Interdisciplinary Community Service Learning

Team up with other students and partner organizations to enrich your master with societally relevant research. 

Issues such as sustainability, digitalization, globalization, and inequality are so multi-facetted and concern so many different parties that they can’t be addressed effectively from a single perspective. The Interdisciplinary Community Service Learning (iCSL) module can be followed by master students from any program and gives you the opportunity to work on these 21st century challenges together with other students and partners outside the university. As such, you get the chance to experience real-life research.

The iCSL module consists of two courses. The first course (iCSL1) focuses on the definition of societal challenges together with community members and partners. In the second course (iCSL2) you address those challenges through a collaborative research project. Both courses can be followed as an elective (if the structure and exam committee of your own program allow for that) or as an extracurricular activity besides the mandatory components of your program. In both cases, credits are awarded upon completion of the courses. You can enroll in both courses, or in either one of the two.

The iCSL1 Course (AM_1254)
The iCSL1 course centers around the definition of challenges that are current in society and would benefit from scientific research. To do so, you engage in dialogue with the residents and organizations of the city. The event at which this dialogue takes place, is the climax of the course. The six weeks leading up to the event are used to prepare for this moment. You learn – among others – about multi-, inter- and transdisciplinarity, complex systems and persistent problems, and participatory approaches. More practically, in preparation of the event you will go into the field and reach out to, and interview various actors to gauge their opinions. The execution of the event will be in your hands, and you and your team mates will facilitate group discussions with all the attendees.

The course runs in period 2 of the academic year (November-December) and is 3 ECTS. Weekly face-to-face meetings are scheduled in the evening hours to prevent interference with other courses. These weekly meetings are highly interactive, including mind-mapping exercises, group reflections, project work, and preparation of the event. The remaining study time you spend on self-study of literature and online lectures. More information about this course can be found in the study guide here.

The iCSL2 Course (AM_1253)

The iCSL2 course is about addressing large societal challenges. As an interdisciplinary team, you research one of the challenges defined in the first iCSL course. Each team member devotes their own thesis, research project or internship to a sub-question of this challenge. In parallel to your thesis, you follow the iCSL2 course, in which you integrate the insights from the different individual projects. As such, the second iCSL course adds extra inter- and transdisciplinarity to your research project. In interactive workshops you exchange knowledge, integrate the insights from the different projects to synthesize a systematic view of the topic, and discuss the implications of those findings. The course ends in a large meeting (similar to a conference) at which you present your findings back to a scientific as well as societal audience. One of the key questions during this event is: what’s next?

The iCSL2 course runs the entire second semester (period 4-6, February-June), and completion will award 6 ECTS. More information about the course can be found in the study guide here.

Students enroll in the iCSL courses for different reasons, including: getting to know people from other backgrounds, engaging in interdisciplinary collaboration, connecting to the local community, contributing to societal change, standing out from their peers, building a network, and broadening their horizons.

In this video, four students that participated in iCSL1 in 2019 share their experiences:

An interdisciplinary research agenda within the theme of food: what do you as a researcher think is important?

We would like to invite you to participate in the agenda setting event of the interdisciplinary community service learning project in collaboration with the Academic Workplace Food. At this meeting, a cross-disciplinary team of about 15 ambitious master students will facilitate a dialogue with a diverse range of stakeholders about key issues within the theme of food. The aim of the meeting is to identify and formulate questions that provide the starting point for societally relevant interdisciplinary student projects within the broad theme of food, such as sustainability, health or innovation.

For this event, (local) organizations, resident initiatives, governmental organizations, researcher and consumers are invited to participate. Additionally, we offer you the possibility to convert an urgent issue you face as a researcher or organization, into action, in the form of a research internship of one of these ambitious master students. If you do so, please be in contact with Anne Rotteveel,
Interested? Sign up for the event now. You will receive a surprise beforehand to inspire your participation.

Date/location: Thursday 3 December 2020, 16:00 – 18.00 (walk-in 15.45), via ZOOM
Language: Dutch/ English (there will be parallel sessions in both languages)

Denk mee over een interdisciplinaire onderzoeksagenda rond het thema ‘Nieuw-West in tijden van Corona - Wat betekent dat voor jou en hoe houden we verbinding met elkaar?’

Corona heeft voor iedereen gevolgen, maar is een extra uitdaging in stadsdelen met veel jongeren en kwetsbare groepen, zoals Amsterdam Nieuw-West. Nu we elkaar moeilijk fysiek kunnen ontmoeten, is het een extra grote uitdaging om de verbinding met elkaar in stand te houden. Wat zijn jouw ervaringen? Hoe houden we als bewoners, studenten, leerlingen en organisaties verbinding met elkaar? 

Op 1 December willen studenten van de cursus interdisciplinary community service learning, studenten van de HvA en leerlingen van het Calvijn College online met jou in gesprek om je ideeën, vragen, ervaringen, zorgen en mogelijke oplossingen over dit onderwerp in kaart te brengen. De uitkomsten vormen het startpunt voor nieuwe studentenprojecten. 

Er worden twee verschillende sessies aangeboden. Tijdens de eerste sessie komt het jongerenperspectief aan bod. Hier wordt samen met leerlingen van het Calvijn College een dialoog gefaciliteerd over de uitdagingen van Corona voor jongeren. Tijdens de tweede sessie wordt dieper ingegaan op de uitdagingen van Corona voor vrijwilligers en hulpverleners rondom het bereiken van en blijven verbinden met kwetsbare groepen. 

Dit event is dus voor iedereen uit Nieuw-West die zijn of haar ervaring wil delen rondom dit onderwerp: bewoners, vrijwilligers, zorgverleners, docenten, beleidsmakers etc. Wil jij graag je stem laten horen of vertellen over de uitdagingen die je in je dagelijks leven tegen komt, meld je dan aan voor ons online event! 

Sessie 1: 14.30 Welkom
15.00-16.30  Het jongerenperspectief

Sessie 2: 17.00 Welkom
17.15-18.30 Op afstand ondersteunen en hulpverlenen. Hoe doe je dat als vrijwilliger of professional?

Wanneer? Dinsdag 1 december 14:00-16.30 en/of 17.00-18.30
Waar? Online! Aanmelding op dit formulier of via 020 6153409, dan ontvang je een link voor deelname.

The 2019-2020 run of the iCSL1 course will focus on two topics: 1) Connected City; and 2) Clean City. The topic of ‘Connected City’ revolves around digital possibilities for all Amsterdam citizens, the challenges of the digital age, and the increasingly data-driven society. The topic of ‘Clean City’ focuses on waste management, circularity, sustainability, and a living environment in Amsterdam that actively supports health and wellbeing. When you enroll in the iCSL1 course, you will – based on your personal preference - work on one either of these two topics.

For the iCSL2 project, on both of these topics at least one team will be formed. Depending on interest and number of students enrolling for the project, we may also decide to create teams on other topics as well. As the iCSL2 topics should align with the topics of your own thesis or research project, formation of the teams will always be a joint process between student and teacher (and external partner, if relevant).



The annual event that is an integral part of the iCSL1 course, was organized on the 10th of December 2019. It took place at the school and community hub Calvijn College in Amsterdam Nieuw-West. At the event, students facilitated 7 dialogue sessions with more than 70 participants. The meeting focused on the topics ‘Connected City’ and ‘Clean City’. Neighborhood residents, representatives of wellbeing organizations, local government officials, and academics had very constructive conversations about these topics, as one of them put it: “It was very inspiring to me to think about these topics together”.

After the central opening of the event, dinner was served. University students and high school students of Calvijn had prepared the dinner together, using left-over product from local stores. During the sustainable dinner, participants visited the Inspiration Market which showcased past projects in which students and the city collaborated.

The evening moved on with dialogue sessions about the topics of ‘Connected City’ and ‘Clean City’. The participants divided into seven groups for in-depth conversations of these topics. The aim of these sessions was to create a common understanding of issues in the neighbourhood considering connectedness and cleanness. These issues are the starting point for future research projects by students. This way, student projects are designed together with the neighborhood to direct them towards the issues that are really relevant. Summaries of the dialogue sessions about Connected City and Clean City can be found here.

Over the period of February till June 2020, two student teams conducted research into the topics of “Clean City” and “Connected City”. They took the input from the December event as a starting point for their projects and collected data through different approaches and among different actor groups. For more information about their projects visit the website that they created themselves: or watch the video where Zachary explains more about the project he and his fellow team members carried out.

The projects built up to a wrap up event with academics, residents, and organizations interested in the topics. This even took place on the 18th of June 2020. As a result of the corona restrictions, the event had to move online. In total over 50 people attended the meetings on Connected City and Clean City, and a diversity of actors provided valuable input on the implications of the findings from the student projects, as well as relevant follow-up questions for future iCSL efforts.

The iCSL courses can be followed by students from any master program. If your own program’s curriculum and exam board allow, you can take up the iCSL courses in your study plan as electives. Otherwise you can take the iCSL courses extracurricularly. In either case you receive credits upon the successful completion of the courses and the courses can be added to your master diploma. We highly recommend that you contact your own program’s coordinator or study advisor to discuss what is possible within your program and what administrative steps need to be taken.

So how do the iCSL courses align with the content of your program? The student testimonials below give an insight into the diversity of perspectives represented in the student cohorts of this course, as well as an idea of how the course aligns with different master programs.   

Krijn (Faculty of Religion and Theology)

In the ICSL-course we explored some pressing issues that our global society faces today. Working together with different disciplines, we tried to make sense of these issues with the necessary attention to detail. At the same time we were constantly being reminded of how these 'wicked problems' are made up of a wicked amount of interplaying processes taking place on all the different layers of the system. I brought in the voice of theology and religious studies. During the course I  looked at the layer of the human subject and tried to investigate the religious narrativity aspect of human involvement in plastic waste. Inside our group we tried to integrate this perspective with some vastly different disciplines, ranging from hydrology to economics and business.
Glenn (Faculty of Science)

“Due to the nature of many issues, it is common practice for me as a hydrologist to think and work multidisciplinary. However, the environmental problems humanity face nowadays (e.g., microplastics), demand new knowledge and skills to realise the required inter- or transdisciplinary approach; which are offered in the i-CSL course at the VU.”
Adam (School of Business and Economics)

"iCSL truly embodies interdisciplinarity in the way that it thoughtfully and intentionally creates space for people of all backgrounds to contribute to the process and learning. As a Leadership and Change Management masters student I wasn't initially sure of what my role would look like, but the course's structures and collaborative activities organically opened spaces where I, along with all others, could apply our studies and experiences to positively contribute to connecting communities and making them cleaner."
Stephanie König (Faculty of Humanities)

I took the interdisciplinary community service learning course as a substitute course for my regular ‘career preparation’ class, which was offered by the Faculty of Humanities. I made this decision to opt for an alternative course because I felt the urge to apply my academic interests in the Humanities to projects that also involve people, institutions and situations outside academia. The community service learning class was a unique learning experience to me because it taught me to approach problems from the perspectives of the community, the environment and other interest groups. The challenge was to constantly question my own perspectives and knowledges and to remain connected to the other disciplinary fields in the classroom and outside the classroom.

In order to identify the current issues that are urgent in the real world, the iCSL program highly depends on collaborations at and beyond the VU. Among others, the program is shaped together with the city district Amsterdam Nieuw-West, with the VU Green Office and companies at the Zuidas.

So, have you gotten interested in the iCSL module? You can enrol for the courses on VUnet, where you can find them through their course codes (iCSL1: AM_1254; iCSL2: AM_1253). Any master student from any program is eligible for the iCSL courses. VU students can enroll through VUnet using the course codes: AM_1254 for the first iCSL course, and AM_1253 for the second. Students from other universities can also participate in iCSL. They should contact the iCSL coordinator Annemarie Horn considering enrollment. Also don’t hesitate to reach out to her for any additional questions regarding the program.