, and enjoy the journey together with your students.


Further reading


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