Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Managing the Challenges of Teaching Community-Based Research Courses: Insights from Two Instructors

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Managing the Challenges of Teaching Community-Based Research Courses: Insights from Two Instructors

Article excerpt

In community-based research (CBR), faculty, students, and community partners collaborate on research projects. This emerging pedagogy presents numerous challenges to instructors teaching CBR courses, including: finding a disciplinary connection, building CBR into the curriculum, ensuring student readiness, and structuring the CBR experience (Strand, Marullo, Cutforth, Stoecker, & Donohue, 2003). In this article, these challenges are addressed by the instructor of a new CBR course for undergraduates and the instructor of an established course for graduate students. This discussion is intended to help prospective or current CBR instructors anticipate and manage the challenges of their courses.


Community-based research (CBR) is a significant part of the growing community-engagement movement in higher education worldwide. CBR is a research model in which faculty, students, and community partners collaborate to address shared questions with research projects. In this model, CBR provides a forum for the deepening of university-community partnerships through research. Strand, Marullo, Cutforth, Stoecker, and Donohue (2003) describe three basic principles of CBR that distinguish it from traditional social science research. First, CBR is collaborative, involving individuals within and outside of the academy, and including community partners; this is not a scenario where the community serves as a "lab" for university-sponsored research interests. Second, CBR validates multiple sources of knowledge through collecting and disseminating diverse types of information. In this way, CBR requires the collection of data from a variety of sources and shares findings in methods most appropriate to the research project. Third, CBR is change oriented and guided by social justice goals; CBR is not undertaken to support the status quo, but to help support the growth of organizations or individuals. Projects completed in this paradigm are designed to address an issue or need identified by a community partner organization or for a population served by such an organization.

In the practice of CBR, students, faculty, and community members collaborate on research with the purpose of addressing a pressing community problem or effecting social change. The research topic emanates from the community, but all participating project partners (e.g., faculty, students, community residents/organizations) determine the focus and scope of the research project, shape the research questions, and design the research methodology. They may also collaborate on collecting and analyzing data. Furthermore, all partners are involved in the dissemination of findings, which often takes a variety of forms besides the standard venue of publishing in scholarly journals; the findings from CBR projects are designed to provide information immediately usable to the community partner. Therefore, CBR findings can be disseminated through traditional approaches such as reports, but also non-traditional outlets such as community meetings, workshops, Web sites, pamphlets, newsletters--whatever media are most useful for the partner.

In universities and colleges in the United States, CBR is undertaken in many different institutional forms, ranging from a solo practitioner on one campus to citywide and regional consortium structures that involve several universities and community organizations (Strand, et al., 2003; Stoecker et al., 2003). The resulting CBR projects involve students in studies that address many different kinds of social issues, including discrimination in housing, inequity in schools, the environmental impact of local industries, and the effectiveness of community change projects. Students undertake these projects through a variety of curricular configurations, such as graduate and undergraduate classes, theses, independent studies, seminars, and internships.

This paper describes a framework for managing the challenges of teaching CBR courses. …

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