06 November 2014 Volume :2 Issue :56

Community Engagement with Service Learning workshop

Community Engagement with Service Learning workshop
Participants in the Community Engagement with Service Learning Workshop at the UNITE Building.

The College of Humanities Teaching and Learning Unit recently hosted a Community Engagement with Service Learning workshop at the UNITE Building.

The workshop was facilitated by Pietermaritzburg-based academics Professor Julia Preece of the School of Education and Dr Desiree Manicom, Senior Lecturer in the postgraduate Policy and Development Studies Programme and academic leader for community engagement in the School of Social Sciences.

The workshop focused on their collaborative and recently completed action research project - funded by the NRF and UKZN TLRG - that investigated the experiences of incorporating service learning with community engagement activities.

Speaking at the workshop, College Dean for Teaching and Learning, Professor Nobuhle Hlongwa, said community engagement was an important component in the College and fitted into the goals of the University’s strategic plan.

Manicom said Goal 2 of the Humanities Strategic Plan made provision for the operationalisation of the University’s goal on responsible community engagement within the College. The document titled: “Framework for the Recognition of Responsible Community Engagement”, provides a framework for the implementation of Goal 2 of UKZN’s Strategic Plan.

Manicom said to realise these goals ‘we need to establish the proper infrastructure for community engagement in the College and to allow for a database of scholarly understanding of community engagement and to build research and scholarship initiatives around community engagement through research links with communities within the schools at the University’.

The research project comprised eight case studies conducted on the UKZN Pietermaritzburg campus which began with stakeholder consultations followed by implementation and evaluation of the case studies over 12 months.

The Community Engagement with Service Learning (CELS2) project tackled the challenge of how to address the competing goals and values of student service learning course requirements and those of community organisations in order to enhance university contributions to local development needs.

Preece spoke about the study’s key findings highlighting that dedicated community engagement staff should be allocated to facilitate Service Learning and Community Engagement within the College. ‘We also need to look at establishing an infrastructure for community engagement in the University for funding and matching courses to community lead initiatives. Feedback loops should also be built into the service learning timetable.’

Workshop participants raised issues on strains that hinder proper community engagement such as territoriality, accusations and even misunderstandings among researchers and communities.

In response to the issue, Manicom emphasised that ethical considerations should be dealt with more especially in establishing and maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship between researchers and communities.

‘NGOs can often act as intermediaries between researchers and communities. It must be remembered that research should in some way be linked to local context and community problems and needs. Feedback on the research outcomes should be shared with the communities as this should assist them in resolving their problems within their communities.’

In the group discussion, workshop participants shared their ways in which different disciplines could contribute to community engagement activities and ways in which service learning and community engagement could become research activities.

Mr Linda Mbonambi of Area Based Management within the eThekwini Municipality pointed out that service learning and community engagement could lead to co-authored publications between students and their supervisors. ‘In support of social cohesion, the research that comes out from these activities should be made more accessible to community members and creative platforms should be created to inform communities about these research findings.’

Further discussion points emerged such as that the research should be translated into some of the African languages to make it more accessible and easier to decipher and that by doing participatory research, the researcher ensures that the community becomes a part of the study.

Hlongwa closed the workshop saying, ‘We need to move a step forward in addressing community engagement issues and we will follow this up possibly next year with a working framework.’

Melissa Mungroo

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