Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

The Endless Quest for Scholarly Respectability in Service-Learning Research

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

The Endless Quest for Scholarly Respectability in Service-Learning Research

Article excerpt

Research on Service Learning: Conceptual Frameworks and Assessment Volumes 2A and 2B

Patti H. Clayton, Robert G. Bringle, & Julie A. Hatcher, Editors

Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2013

"Important objectives in the development of the research agenda include:

1. to agree on a working definition of service-learning;

2. to identify critical research questions needing further research;

3. to discuss methodological problems of doing service-learning research;

4. to develop strategies for encouraging and supporting research on critical questions;

5. to identify ways to expand the dissemination of existing and future research;

6. to encourage action research models through the collaboration of researchers with teachers, community representatives, and students."

(Giles, Honnet, & Migliore, 1991)

"Having a common set of questions is a necessary step for furthering research in service learning, but that is not enough. We also need to learn more about theory, design and gathering of data. We need consensus on the domain of service-learning, and precise, measureable constructs. As in much of contemporary social science research there is a paradigm debate in service-learning about ways of knowing. 'Objective' research methods are seen by many in the field as antithetical to the personal and experiential epistemology that service-learning represents, whereas many skeptics see the narrative, qualitative dimensions of service-learning research as anecdotal and unconvincing. We argue for a multi-method approach at this stage of service-learning research. Both quantitative and qualitative methods have much to offer. In what follows we identify the types of studies that might be designed to answer the ten key questions raised in this chapter." (Giles & Eyler, 1998, p. 70)

"It has been our goal that the articles in this special issue of the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning will stimulate service-learning researchers--both those well-established and those just beginning--to embark upon answering some of the questions posed herein." (Howard, Gelmon, & Giles, 2000, p. 9)

We need to "insist on quality of research design, whether quantitative or qualitative. We need to move away from large-scale surveys with poorly specified measures of service-learning and service-learning outcomes" to "more focused study that gives us deeper understanding to direct our practice...We also need to work with research scholars from related fields and to bring some theoretical rigor to the design of our research programs" (Eyler, 2002, p. 12)

"The best chance for the research to have an impact on the practice of service-learning, on higher education, and on the disciplines and professions is for the research to be based on theory, to test theory, and to develop theory." (Bringle, 2003, p. 18)

During the 35 years or so since service-learning became a recognized field (Sigmon, 1979), there have been continuous efforts to improve the quality of research. The quotes that begin our reflections are drawn from just a few of the published attempts focusing specifically on improving the rigor of research conceptualization and design and on identifying critical questions to guide research. In the 1980s, as the emerging field of Experiential Education, as represented by the National Society for Internships and Experiential Education (NSIEE), matured, it became concerned with a research base for its arena of practice and its research committee began to work on research bibliographies and a research agenda. At the same time, Professor John Duley and his colleagues at Michigan State University were writing about how to assess the learning in service-learning and other forms of experiential learning, forming a foundation for future research agendas (Yelon & Duley, 1978). The work that the NSIEE research committee developed became the basis for the first research agenda and subsequent agendas as service-learning was emerging from a subfield of experiential education to a separate arena of practice. …

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