Teaching Qualitative Research Methods through Service-Learning

Article excerpt

This paper is the result of a voluntary service-learning component in a qualitative research methods course. For this course, the service-learning project was the evaluation of the benefits to volunteers whom work a crisis hotline for a local crisis intervention center. The service-learning course model used in this paper most closely resembles the "problem-based service-learning" course model where students work as consultants. This paper focuses on the processes involved and the benefits to students in improving their qualitative research skills through the service-learning project. Key Words: Qualitative Research Methods, Service-learning, and Volunteer Program Evaluation

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 servicelearning 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. …