Exploring community partnership for service-learning in Creative Arts Education through participatory action research
Meyer, Gretchen Merna
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In African folklore, there is a Swahili tale which depicts the relationship between a monkey and a shark; a story about the needs of two creatures living in two different worlds. The shark needs the heart of the monkey to give to his king and the monkey agrees to go on the journey to learn and experience new things. Unaware of each other’s intentions and goals they fall prey to a relationship of mutual distrust and suspicion. Many opportunities to use art as a tool for social engagement through service-learning exist in Higher Education. However, good intentions do not always equal good outcomes. The story above illustrates the importance of open communication around goals and motives. My past experiences in community engagement projects have taught me that more harm than good can result when communities are not involved in relationship-building and decision-making processes which affect them. It is therefore imperative that students collaborate with communities in every phase of the engagement process, so that they will learn and benefit from each other in meaningful ways. This qualitative research explores and describes the engagement between Intermediate Phase education students and community youth, the findings of which will be used to design a service-learning module in Creative Arts. The aims of the study were (i) to explore what the students and the community participants can learn from such a process, (ii) to explore what aspects of the engagement process can enhance the attainment of mutually beneficial learning outcomes, and which detract from it, and (iii) based on the findings, to suggest recommendations that can inform the development and design of a future service-learning module in Creative Arts programmes for teacher educators. A qualitative design situated within a critical theoretical paradigm employing a participatory action research approach to inquiry was utilised to achieve the aims of the study. Availability sampling was used to select participants in the engagement between the campus students from the Creative Arts department in the faculty of Education Sciences at the North West University (NWU) Potchefstroom, and the community youths from a nearby township area. The data generation process consisted of four cycles which embraced seven interactive activities, including visual, oral, art, and text-based techniques that were employed in a participatory process. Semi-structured reflective interviews towards the end concluded the research study. Data documentation was obtained through verbatim transcriptions of video clips, visual diaries, and visual charts. The engagement process was systematically monitored, inductively analysed, and thematically interpreted. Trustworthiness was verified by overlapping and multiple data generation strategies, and maintained by reflective member checking and own critical reflections on the process. Ethical requirements included the approval of the Ethics Committee of the NWU Faculty of Educational Sciences, Potchefstroom campus. Signed consent of participants was obtained in writing before the data generation began. Consent was obtained from the participants for visual material to be used for the research study and the presentations thereof. Three themes emerged from the data collection. Theme 1: the process allowed participants to gain insight into each other’s worlds. Theme 2: the participatory action research (PAR) process shifted power relations. Theme 3: the participants experienced personal and professional development through the interactive process. My findings on the student-community youth engagement suggest that the participatory (PAR) process is well suited for socially engaged art-based practices in service-learning as it promotes reciprocal learning through interactive activities. The activities unlocked value-laden and meaningful learning between the participants. Working collaboratively and in groups benefitted the participants in several ways. They gained confidence and self-determination, began to understand each other, improved personal and working relations, and increased their level of professional development. Limiting aspects included language barriers, short time frames, and unpredictable community events. The role of the researcher as change agent required shared leadership of collaborative groupwork, and it was necessary to structure topics in service-learning that evoke challenging and critical responses between participants from diverse backgrounds. These findings have significance for the design and development of a service-learning module for Creative Arts education, provide recommendations for future community partnerships in art-based practices, and for further research in service-learning.
- Education