SLCE Scholarship: Broadening the Who, the Where, and the What
by Lori E. Kniffin & Patti H. Clayton
Throughout these blog posts we use the term “practitioner-scholar” to refer to anyone who partners in SLCE with a spirit of inquiry; connects their practice, learning, and curiosity with others; and thereby advances knowledge and practice. “Practice” in SLCE includes work both in communities and on campuses; all partners are inherently “practitioners.” Where, then, does the “scholar” part come in? As we understand it (drawing on Hutchings & Shulman, 1999), to be “scholarly” in one’s practice is to do it in a way that is informed by what is known about how to do the practice well (including ways to determine how well one is doing it) and to have other eyes besides one’s own on that informed practice. “Scholarship” adds the dimension of sharing one’s practice and learning in ways others can use, critique, and build on.
We appreciate the hyphenated term’s non-hierarchical nature. It refuses to compartmentalize people into those who do (practitioners) and those who know (scholars) or to position practice as merely the realm where knowledge is applied (rather than as a realm in which knowledge is generated). Anyone in SLCE can co-inquire on an equal footing with any others—which is not to say that individuals bring the same knowledge, questions, or experience but rather that everyone brings their own and that learning and change are advanced when inquiry integrates all of it.
Accordingly, who generates scholarship is broadening beyond the usual—faculty—suspects. Undergraduate students co-authored (with faculty and/or community engagement professionals) chapters in the edited volume Students as Colleagues: Expanding the Circle of Service-Learning Leadership. Nonprofit director Amy Mondloch published an insightful chapter on SLCE partnerships in the book The Unheard Voices: Community Organizations and Service-Learning. And most of the chapters in Participatory Partnerships for Social Action and Research are co-authored by community and campus partners.
There is an expanding set of academic journals where SLCE practitioner-scholars share their work, including, to name just a few: Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning; Undergraduate Journal of Service Learning and Community-Based Research; Journal of Applied Learning in Higher Education; Journal of Higher Education, Outreach, and Engagement; Partnerships: A Journal of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement; and Public: A Journal of Imagining America. Faculty may find the increasing opportunities to publish SLCE-related scholarship in disciplinary journals particularly important while on the path to tenure.
SLCE practitioner-scholars are working to broaden conceptions of what constitutes scholarship beyond journal articles reviewed by academic peers to include “alternative products” such as community theater activities, policy papers, websites, and training programs and manuals. This 3 minute video, for instance, distills and effectively conveys years of learning about ethical volunteering abroad. Community-Campus Partnerships for Health has developed a process for rigorous review of non-traditional products by academic and community peers.
So, do you want to begin or deepen work as an SLCE practitioner-scholar? You might start with a question or with challenges you face as a practitioner, which you reframe as questions for scholarly inquiry. Your scholarship might be “community-engaged,” meaning inquiry (often discipline-linked and often focused on community issues) conducted in partnership with community members. It might be “scholarship of engagement,” meaning inquiry into the processes and outcomes of SLCE; if your focus is on the pedagogical aspects of SLCE per se, then it is (also) “scholarship of teaching and learning.”
Regardless, it is important to locate your work in the context of existing scholarship. The IUPUI Series on Service Learning Research is a good resource for getting oriented to and for deepening scholarship as contributing authors review existing research across a wide variety of SLCE-related topics and propose research agendas.
Participate in conferences as well to learn more about scholarship and to find—and create— scholarly communities. It may be especially helpful to attend conferences that either have an explicit scholarship focus (e.g., IARSLCE) or include a mix of practitioner- and research- focused sessions (e.g., many Campus Compact state and regional events, for example PACE; the Gulf South Summit on Service-Learning and Civic Engagement through Higher Education; Imagining America’s national conference).
We believe the practitioner-scholar identity and role is powerful, but we realize it is not without tensions. Paths toward it are often unclear and unsupported. There are perceived and actual time trade-offs that may pull us away from our “on the ground” priorities. And many have been led to believe that “scholarship” is an elite activity requiring particular credentials or skills to which they lack access. Without minimizing such challenges, both of us along many of our closest collaborators nevertheless self-define as practitioner-scholars and find doing so a fulfilling and productive ground for collaboration. As, for instance, in the case of this blog series!
Hutchings, P., & Shulman, L. S. (1999). The scholarship of teaching: New elaborations, new developments. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 31(5), 10-15.
Lori E. Kniffin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a doctoral student in Cultural Foundations of Education and a graduate assistant at the Institute for Community and Economic Engagement at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In her previous role at the Staley School of Leadership Studies at Kansas State University, she taught an SLCE junior-level leadership course that worked to advance food justice on and off campus for five years. She is chair of the IARSLCE Graduate Student Network and the inaugural Fellow on the international Service-Learning and Community Engagement Future Directions Project (SLCE-FDP; (www.slce-fdp.org).
Patti H. Clayton (email@example.com) is an SLCE consultant (PHC Ventures, www.curricularengagement.com), a Senior Scholar with IUPUI and UNCG, and a Visiting Senior Scholar with Kansas State University. She facilitates professional and organizational development, co-produces practice-oriented scholarly resources, and is currently co-facilitating the SLCE-FDP (www.slce-fdp.org).
Note: This is the fourth in a series of blog posts. Check in regularly to learn more about and contribute to discussion of foundational knowledge, promising practices, helpful resources, and future directions of SLCE.