Designing a Course for the Development of Community-Engaged Researchers in a College of Education

Designing a Course for the Development of Community-Engaged Researchers in a College of Education

Aaron S. Zimmerman (Texas Tech University, USA) and Shirley M. Matteson (Texas Tech University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2208-0.ch005

Abstract

Community-engaged scholarship is a democratic approach to scholarship that seeks to identify and solve community-based problems. In this chapter, the authors, both faculty members within a college of education, describe the challenge of creating opportunities to prepare graduate students to become community-engaged researchers. In this chapter, the authors will explore the challenges related to designing coursework that successfully supports the development of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required for successful community-engaged research. The authors present narratives that describe their transition into their college and describe how this organizational context influenced the manner in which they went about designing a course on community-engaged research. The authors then outline, in detail, a number of assignments developed for this research course. These assignments are presented as a resource for faculty who are developing courses that aim to prepare graduate students for community-engaged scholarship.
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Introduction

Community-engaged scholarship is a democratic approach to scholarship that seeks to identify and solve community-based problems. Community-engaged scholars aim to serve the public good by developing and sustaining community-campus partnerships built on trust and reciprocity. This is an ethical but nontraditional orientation towards scholarship. As universities orient themselves towards serving the public good, universities face a number of challenges. In this chapter, the authors, both faculty members within a College of Education, describe one particular challenge: The challenge of creating opportunities to prepare graduate students to become community-engaged researchers.

In particular, in this chapter, the authors will explore the challenges related to designing coursework that successfully supports the development of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required for successful community-engaged research. Intertwined with the challenges related to working with the graduate students themselves is the challenge of mobilizing faculty to support these efforts. As the authors will describe throughout this chapter, the attitudes and commitments of faculty colleagues influence department-wide and college-wide efforts to cultivate community-engaged researchers.

In the first half of this chapter, the authors draw on narratives that describe our transition into our college and into our work with community-engaged scholarship. It should be noted that we refer to ourselves in the first-person throughout this chapter, as we strongly believe that our own lived experiences as academics have significantly shaped the manner in which we attempt to cultivate research competencies in graduate students. We highlight the manner in which our beliefs, as well as our faculty colleagues’ beliefs, about community-engaged scholarship have influenced the manner in which we went about our efforts to design our own community-engaged research capstone course.

We believe that depicting our design and development of this course in the form of a narrative and a dialogue is nontrivial. One of the primary goals of this chapter is to highlight how the development community-engaged scholarship within a given institution is, in large part, a matter of narrative (Cantor & Lavine, 2007; Lambright & Alden, 2012). Indeed, our recommendations throughout this chapter build upon the recommendations of leading scholars in the field (see Driscoll & Sandmann, 2016; Sandmann, Saltmarsh, & O'Meara, 2016). The distinctiveness of this chapter, however, is rooted in the uniqueness of our experience.

Specifically, we wish to highlight the fact that, although our college administrators insisted that faculty and students prioritize engaged research, our college, collectively, was unaware of the many recommendations and resources that existed in the field. Thus, the course that we share in this chapter is the product of conversations designed to identify and address the primary gaps in our students’ knowledge. In this chapter, we want to highlight how our design of this curriculum was an extension of our own journeys and experiences with community-engaged scholarship in the context of our college. For this reason, we begin this chapter by presenting our individual narratives.

In the second half of this chapter, we outline, in detail, a number of assignments that we have developed for use in this capstone research course. The assignments included in this chapter are intended to serve as resources to other faculty who may be teaching or designing similar coursework. Each set of assignments are supplemented with a dialogue between the two authors in which we articulate our rationale for each assignment, including our understanding of how each assignment fills an important gap in our students’ knowledge and competencies related to community-engaged research. We conclude this chapter by underscoring the value of having faculty collaborate in their attempts to cultivate community-engaged researchers.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Dissertation: The culminating research experience for a doctoral graduate student. A graduate student’s dissertation involves an application of research skills within a given methodological approach. Upon the dissertation’s completion, a committee of faculty assesses the dissertation with respect to the dissertation’s academic quality, rigor, and impact.

Community-Engaged Scholarship: Work that involves the application of a faculty member’s expertise, applied to a real-world context to solve a practical problem. Community-engaged scholarship is conducted in reciprocal partnership with community stakeholders.

Community-Engaged Research: A specific form of engaged scholarship. Like traditional research, community-engaged research involves the planning and documentation of the research process and the research results. Community-engaged research must be conducted in collaborative partnership with community stakeholders. Community-engaged research creates new knowledge while also addressing a practical problem encountered in local communities.

Research Partnerships: In the context of community-engaged scholarship, research partnerships between faculty members and community stakeholders should be reciprocal, collaborative, and mutually beneficial. Community research partners should be able to have a say in how the research project is planned and implemented.

Outreach: Outreach is a form of public service provided from campuses to local communities. Outreach is distinct from community-engaged scholarship, because outreach efforts are usually limited to opportunities for service, whereas engaged scholarship requires a reciprocal, collaborative partnership where community stakeholders have an opportunity to shape the research process.

Graduate Studies: The process through which graduate students obtain meaningful experiences that progress them towards expertise in their chosen field. Typically, these experiences involve coursework that provides critical knowledge as well as research methodology coursework that provides experiences related to collecting and analyzing data.

Faculty Development: One of the forms of the institutional supports that universities and academic departments can provide to faculty in order to cultivate and sustain community-engaged research projects. Faculty development can help faculty develop specific competencies necessary for community-engaged scholarship.

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