Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Service-Learning Partnerships: Paths of Engagement

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Service-Learning Partnerships: Paths of Engagement

Article excerpt

Reciprocity between institutions of higher education (IHEs) and community has been espoused as a core principle of good practice in service-learning since its inception (Honnet & Poulsen, 1989; Sigmon, 1979). As the field has matured, the focus on community-campus partnerships has emerged as both a vehicle for actually conducting service-learning and a way to study the effectiveness of service-learning (Bringle & Hatcher, 2002). Indeed the current view appears to be that service-learning and partnerships are inextricably linked. Jacoby (2003) asserts, "... service-learning must be grounded in a network, or web, of authentic, democratic, reciprocal partnerships" (p. 6). The case is stated more forceful by Bailis (2000), who argues, "service-learning and partnerships are two sides of the same coin" (p. 5).

The paucity of empirical literature supports the case that community partnerships are only beginning to be understood and should be studied both in terms of process and outcome (Bringle & Hatcher, 2002; Clarke, 2003). Giles and Eyler (1998) have argued that understanding community impacts of service-learning is one of the top ten unanswered questions in service-learning research. A review of the empirical literature from 1993-2000 on the effects of service-learning on various constituencies (Eyler, Giles, Stenson, & Gray, 2001) shows that the topic of community is the least researched area in service-learning. Cruz and Giles (2000) analyze the reason for this paucity of empirical interest in the community dimensions of service-learning; they conclude that the only manageable and feasible way to study the community aspects of service-learning is to use the community-campus partnerships as unit of analysis. As Gelmon (2003) contends, "Assessment of both the processes and impacts of community-university partnership for service-learning is essential to determine the extent to which benefits are derived for both partners" (p. 61). Clarke's model of evaluating community-campus partnerships is a pioneer example of this approach.

In the organization studies literature, there is a rich body of work on collaborative arrangements between organizations with diverse missions (Brown, 1991; Brown & Ashman, 1996; Gray, 1985, 1989; Kaleongakar & Brown, 2000; Westley & Vredenburg, 1991, 1997; Wood & Gray, 1991). As in service-learning partnerships, the defining characteristic of these arrangements is that they bring together individuals who belong to different worlds (Fleck, 1979; Dougherty, 1992). Bringle, Games, and Malloy (1999) provide a good illustration of this difference as "Academicians [who] view knowledge as residing in specialized experts, including disciplinary peers who are geographically dispersed and community residents [who] view knowledge as being pluralistic and well distributed among their neighbors" (pp. 9-10). Most of this work has its theoretical underpinnings on Strauss' negotiated order perspective (see Maines, 1982; Strauss 1978; Strauss, Bucher, Ehrlich, & Satshim, 1963). Negotiated order is a metaphor used to explain that individual and group relations to one another change as they "continually make adjustments to the situations in which they find themselves" (Fine, 1984, p. 243). In this article, the authors embrace this tradition because it permits us to consider simultaneously that (a) partnerships occur between individuals and vary over time in not-linear ways and that (b) they are mediated by institutional factors.

The article furthers research and theory on the creation and development of service-learning partnerships (see Bringle & Hatcher, 2002; Clarke, 2003; Cruz & Giles, 2000; Enos & Morton, 2003; Giles & Eyler, 1998). It suggests service-learning partnerships follow paths of engagement that vary over time. Instead of stages or levels, such as the four levels of trust described by Sockett (1998), these paths of engagement vary depending on structural factors framing the partnerships, such as the mission of the organizations and the closeness gained by the parties over time (Bringle & Hatcher). …

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