The article examines students’ work produced within three service learning models commonly used in the college composition classrooms: writing for the community, writing about the community, and writing with the community (Deans, 2000). This student work is analyzed in relation to the concept of intercultural inquiry (Flower, 2002, 2008) to argue that the writing with the community model, in which students and community partners collaboratively produced hybrid texts, was most effective in encouraging intercultural inquiry between students and community partners. The study also finds that the writing for the community model proved valuable for students by providing more professional opportunities than other models, although it was less successful in engaging students in intercultural inquiry.
While an impressive body of research has found that service learning experiences often increase the ability of students to accept differences and look past stereotypes (Astin & Sax, 1998; Deeley, 2010; Eyler, 2000; Dunlap, 1998; Greene & Diehm, 1995), critiques of service learning maintain that traditional models privilege ideologies of service or volunteerism over reflection (Butin, 2010; Eby, 1998; Herzberg, 1994; Flower, 2008; Howard, 2001), therefore, privileging university knowledge over community knowledge (Flower, 2008; Stoecker, Tryon, & Hilgendorf, 2009; Tryon et al., 2008). Some scholars suggest that service learning courses often lack authentic collaboration between students and partners (Flower, 2008; Schutz & Gere, 1998), which may perpetuate problematic stereotypes of others (Eby, 1998; Himley, 2004; Schutz & Gere, 1998). Taken together, these critiques highlight an overarching issue to be addressed in designing service learning courses: more agency must be given to community partners within service learning partnerships.
While the idea that community partners need to be active participants in service learning partnerships is now a well-established claim within the field, questions remain regarding how individual instructors can effectively engage community partners when designing discipline-specific courses within diverse institutional and community contexts. This article draws on a classroom research study to offer the concept of “intercultural inquiry” (Flower, 2002, 2008) as a useful framework for designing service learning projects that can more effectively engage community partners while also providing transformative academic experiences for students.
Flower (2002, 2008) discusses the conflict inherent in service learning when students view it as service rather than inquiry, and she suggests that for service learning to be transformative for students and community partners, it must be viewed as “intercultural inquiry” instead of outreach. Flower (2008) describes the goal of intercultural inquiry (ICI) as “a transformed understanding” that is collaboratively constructed between students and community partners (p. 169). Her research found that to achieve ICI within service learning partnerships, it is imperative for students and community partners to develop questions that are collaboratively developed through shared inquiry and problem solving. She maintains that transformative thinking and experiences are possible for both students and community partners when they use inquiry to produce work that reflects multiple voices and ideas. Based on an analysis of examples of ICI offered within Flower (2002, 2008), I draw the following key features of ICI[i]: A question or problem must emerge; students and community partners must work collaboratively to negotiate the problem; and participants must develop a transformed understanding of the problem.
The concept of intercultural inquiry and its key features I have identified can serve as a useful pedagogical framework for service learning instructors within numerous academic disciplines. I make this claim based on findings from a classroom research study of an intermediate writing service learning course that I developed and taught for three semesters. During these semesters, I experimented with the three models of service learning most commonly used in college composition: writing about the community (WATC), writing for the community (WFTC), and writing with the community (WWTC) (Deans, 2000).
In WATC courses, students participate in service projects and reflect on their experiences in writing assignments. In this model, students do service in a wide range of capacities. Tutoring children is the most common activity, but students also work at soup kitchens, shelters, nonprofit agencies, etc. In WATC, the service itself may not be directly related to the content of the course, but it serves as the basis for various types of writing assignments (Deans, 2000, p. 85). WATC courses are popular in colleges and universities “since they generally do not disrupt the dominant rhetorical practices of the academy” (Deans, 2000, p. 108). Meaning, students typically write traditional documents such as reflections and essays. In the WFTC model, students produce products for community members, which makes it a popular model because it “brings college students into partnership with nonprofit agencies, where the students undertake what are essentially mini-internships and compose purpose-driven documents like grant proposals, research reports, newsletter articles and brochures” (Deans, 2000, p. 53). The “for the community” model is common in many academic disciplines and is sometimes referred to as the “client model” of service learning. In the WWTC model, students and community partners work collaboratively to create products. Of the three service learning models, WWTC is considered the most nontraditional because the projects often occur in the community rather than on campus, and they typically produce nontraditional products (Deans, 2000).
In the study, I analyzed my students’ work produced within each of the models – WATC, WFTC, and WWTC – in relation to the key features of intercultural inquiry. My analysis revealed that the model of service learning that most effectively engaged students and community partners in intercultural inquiry was the WWTC model, in which students and community partners worked together to collaboratively produce hybrid texts such as videos and magazines. I also found that the WFTC model proved particularly valuable for students by providing them with more professional opportunities than the other models, although it was less successful in engaging students in intercultural inquiry with their community partner. While the WATC was valuable in that many students said that preconceived stereotypes were challenged by their work in the community, this model showed the least evidence of providing genuinely transformative experiences for students or community partners.
The study included 50 participants who were all college students enrolled in intermediate writing at Wayne State University, an urban research university in Detroit with a diverse student body. Intermediate writing, or English 3010, is the second writing class in a two-course writing sequence required for students, and because it is a university-wide requirement, the majority of students taking the course are in majors other than English. During the three semesters that I conducted research, students were required to fulfill 20 hours of service at assigned community sites in addition to the traditional classroom sessions. Students who enrolled in these courses knew in advance that they were service learning sections and enrolled by choice. Over the semesters that I conducted qualitative research, I made some revisions to the course content and assignments based on my data and observations from previous semesters. I also used students’ end-of-semester feedback, and ideas generated from my engagement in research on qualitative methods, to modify ways I conducted and engaged in the research process.
For all semesters, the syllabus included three major writing assignments as well as shorter service learning reflection papers and response papers on course readings. All versions of the course focused on two major themes – literacy and globalization. In relation to these themes, the service learning component of the course involved literacy- related activities in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in Detroit. During the first semester that I collected data, the course was taught using solely the WATC model. In the following two semesters, students were given the option to undertake WFTC or WWTC projects that were designed in collaboration with community partners and myself.
The study received IRB approval, and all participants consented to take part in the study and have their work cited in my research[ii]. I used teacher research and ethnographic methods. Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1993) define teacher-research as “systematic and intentional inquiry carried out by teachers” (p. 7). They draw a significant distinction between university researchers who conduct research on teaching through “traditional modes of inquiry” (p. 10), which they argue is the type of knowledge generally valued within the academy, and teacher-researchers who conduct research within their own classrooms, which has not, until the last few decades, been considered legitimate scholarship. Fleischer (1995) suggests that through teacher-research, teachers develop a better understanding of their own practices and the views and needs of their students, and also a deeper understanding of ways that knowledge is generated and that people become represented through research. Ray (1993) and Goswami and Stillman (1987) describe the transformative nature of teacher-research and its potential to effect positive change. They emphasize that the primary aim of teacher-research is for individual teachers to better understand their students and improve their own classroom practices.
While the larger goal of this study was framed by teacher-research in the sense that the primary aim was to improve my own pedagogical use of service learning, I adhered closely to models of ethnographic data collection and analysis described by Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw (1995). The data collected include audio-recorded class sessions, field notes, student interviews, all course reading material, all instructor-generated texts, and all student-generated texts. In my analysis, I coded the field notes and student-generated texts multiple times to identify noticeable themes. I initially identified larger themes, then coded in more detail based on the themes that emerged from initial data analysis. When students gave presentations, I collected data by videotaping the class sessions and analyzing the visual materials by viewing them numerous times and identifying patterns and themes in the same way I examined the written texts. For the purposes of this essay, I focus my data analysis primarily on reflection papers that students wrote about their service learning experiences and the final projects they produced for the course.
Writing about the Community
In the WATC model, students in my course worked as writing tutors for third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders at Shady Grove elementary school[iii] in a neighborhood known as Mexicantown, a school in which the student demographic is around 97% Hispanic.[iv] After using the WATC model and reviewing field notes and students’ writing assignments, I was left with a significant concern: Does developing empathy and compassion for others, and the ability to discuss experiences in the community in relation to larger social issues, translate into ICI? In their reflections[v], many students expressed that their preconceptions of the inner-city Mexicantown community were challenged by experiences during the service learning projects. A student, Ben, wrote about his initial perceptions of the service learning site, saying:
Since I have been, for most of my 24 years, a sheltered suburbanite who has been fortunate enough to attend stellar public school, I had a few preconceived notions when I began my tutoring at [Shady Grove]. To me, the school being located on ______ Street in the area known as “Mexican Town” was surely going to be a dilapidated establishment, with broken computers, bars on the windows, and rowdy kids running about causing trouble.
In class, Ben openly discussed how this perception had been developed through years of growing up in a household where the inner-city school system was discussed negatively. Ben’s mother, a schoolteacher in one of the nicer suburbs, and his father, who worked in the auto industry until taking an early retirement severance package, made it clear to him that going into the city was off limits because of the threat of crime. Ben’s experience in Mexicantown, however, revealed itself differently than he expected. In a reflection following the first day of the service learning project, he wrote: “This one day in [Shady Grove] was able to totally rearrange my thoughts about public schools in the ‘inner city.’ These children were full of life, and so eager to learn everything their brains could hold.”
Like Ben, other students in the course generally discussed their service learning experiences positively. In my analysis of the WATC students’ reflections, all students consistently discussed the tutoring experience from a positive perspective. I use the term “positive” to refer to the following types of comments made at least once within the student text – “I like the service learning project,” “I found that I really enjoy it,” “I’m looking forward to meeting again with these students,” “I am really grateful for having this experience of tutoring kids in English,” etc. The pattern I found more significant, however, was that 12 of 17 analyzed reflection papers provided specific examples of how the authors’ initial conception about what the service learning experiences or the elementary students’ educational/language ability would be like was challenged in ways that changed their opinion.
To draw this analysis, I identified student papers in which students clearly stated both their initial idea and how it was revised by their actual experience. Some papers made more than one of these statements; however, I refer to the total number of papers that displayed the feature at least once. While these examples suggest that there was transformative thinking taking place for many of the college students within the WATC model, the tutoring work did not seem to generate the type of working partnerships or collaborative problem solving that Flower describes as ICI. Many students clearly seemed to be developing empathy and compassion for others, which is important, but my data did not show any evidence that they were conducting shared inquiry with their partners.
Writing for the Community
When I used the WFTC model, students had the option of tutoring at the elementary school or of working with various projects at a community center in Mexicantown, such as a youth after-school program, an adult ESL program, and a senior citizens program. For the final assignment in the class, students were required to solicit input from administrators at their service learning sites and design projects that would be given to the community partners for use. Students pursued a wide array of projects such as developing newsletters and brochures, creating Web sites, developing different types of literacy programs, such as a summer reading/writing program for children and an adult ESL program, and two students wrote proposal documents for the community center’s health services program. All students were required to make final project presentations in class, and some students also voluntarily gave presentations for community partners.
The most professional document produced, in my opinion, was the first edition of a journal for the community titled “The Civic Engagement Update for the Southwest Latino Community.” The journal is a 13-page booklet with informational sections on immigration and citizenship, economic opportunities, electoral participation and voter registration, safety and violence in Southwest Detroit, and education. My students, Cindy and Linda, worked under the guidance of a community center administrator to research and write the journal materials. Although the journal was printed and distributed with the community center’s name and logo, the students were given credit for their work on the front page.
At the end of the term, I spoke to agency representatives to get their perspectives on the students’ projects and to get feedback about the semester. Guadalupe, the staff member who directed the students, told me that the center had wanted to put out an informational journal like this for a long time, but had never been able to get the project off the ground until Cindy and Linda offered to do it for their final project. Although the organization was extremely appreciative of the students’ work on the journal, and I was highly impressed by the professional quality of the document my students produced, I wondered whether Cindy and Linda felt that they had mutually benefited from the project, which I had emphasized to my students was the main goal of service learning. In an interview conducted after the completion of the course, Cindy emphasized that she would have liked there to have been more collaboration between their group and the community partners, saying, “I wish we would have had more communication with the Latino community … then we would have had a little more knowledge about what they really wanted … like if they didn’t need as many details about the immigration stuff.”
I followed up by asking Cindy how much she felt that the agency collaborated on the project with her, and she responded that there was very little collaboration. After hearing Cindy’s feelings that she would have liked more interaction with the community partners, I asked her whether in retrospect she would want to change the type of project she did to use the WWTC approach. She quickly responded, “No, I don’t think that they really have that many resources like this available to them in one source, because we included stuff about immigration, education, political elections. So I think that it was good that it was all in one place for them.” Somewhat surprised by this response, I asked her whether she felt the project was educationally useful. She responded:
Yes. I definitely learned about the processes that they have to go through in order to be a citizen and all these different things, which I didn’t know. And [Guadalupe] was saying that a lot of people don’t even know these things, which was kind of our main reason for doing the project … I know that I got something out of it. It meant a lot to me just to be able to help people. I like to help people, and in that venue I definitely got something out of it.”
Cindy spoke very positively of the service learning experience in general, and when asked whether she would choose a service learning course or a more traditional academic course in the future, she said, “Oh, hands down, service learning.” However, like the WATC model, the WFTC data also raised questions for me about whether these projects promoted ICI and working partnerships between students and community partners. In fact, in my data analysis I did not find a clear example of a project that displayed the key features of ICI. The WFTC projects did go a step further than the WATC model in the sense that these projects allowed a question or problem to emerge. For instance, students had conversations with community partners to get feedback regarding what types of projects might be needed, then they designed documents such as newsletters, brochures and Web sites with the idea that these texts would meet a particular need or provide a service that they felt was lacking. However, I did not find substantial evidence in any of the WFTC projects that students and community partners worked collaboratively to negotiate the problem or to develop transformed understandings.
Writing with the Community
In my courses, all but one of the students who did WWTC projects used multimedia forms (either digital video or Web sites); the exception was a student who collaboratively produced a print magazine with elementary school students. The creation of digital projects within composition courses, such as the videos I describe in this section, have become widely used, given increased attention to the value of digital composing processes within English Studies. In 2003, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) addressed this shift within the field in its “Resolution on Compositing with Nonprint Media,” stating:
Today our students are living in a world that is increasingly non-printcentric. New media such as the Internet, MP3 files, and video are transforming the communication experiences of young people outside of school. Young people are composing in nonprint media that can include any combination of visual art, motion (video and film), graphics, text, and sound — all of which are frequently written and read in nonlinear fashion. We affirm, in our theory and practice of teaching English language arts, that reading and writing are ultimately different but inherently related aspects of the same process of meaning making. Why, then, would we treat the reading and writing of new media texts in any different manner? With multiple opportunities for student expression in the English language arts classroom, these nonprint media offer new realms for teachers of composition.
Scholars within Writing Studies have done research on how digital composing offers the same types of writing-intensive experiences as working with print text. Lovett, Purdy, Gossett, Lamanna,, and Squier (2008) identified four stages of video compositing to show how writing methodologies play a significant role in this type of work: “pre-production (reflection, research and critical thinking), production (scripting interviewing and capturing video/audio material), post-production (organizing and editing material and constructing the narrative) and distribution (announcing and sharing finished material in a public forum)” (p. 3).
Here, I closely examine two WWTC documentary video projects developed for students’ final projects in my class. One documentary was on homelessness in Detroit and was produced by college students Chris and Liz, and a group of teens at the community center. The other was a documentary video on issues of immigration and language acquisition collaboratively produced by students Alex and Ryan and a group of the community center’s senior citizens. I point to these projects specifically, because they seemed to display all three key features of ICI.
Chris and Liz spent their service learning hours working with students in the after-school program in the organization’s Intel computer lab. For their final project, they decided to make a documentary video with students in the program. In an early reflection assignment, Chris writes:
I have been spending my time there working together with high school kids in an attempt to make a short movie. The kids were originally reluctant to begin working on the movie project, but as all the various roles in the movie were opened up, each child signed up to work on some aspect, whether it was scriptwriting or working on the movie’s soundtrack. The challenge was getting the children to talk and interact with us. … I have grown personally from this experience due to the interaction with people that are unlike me. For the majority of my life, I have lived in an upper-middle class suburb, and working at ____________ opened up my eyes to the real unsheltered world. … Professionally, I believe this experience has taught me how to bring together a team of people who may not be so friendly with me to work together on a project.
Chris’s discussion of how he thinks he grew from the project by having to negotiate uneasy relationships with community partners unlike himself in order to produce a final product suitable for both university and community audiences brings up a number of points that I would like to examine in relation to ICI.
Chris initially expresses dismay that the Latino high school students are not welcoming him with open arms. Flower (2008) suggests that these sorts of unsettled feelings and ideological conflicts are necessary in service learning projects to open a space for genuine dialogue. She maintains that if students and community partners use inquiry to discuss their differences and learn to negotiate these tensions to produce texts that reflect multiple voices and ideas, then, transformative experiences are possible for all those involved. “But a fundamental conflict remains unresolved,” according to Flower, “when students (fired up with certainty for social change) confront the sudden realized limitations of their own understanding. … They came prepared to act; they really needed to inquire” (pg. 154). Chris and his partner had to negotiate this problem by realizing that they needed to give their partners more agency in order to move forward successfully.
Liz also conveyed similar frustrations about the high schoolers’ initial reluctance to participate in the movie project, but after she and Chris decided to let the high school students take a more active role in choosing the topic for the video, the dynamic seems to change. She writes: “They have written the script themselves and plan on making it on their own. It was very interesting to hear their ideas during our brainstorming sessions. These kids have a lot to say, and it is important that we listen to them… I am looking forward to see the results of their hard work.” After video shoots at several locations, aided by afterschool program staff members, Liz and Chris collaborated with the teens to choose the footage that would be used in the video, and the students worked together in the Intel computer lab to edit the video.
When they completed the first cut of the documentary, Liz and Chris gave preliminary viewings for their final project presentation in my class, and also for a group of the community center’s students. At both viewings they gathered feedback from the audience, and they edited a revised cut based on ideas generated in these discussions. The students also decided they wanted to extend the video’s audience by making their documentary publicly available on the Internet. The final version of the video is choppy with some audio problems, and it seems to be the students’ first attempt at making a documentary. The video’s reception within the community, however, was highly positive. Both the college students and the teens involved in the project expressed a sense of pride in their work, and staff members told me that they thought the video project was an enjoyable learning experience.
I use this video project as an example of a WWTC service learning project that, I think, illustrates key features of ICI. The project started with the initial problem about what type of video the students will create, which led to a collaborative negotiation of the problem and a shared inquiry into homelessness and video production. These inquiries allowed multiple voices and ideas to emerge – the college and high student participants, agency members aiding with the production, local homeless who consented to interviews, and other community members who offered feedback for revisions. Ultimately, the final product offers a situated interpretation of the question of homelessness that is publicly available to others on the Internet. Could this project have gone a step further? Absolutely! The documentary could have been used to initiate a community conversation or public dialogue with the larger goals of advocacy or policy changes related to homelessness.
In another WWTC project, students Alex and Ryan decided to work with a group of senior citizens at the community center to create a documentary video. When describing his service learning work with the seniors, Alex writes:
Most of our “work” there consists of learning new board games, sharing stories, and simply listening (and trying to translate the Spanish in our heads!) to anything and everything the seniors wish to speak about. … By using the opportunity presented to us, we have decided to film a documentary style film, made up of interviews documenting their personal stories – stories which will show the struggle of living within this new global world, and their struggle with literacy and the English language and how they have adapted to live within a foreign community.
While the final project did produce a public text, this project falls within the WWTC category because of its larger purpose and collaborative nature. Unlike the WFTC projects, the documentary served no tangible use for the community center, but it was designed specifically as a collaboration between Alex and Ryan and a small group of participants. The students initially approached the seniors with the idea of developing the documentary based in their questions about how globalization was affecting the center’s non-English-speaking seniors living in the U.S. According to the students, the seniors were excited about having the opportunity to share their stories and to practice using their English. As Alex and Ryan developed interview questions, they worked with the seniors to help them understand what the questions meant and to convey responses to the questions in English.
In class discussions, Ryan and Alex usually referred to the seniors by their first names. They also tried to contextualize the seniors’ reasons for immigrating to the U.S. by telling classmates the seniors’ personal stories. In my field notes, I made frequent comments about the intimate language Alex and Ryan used when discussing their partners. For example, in one class discussion Alex told the class about Carmen’s son. He had become an alcoholic after they immigrated to the U.S., but had gotten rehabilitated, learned English, obtained citizenship and a college degree, and was now a successful businessman who supported his mother in her retirement. Alex told the story to the class to express that the seniors he worked with and their families did not fit common stereotypes. From my perspective as instructor, these two students seemed to form the strongest bonds with their partners. One explanation for this could be that they were the only students in any of my classes who chose to work with the seniors program, and I gathered that much of their time was spent socializing with seniors who told them stories about their lives. Through shared experiences of stories, conversations, board games, food, and working together on the video project, these two young men seemed to genuinely engage in meaningful dialogue with community partners.
Ryan and Alex confronted a complex problem while working on the documentary with the seniors, and this particular example has resonated strongly for me when considering the types of experiences that students have in WATC, WFTC, and WWTC service learning models. I suggested to Ryan and Alex that they make their documentary publicly available on a site like YouTube or Google Videos, and the students seemed to like the idea that their work could be made public. Toward the end of the semester, as my students were finishing their final projects, Alex came by during my office hours with a concern. He told me that they had interviewed a senior who was an undocumented resident in the U.S., and that his status had been discussed during the interview. He said, “We don’t want to leave his interview out of the video, but we don’t think we should put it on the Internet.” I pondered his comment for a moment and was struck by the students’ dilemma. To make the video public would mean exposing that a community partner lives in the country illegally, but removing his interview from the video would mean taking away his story, or his voice. I told Alex that I would consider the issue and get back to him during our next class.
I arrived at class planning to tell the two students not to put their video on the Internet if they were concerned for the partner’s privacy. However, Ryan and Alex had already formed a different solution; they would include the man’s interview in the version they would give to the center, but would edit another version of the video for YouTube without the interview. I decided to bring the issue up in that day’s class discussion. Other students in the course also seemed to find the issue complicated. A few students mentioned that there were so many illegal immigrants on the Internet that including the interview didn’t matter, and that no legal trouble would ever arise for the man. Other students, however, argued that the issue was ethical, and that it would be unethical for their classmates to put the man’s interview on the Web. Ultimately, the class decided that Alex and Ryan’s solution was the most appropriate given the situation. After the decision was reached, I said to the class: “Notice that in the public version of their text the undocumented immigrant loses his voice.” In addition to spawning a productive class discussion, I thought that this example was a clear indicator of ICI. The problem surfaced through collaborative work between students and community partners; then, the students inquired from multiple sources and considered different options; and, finally, a negotiation was made to address the problem while still meeting both parties’ needs – a public version for the students’ final project and a private version for the community partners.
These two video projects suggested that the WWTC model, as used by students in my classes, was more effective in supporting ICI than WATC and WFTC models. Of course, in making this claim, I do not suggest that these types of projects would not also need revisions for improvement. For example, I regret not suggesting to Alex and Ryan that they should discuss the illegal immigration dilemma with the senior to find out his perspective on whether he would want his interview to appear on the Internet. Also, it would have been particularly useful if students in my class had been able to view the documentary video with the seniors to discuss each other’s perception of the video and the issues it raised.
My findings suggest that the WWTC model was the most effective in supporting the three key features of intercultural inquiry I identified – a question or problem must emerge; students and community partners must work collaboratively to negotiate the problem; and participants must develop a transformed understanding of the problem. In the WWTC model, as used in my course, students and community members collaboratively produced nontraditional texts such as videos, websites, and magazines. Although the final products tended to lack polish and sophistication, the collaborative process through which the products were created allowed opportunities for students and community members from diverse backgrounds to negotiate their differences and work together to create texts that included multiple voices and perspectives.
The study found no clear evidence that the WATC model effectively supported genuine dialogue and inquiry between students and community partners, and in fact, this model tended to reinforce traditional relationships in which the university students are positioned as those providing service and the community partners as those in need or deficit (Eby, 1998; Green, 2003; Himley, 2004; Schutz & Gere, 1998). Within the WATC model, however, I found compelling examples suggesting that students’ stereotypes were challenged and that they developed empathy and compassion for people unlike themselves. While I would highly encourage service learning instructors to use “with the community” and “for the community” models, I think the positive impact of the “about the community” model outweighed the negatives. Students’ reflections were overwhelmingly positive toward the service learning experience, community partners spoke positively about the partnership, and the elementary school children received the benefit of additional one-on-one literacy support.
Although not as effective in supporting ICI as the WWTC model, in my course WFTC projects helped students and partners work together to identify a problem, thus taking the first step toward genuine inquiry. These projects were not particularly effective in allowing students and community partners to collaboratively negotiate the problem and develop transformed understandings, but they were more effective than the other models in offering professional opportunities for students and generating useful products for partners. With the proper design and implementation, the WFTC approach seems to have strong potential for supporting intercultural inquiry. If students are working closely with community partners to design projects for the community, for instance, and they are frequently soliciting feedback from stakeholders and collaboratively making decisions about the products’ development, this model could likely be highly effective in engaging students and partners in intercultural dialogue.
While this study was conducted in the context of a composition course, my findings seem relevant to service learning instructors within many academic disciplines and institutional contexts. The service learning components of most courses are designed using “about the community,” “for the community,” or “with the community” models whether or not the students’ service relates to writing as in this particular study. My data suggest that in order to encourage genuine intercultural inquiry between students and community partners, service learning instructors should strongly consider developing assignments or projects that can be collaboratively produced by students and community partners. Although these assignments may lack professional polish and be logistically difficult to produce and assess, they seem to have the largest impact on the way students and community partners engage with one another and learn to negotiate differences.
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About the author:
Cara Kozma, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of English and Assistant Director of Service Learning at High Point University. Her research interests include service learning, community literacy and publishing, composition pedagogy, and globalization studies. She works with faculty across the disciplines to integrate service learning effectively into their teaching, and she codirects a university-sponsored community writing center that facilitates interdisciplinary service learning classes and community publishing projects.
[i] Flower (2002, 2008) also turns to student writing to analyze ICI from the community partners’ perspective. The most prolific example, which she discusses in multiple publications on community literacy, is of inner-city teen Mark Howard’s rap, “Communication Breakdown,” written as part of a community literacy project that culminated in a booklet about school suspension practices. Flower examines students’ writing in this project, which also led to a dialogue between students, community members, and school officials, to highlight how multiple voices can work through inquiry to develop a transformed understanding of a problem.
[ii] Students were given the option to use their real first name or to choose pseudonyms to protect their identities.
[iii] The name of the service learning site has been changed.
[iv] When I first began doing service learning work with the elementary school, I was told that the student demographic was 97% Latino, but this figure may have fluctuated during the three semesters that I conducted research.
[v] All examples from student papers have been included in their original form and have not been edited except to omit identifying information.