Service Learning Research Takes Spotlight Again in Indianapolis

Service Learning Research and Service Learning Program Evaluation are two different things, a key point mentioned at the IUPUI Research Academy, which is taking place this week here in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS– Six months after hosting the International Association for Research in Service Learning and Community Engagement (IARSLCE), Indianapolis is the place for yet another gathering on research in service learning– the IUPUI Research Academy that I’m attending this week.

Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis is the home base for Bob Bringle, who literally wrote the book (several of them) on service learning research and who directs IUPUI’s Center for Service and Learning.  He and colleague, Julie Hatcher from the Center on Philanthropy have defined “service learning” in a way that so many scholars have cited for more than a decade.

Bob Bringle, director of IUPUI's Center for Service and Learning leads the IUPUI Research Academy.

For at least this week, “Bringle & Hatcher” are not just a citation in an academic research article.   They are mentors who are talking about ways to raise the quality and conceptualization of scholarship that has yet to be done on community-based partnerships and civic engagement.

The name “Patti Clayton” is so familiar to those of us who have read and cited service learning research in our own scholarship.

On Wednesday, Patti was speaking about how she as a qualitative researcher has done quantitative work as well.    Seeing her interact with Bob Bringle during our Research Academy has been great.

It has been amazing to sit at their feet for a few minutes and just hear them talk about the types of projects in which they’re involved.    And, we still have a full day with them today and a half-day tomorrow.

Last November’s IARSCLE Conference was a big part of the discussion on Wednesday as we talked about some of the research projects that were presented.   Most importantly, we as teacher-scholars in service learning were educated in a different way about how to “pitch” our own research to those assembling conference and convention programs.

You CAN do Homework Again

All this week we’ve been challenged to continue the learning on our own each night after our sessions with homework.  Even in developing my own research project, I had the opportunity dig through the stacks of the University Library here at IUPUI and locate references that relate to my project.

Wednesday’s homework where we read some excellent academic articles, some still in the writing and revision stage, really took me back to the my days as a Ph.D. student at The University of Georgia.

We had assigned readings and questions to tackle that made the readings relevant for our own research.

Program Evaluation vs. Research

The IUPUI Research Academy has only been going a half-day.  But, I’ve already been challenged to re-think the purpose of my own so-called “research.”

In their attempts to raise the quality, level and yes, profile of service learning research, the team here at IUPUI differentiates between projects that test theory and contribute to what’s known (Research) and those that are concerned primarily with the data and inferences from that data for a particular service learning or community engagement effort (program evaluation).

I think I may have been confusing these concepts even as I have tried to generate scholarship from my own service learning efforts.

We’ll be talking about this distinction a lot more today, the second day of the research academy and the fourth day of my trip to Indiana.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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