Teaching Qualitative Research Methods through Service-Learning

Article excerpt

Teaching Qualitative Research Methods through Service-Learning

Many qualitative research methods courses demand students work on a class project to encourage the development of basic qualitative skills (e.g., interviewing, analysis, or writing up the research). Involvement in actual studies allows students to confront and resolve issues such as gate keeping, ethical dilemmas, planning the research, entering the field, gathering and analyzing data, rigor of research, and writing the report.

One of the core beliefs of the instructor, who is the primary author of this article, is that graduate students learn more about methodology by actively participating as part of a class in a study. Participation can span from conducting a limited literature review, transforming data into information, and writing the report with student reflection throughout the process (Kolb, 1984). To provide such a real-world experience, the instructor integrated a service-learning component into a qualitative research methods course, primarily designed for doctoral students, to provide their students with the opportunity to fully experience a qualitative study and to aid in the students' personal development as researchers.

Service-learning is a form of experiential education (Furco, 1996) and there are documented efforts to utilize experiential learning activities based on the Kolb's (1984) model to teach qualitative research methods (Hopkinson & Hogg, 2004). Likewise, research about service-learning "tilts heavily toward quantitative studies," (Boyle-Baise, 2002, p. 329) with a focus on perceptions of college students measured through surveys and questionnaires. Qualitative studies that include an element of service-learning are limited and, for example, a search for qualitative studies that included service-learning in the field of multicultural education only yielded 10 results (Boyle-Baise). In this paper the authors describe how the service-learning component was conceptualized and implemented in an effort to expand service-learning literature, particularly pertaining to issues regarding it use as an experiential learning method to teach qualitative research methods

Service-Learning

The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse states that there are many definitions of service-learning; however, all definitions have the following components:

   Service-learning combines service objectives with learning
   objectives with the intent that the activity change both the
   recipient and the provider of the service. This is accomplished by
   combining service tasks with structured opportunities that link the
   task to self-reflection, self-discovery, and the acquisition and
   comprehension of values, skills, and knowledge content. (National
   Service-Learning Clearinghouse, n.d., para. 5)

This course fit the model of a "problem-based service-learning course" in which students work individually or in teams work with community partners to "meet specified community needs" which "provide community situations and problems as service-learning opportunities for students" (Schramm, n.d., p. 4). In this model, students often act as consultants to a community organization (Heffernan, 2001).

To find such a community partner, the instructor of the course and the director of the local crisis intervention center met through a mutual associate. The relationship appeared to be a positive one because the director was open to being a community partner and the center was located in close proximity to the institution. Collaboratively the director and the instructor focused on a project to evaluate the benefits to volunteers who work at the center's crisis hotline. This was an ideal project for both parties since it met a need of the center and the flexible schedule of the volunteers to be evaluated would meet the needs of the graduate students enrolled in the course.

Setting the Scene

Students were introduced to the voluntary service-learning component of the project during the first night of class. …