Academics and Students in Community Engagement Research
A recently completed action research project to investigate the experiences of incorporating service learning with community engagement activities was undertaken as a collaborative effort between UKZN’s School of Social Sciences, the School of Education and the Faculty of Education at the University of the Free State (UFS).
The project relates to eight case studies that were conducted on UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus beginning 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.
Heading the research are academics Professor Julia Preece of the School of Education, Dr Desiree Manicom of the School of Social Sciences, and UFS staffers, Dr Cias Tsotetsi and Dr Dipane Hlalele and their respective students.
The project responded to global interest in making Higher Education more responsive to development needs, national priorities for developing responsible citizens and institutional priorities for “responsible community engagement”.
According to Preece and Manicom, a community development approach was used which applied asset based development theory - supporting communities to build on their own assets to solve local problems - with the concept of adaptive leadership - being sensitive to context and encouraging communities to take responsibility for decision making. This was done with a view to building trust and contributing to community empowerment.
Preece said, ‘The study found that students and community members were able to learn from each other, contributing to new knowledge, skills and understandings but that the time frame for service learning militated against the CESL relationship.’
Manicom said: ‘It also found that clarification of competing goals and values prior to the service learning placements enhanced the community relationship but there is a need for ongoing feedback and monitoring to accommodate shifting goals and priorities during project implementation. Grassroots communities were motivated by the interest the University showed in their activities.’
The study is a partnership between UKZN and UFS with funding from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and UKZN’s Teaching and Learning Office (UTLO). The findings have resulted in presentations at one international and two local conferences. Journal articles will be submitted for review later this year.
- Melissa Mungroo