How to Put Social Impact into (Your Teaching) Practice?

Why is Social Impact Relevant to Your Course Unit(s)? 

Your course unit is part and parcel of a study programme, and as such it prepares graduates for taking up an active role in society. Lecturers and study programmes are crucial in shaping that role. Whether the focus is solely on your graduates’ ‘preparation for the labour market’ or on their fulfilling a ‘broader social role’, specific learning contents and/or teaching methods can increase your course unit’s social impact. Find out how in this Education Tip.  

What is Ghent University’s Definition of Social Impact? 

In its mission statement, Ghent University underlines the importance of its social role, by, among other things, ‘paying attention to the social and economic application of its research results’. Moreover, ‘social identity’ is one of the six University-wide Policy Choices (UBKs). 

In analogy with the definition of social valorization of research, Ghent University translates ‘social impact’, as ‘creating added value for the community of non-academic stakeholders (from “the general public” to particular groups of stakeholders) by means of specifically tailored  education and learning activities’. 

Lecturers can fulfil that social added value for non-academic stakeholders in their own way. This Education Tip contains several examples. 

How to Integrate Social Impact into Course Competencies? 

If you want to strengthen your students’ social competencies by incorporating them into your course competencies, keep in mind that those course competencies are specifications of the programme competencies. You can look up the programme competencies in the study guide: look up your study programme and click ‘programme' summary', at the bottom you will see the learning outcomes.  

Below are a number of Ghent University examples of how social competencies are realized:  

  • having insight into the relationship between law and society(final competency in BA Criminology, course unit Fundamentals of (Criminal) Law (B001625)); 
  • having integrated vision of the relationship between patient and medicine and care provider, and of the relationship between health care provider and pharmaceutical industry (final competency in MA pharmacy, course unit Integrated Medication Counselling and Medication Monitoring (J000433)). 
  • having experience in dealing with a complex urban sustainability issue (final competency in Master of Science in Engineering Sciences, Political Sciences, and Urban Development And Spatial Planning, course unit Sustainable Cities (E084580)). 
  • Setting up, implementing and adjusting a specific social project as a sociological professional in consultation with fellow studentsas a sociological professional, set up, implement and adjust a concrete social project in consultation with fellow students, the social organization in which the social commitment is included and the target group involved (final competency in EDUMA and MA Sociology, course Seminar: current themes from political sociology (K001025)) 

How to Integrate Social Impact into Your Course Unit(s)? 

Make the social relevance of your course unit explicit 

Students do not always make the link with the social relevance of your course unit themselves, certainly not when it concerns course units that do not immediately seem of a ‘social’ nature. Take statistics by way of illustration: a highly theoretical subject in many students’ eyes, but the correct interpretation of statistical data will determine whether, for example, the consequences for certain disadvantaged groups are taken into account in political decision-making. 

  • Apply abstract theoretical frameworks to social hot topics. For example, explain that the way of looking at colonization is still important in the current debate about development cooperation. Or use the current COVID-19 crisis as an example: this paper from the study programme Law explains, for example, how the various legal areas can find leads there. 
  • Let students think about social consequences in an application or exercise: What consequences can the development of high-tech gadgets have for people in a socially disadvantaged position or for the environment? 
  • In your examples, give preference to socio-economic applications or applications from social profit. Is the lesson about the organizational chart of a company? Then present the organizational structure of a social restaurant (and not a traditional company). 
  • Emphasize the socio-cultural significance of your course unit or field: the human need for meaning that is fulfilled through philosophy, the comfort that comes from art, the wisdom that can be found in literature etc. 

Work on Social Impact by Your Choice of Teaching Methods 

Social impact in accessible teaching methods 

Creating social impact through your teaching and learning activities can be achieved in many different ways. There are various accessible teaching methods that you can easily incorporate into one course unit. Often, it is possible to provide more social relevance in pre-existing teaching methods with just minor adjustments. For example, you can shift the focus by expanding the intended target groups (e.g. to the elderly) or narrowing it down to people in a socially vulnerable position (e.g. children with a migration background). Making the link with social impact more explicit then becomes very important. 

Some examples: 

  • Invite a guest speaker or expert who confronts the students with unexpected points of view on a lesson content. Choose your guest speaker carefully: they must somehow illustrate the social importance of your lesson content. For example: an expert by experience in low literacy can let students of Dutch feel the importance of clear language; the director of a large NGO can clarify which specific management skills are needed in that sector etc. 
  • Visit an organization that works with socially vulnerable young people. Let future doctors visit a community health centre, let students teach Ancient Greek to children with language deficiency, etc. 
  • Use a case study from social profit, (more information about working with case education). For example, let Commercial Sciences students draw up a business plan for a non-profit organization. 
  • Provide a reflection exercise on a current social problem that is linked to your field and about which different views exist. For example: sense and nonsense of the penitentiary system in the light of the reintegration of prisoners. Not only let students explore different positions (knowledge), but let them practice making their own position explicit and substantiating (skill) and invite them to adopt an open attitude towards other opinions (attitude). 

Collaborate with non-academic actors 

Real, authentic assignments, carried out for a non-profit partner organization (e.g. a school, a civil society organization, a government service, the university itself) not only create direct social impact, they are often very motivating for students. 

In that context, this type of education is referred to as participatory or transdisciplinary education. Participatory education involves non-academic actors in a disciplinary approach. Transdisciplinary education implies that different disciplines focus on a shared problem together with non-academic actors, and that mutual learning takes place. In the education tip about interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary education you will find concrete tools and preconditions for integrating these working methods into your teaching. 

Inspiration for real life assignments 

  • Include students in a research activity with social valorisation. You will find a lot of concrete ideas on this DOZA webpage
  • In the Call for Challenges, launched by DO! (Dare to be an Entrepreneur) and TechTransfer you will find many challenges that are socially oriented. This call is aimed at organizations and companies: they can submit challenges for which they are looking for a solution. Students can work with these challenges during the next academic year. The call is also, but not specifically, addressed to the non-profit sector. DO! then looks for course units or projects that want to take on such challenges through the Design Thinking method. 
  • Take a look at the education tips about working methods that are specifically suitable for involving an authentic context

CSL: a powerful and proven method 

A specific and powerful working form to create societal impact is Community Service Learning (CSL). CSL is a form of education in which students apply theoretical insights during a concrete social engagement. This can be done both outside and within the university walls. The service or provision of services provides an answer to real needs within society and is an integral part of the course. Critical reflection, in addition to theory and practice, is a third essential part of CSL. This way, students arrive at a meaningful integration of theory and practice. For example, students learn to think about their social contribution, their own learning process, their future role as a professional in society, and so on. 

Suggest a Social Impact Learning Pathway to the Programme Committee 

  • Your course unit(s) is (are) an element in the study programme that is designed and monitored by the programme committee. The greater the coherence and the step-by-step structure within that programme, the better you can coordinate your course unit with other course units and the greater the learning gain for the students. 
  • As a lecturer you can achieve much by integrating the theme of social impact into your course unit. Working on social impact in the study programme in a more structured way can be done through a social impact learning pathway. Do not hesitate to speak to the chairman of your study programme committee about this. This way, students gradually acquire social competencies. After all, make no mistake: social involvement is not necessarily an automatic reflex. Can you blame young students, often from privileged backgrounds, for not being able to imagine the impact of language deficiency or poverty on schoolchildren? Allowing students to work with target groups that they have no experience or feeling with until then without adequate preparation can lead to frustration and resistance. Sometimes too sudden a confrontation even results in more resistance than was originally present. 
  • Read here how to build a coherent learning pathway that is supported by and feasible for all lecturers. After all, a learning pathway requires more time, (financial) space and staff input. You can read more on the points to consider regarding social impact for a study programme in this Education Tip

How to Assess Social Impact? 

Involve the stakeholders 

If students are carrying out an assignment for, or gaining practical experience with, an external stakeholder, it is best to include the experience of that stakeholder in the assessment. Therefore, let the student make a final product that is immediately accessible to external parties: a summary, recommendations, a video, a lecture etc. However, it is the lecturer who determines the examination grade, external parties can only provide information. 

For instance: 

  • From the course specifications of the CSL course Diversity and Inclusion (H001894):
    ‘Explanation of non-periodic assessment (15%)
    It concerns exercises in the practical field that, depending on the assignment and the partner involved, can take different forms in practice. The investment in the exercises is done in consultation with the students and the practical field. The assessment can be done on the basis of a paper or on the basis of a presentation. Participation and involvement are included, among other things, by peer assessment. The partner from the field is included.’ 

Choose a suitable form of assessment 

Social competencies include knowledge and understanding as well as skills and attitudes. The final competencies always concretize what the course unit is aimed at. Use a suitable mix of assessment forms to properly cover the wide range of social competencies (ranging from knowledge about social problems, skills such as the critical analysis of a complex situation to attitudes such as willingness to engage) in the assessment throughout the programme.

Use rubrics 

Use clear, observable assessment criteria to test the more complex aspects of social competencies, especially attitudes. In it you make it explicitly clear what you mean by those social competencies. Work with slightly broader assessment criteria, based on your learning goals, supplemented with levels or standards that indicate to what extent each criterion has been met. Rubrics conveniently represent the combination of assessment criteria and levels or standards. 

  • For example: from the course sheet of the CSL course Care, Coaching and Guidance in Education (H002048): ‘Explanation of non-periodic assessment:
    Form: Assessment of the exercises during the fieldwork + Assessment of the finished portfolio
    Frequency: At least one interim assessment of the exercises during the fieldwork + assessment of the finished portfolio
    Feedback: Feedback on exercises is provided through individual progress meetings, intervision and supervision meetings. Feedback on the portfolio is done through individual discussion.’ 
  • For example: the rubric used in the assessment of the individual reflection report on the group work in the university-wide CSL course Co-creation

Include social impact as a criterion in assessment forms for a Master’s dissertation or work placement 

In the master’s dissertation or work placement, prospective graduates demonstrate that they can apply the acquired knowledge and skills in an integrated manner. That is why both forms of assessment form an excellent starting point to reflect on their future role in society. 

Practical Examples 

From the course sheet of the course Fundamentals of (Criminal) Law (B001625) 

‘Traditional lecture and response lecture merge. After all, in addition to the traditional teaching about the course unit, “environmental law in action” is used in a more interactive way. Through the website, bundles of case law accompanied by questions are distributed about legal problems on which different views exist. These are dealt with in the lectures via Kahoot quizzes. The teacher demonstrates a scientific attitude and a critical attitude towards environmental law and its social factors, and a positive attitude towards sustainable development.’ 


As an individual lecturer, it is more convenient to work on social impact if it is interwoven in a learning path that includes your individual course unit. The Dentistry programme approached it as follows. 

The student population in the Dentistry programme is not very diverse in terms of prior education (almost 100 percent of the students attended general secondary education (‘ASO’)) and family of origin (families with a high potential in which both parents are Belgian). It is therefore not self-evident for these students to have knowledge of, and contact with, disadvantaged target groups. That is why it was opted for a step-by-step structure in the curriculum through the subjects ‘Oral health and society’ (I, II and practice). 

In the first year of the bachelor’s programme, children from a school in the area visit the University Hospital. Often it is a first encounter for both parties: it concerns children who are not used to going to the dentist, and for the students it is the first time that they actually look into a patient’s mouth. 

In the second bachelor year, care structures receive specific attention. The central question is: how can we make the child’s learning environment healthier? The students in turn visit the school. They teach about oral health and look for environmental factors that influence oral health. Based on this, they formulate recommendations for the school. 

Finally, in the first year of the Master's programme, they put their knowledge into practice. Students themselves choose a welfare organization (e.g. residential care centre, refugee centre, poverty association) with a target group with a certain vulnerability. They analyze the situation on the spot and then work out a plan to structurally improve the approach to oral health in that organization. The course unit concludes with a presentation for fellow students, the teacher and the organizations involved. 


The City Academy is a platform that focuses on social-ecological problems of the City of Ghent and Ghent University. Academics, students, policymakers, civil society organizations etc. work together within interdisciplinary research processes on problem definitions and possible solutions, (living lab) experiments and upscaling initiatives, (policy) reports and scientific articles. Assignments are explored through student research – course unit, work placement, bachelor’s dissertation, and interdisciplinary master’s dissertation workshops. Excursions, expert panels, stakeholder consultations, etc. are organized. In a master’s dissertation studio, students work in an interdisciplinary setting, but always within the framework of their study programme. Students can physically work together at the Green Hub and discussions between students from different disciplines are facilitated. The results are shared with the central administration and a wider audience through presentations and lectures. The dissertations themselves appear on the website of the City Academy and are included in the communication of the Sustainability Office. 

The Living Lab campus Sterre is a project of the City Academy, in which the campus serves as an experimental space for students, university staff, academic staff and external actors who work together to develop innovative measures to make the campus more sustainable and climate friendly. 


A few years ago, G-Sport Flanders, the organization for athletes with a disability, submitted a challenge to find a solution for people with a disability so that they could participate better in traffic. The students from the Industrial Design Engineering Technology programme set to work and developed an innovative bicycle helmet. You can watch their product in this video:

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Last modified Feb. 9, 2024, 10:16 a.m.