Written by S-L Graduate Assistant Sophia LaCortiglia
For the past few years, members of Northeastern’s Service-Learning community have attended an annual Service-Learning conference hosted by Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).
Using the knowledge and information they learned from these conferences, a group of Service-Learning faculty hosted a Service-Learning workshop. This workshop centered on the research methods in an article titled Partnerships in Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, written by Bringle, Clayton, and Price in 2009.
The workshop began as each of the Service-Learning faculty introduced themselves and how they became interested in the field. The Service-Learning (S-L) faculty research community includes members from a diverse range of disciplines such as Professor Gail Begley (College of Science, Biology) and Rebekah Moore (CAMD, Music Industry). Despite the diversity in their research fields, the S-L research community collaborates closely to develop and learn more about the ways in which Service-Learning’s impact extends beyond their own specific disciplines, but also the community as a whole.
Using the SOFAR research method discussed in Partnerships in Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, the faculty research community demonstrated the importance of visualizing questions from multiple stakeholder perspectives. SOFAR stands for Students, Organizations, Faculty, Administrators, and Residents, effectively identifying each of these key stakeholder perspectives. Each stakeholder group has their own perspective on the work Service-Learning is doing, and in order to make sure everyone’s voices are heard and represented, the faculty research community demonstrated how to step back and reanalyze questions from different perspectives.
English writing professor Amy Lantinga (College of Social Sciences and Humanities, English Writing) led an exercise known as text rendering to help summarize the key takeaways from the Bringle, Clayton, and Price article. At the start of the exercise, participants were asked to read the article and think about the core meaning. They were then asked to pick a single three or four word phrase they felt embodied the article’s core meaning. Participants’ examples included phrases like “sustained cultural change”; “mutually beneficial collaboration”; “progress or regress”; “diverse outcomes”; and “moving from indifference to caring.”
Once the participants had their phrases, they were asked to narrow them down further. This time, they were asked to choose a single word that encompassed the article’s message. Participants suggested words like “relationships”; “partnerships”; “collaboration”; “goals”; and many more. This exercise helped establish an underlying theme for the participants, which started to shape how they thought about their research questions.
Professor Lorna Hayward (Bouvé College of Health Sciences, Physical Therapy) spoke about her experience utilizing the SOFAR framework theory in her service-learning research. Professor Hayward is a physical therapist, who authored a research evaluation of a long-term physical therapy service-learning partnership in Ecuador. Professor Hayward, accompanied by another licensed PT and approximately fifteen PT students, use International Service-Learning (ISL). ISL is an instructional method used by physical therapy educators in order to increase the global perspective of students.
Professor Hayward spoke about how, at the start of her experience working in Ecuador, the focus was on the students. However, analyzing the experience through a different stakeholder perspective, she shifted a part of her focus to the community partner she was working with. This consisted of conducting interviews and surveys, as well as plenty of discussion with the community partner to understand their experience with the program. By shifting perspectives, she was able to bolster her involvement with the community partner, and evolve her relationship to a mutually beneficial partnership.
The workshop wrapped up with an exercise led by Professor Missy McElligott (College of Science, Neurobiology). Professor McElligott asked participants to contemplate their research questions about service-learning from differing perspectives. As an interactive exercise, participants were encouraged to discuss any questions amongst themselves, and examine how they would ask those questions from the perspective of a different stakeholder. Participants were able to reshape questions, addressing the different stakeholder groups and demonstrating just how interconnected and interdependent the stakeholders are on one another.
During the planning phase of this workshop, the service-learning faculty research community developed a list of objectives. The community hoped this workshop would help participants network with colleagues, learn about the SOFAR framework (and how it applies to service-learning research questions), learn about service-learning research questions on campus, evaluate one’s own research questions, and to establish a community of support.
Over good food and excellent company, these exercises helped accomplish this final goal of establishing a community of support for service-learning research. Our hope for the future is for this community to realize it’s true potential and be sustained through partnership and collaboration for many years to come.