The Pedagogic Contribution of Community Spaces and Environments in Service Learning Projects

By: Julia Preece & Desiree Manicom

Abstract
The purpose of this paper is to analyse the use of different community-based learning spaces and environments as a pedagogical resource for student learning through university community engagement. It draws on the findings from a recently completed community engagement and service learning action research project, where students responded to NGO community requests for assistance to work in small teams with grass roots communities. The methodology included initial consultations between NGO communities and the participating students, with follow-up observations and interviews with students, the NGOs and, where possible, their grass roots community participants. This paper reports on three case studies of the action research project and compares the student, NGO and community reflections of the community engagement experience. The findings suggest that the learning spaces and environments enabled students and community members to engage in mutual learning, through a dialogic and reflective process that enabled application of discipline-based theory, as well as broader learning, related to power dynamics and sharing of knowledge between community members and students. However, the engagement initiatives require considerable preparatory discussions and ongoing dialogue between the different agencies.